As of September 8th, I will have spent an entire month in Seoul, South Korea! It feels surreal to type that when I thought about this trip for so long. After spending two weeks in quarantine, I was a bit stir crazy and beyond ready to go out into the real world. However, I hadn’t anticipated feeling overwhelmed by the sheer realization of no longer knowing the primary language of the country in which I was in. Every single sign, store, restaurant, and bus had hangeul all over it. Although I’d spent the majority of my quarantine studying Korean, I had never been in a situation of constant translation of both reading and listening. Even hailing a taxi and attempting to pronounce my Airbnb location had been a struggle. In the US, I have bilingual friends that would share their experiences about navigating with minimal English. My time in Korea has made me respect them exponentially more for being able to persevere through such confusion and fear at even younger ages than mine. Thankfully, I had a friend who spoke a little more Korean than I did and together we were able to tell the taxi driver the address of our new home for the upcoming weeks.
The Airbnb we stayed out however was something out of a K-drama – literally. It was based in Itaewon, where the famous K-drama ‘Itaewon Class’ was shot, and just down the street from the official filming location. We ate at many of the places featured in the drama and took one too many selfies with all of the signs that proud shop owners posted in honor of the show. We traveled to many places in our short two-week intermission before classes began. The two most memorable locations were the newest, largest mall in Seoul called Times Square. It has the biggest theater in all of South Korea and over six floors. We had our first ever hot pot and the kind owner actually made our meal for us. The second location that comes to mind is Goto Mall, which is a massive underground shopping center with over 60 individually ran booths. Some sell clothes, shoes, jewelry, traditional Korean food, or wigs. The prices are extremely affordable and a few Korean words can help you bargain a deal with the stall owner.
My friend and I were grateful to have each other; as she often put it, “I’d rather be lost with you than going in circles alone.” In the moments where Papago translated Korean to English gibberish or subways went the completely opposite direction from our expectations, we would turn to each other and giggle. The stress of navigating such a new culture and city was significantly reduced by having her at my side. Now, only two short weeks after my quarantine, I’ve become a master at navigating the Line 2 subway (with Papago) and ordering iced Americanos in Korean slang. Who would’ve thought?!
See you soon! 화이팅! (an encouraging phrase often said in Korea)