A few weeks ago I arrived in Seoul, South Korea, a country I have wanted to visit for many years. Beforev coming here, my knowledge of South Korea was limited to what I learned from media resources. Now, through first-hand experiences, I have been introduced to such a rich culture and society that it is a unique blend of tradition and modernism in the most unexpecting ways.
From the moment I landed in Incheon Airport, I was already shocked by the vast differences between here and the United States. For instance, there are convenience stores everywhere, and they are stocked with everything from umbrellas to pre-packaged hamburgers. You can buy instant noodles and drinks and make them right there in the store. There have been many times when my friends here have opted out of going to restaurants and instead just enjoyed a ramen dinner at the convenience store. Even more shocking, however, is the difference in the pricing of certain items. While eating at restaurants and travel fare is relatively cheap, certain things like toilet paper and trash bags are surprisingly on the expensive side. I seen a package of six toilet paper rolls that cost the equivalent of about fifteen U.S. dollars.
Despite such distinctions, there are so many things I truly love about South Korea. My favorite thing probably has to be that no matter what time of day or night it is, there are so many activities you can enjoy or partake in. During the day, you can tour some of Korea’s numerous museums, or traditional palaces. Though I have yet to visit a palace, I have been to a few temples and museums and it’s always interesting to learn about Korea’s deep history. I learned about the different religious influences that have shaped many of Korea’s cultural values and traditions and I enjoyed traditional temple food with Buddhist monks at the Sangwonsa (상원사) Temple in Pyeongchang. I also learned about important philosophical figures and Korea’s relationships with foreign countries both historically and in the present.
However, when the sun goes down and the temples and museums are no longer open, I always love to enjoy Seoul’s nightlife. My friends and I have made many trips to Hongdae and Itaewon, two very popular districts well-known for bars, clubs and shops where you can meet Korean locals and travelers from all over the world. During my trips, I’ve met people from France, England, Russia, China, Thailand, Ghana, Nigeria, Mexico, Spain and so many other countries.
Each night out is always a new adventure. Just last week I was at a club called “Fountain”, in Itaewon, and my friends and I were watching a dance battle that was happening near the bar. I was encouraged to join in and once I did more people started to as well. I ended up meeting this girl who just arrived in Seoul from Brazil and she taught all of us a few new dance moves. Then more people began sharing different dances from their respective cultures. It was completely unexpected but such an amazing memory.
Everyday I wake up, I am so grateful to be here. Everyday is an adventure and a chance to learn about Korea. It’s a very humbling and precious opportunity to be opened up to a culture that is not your own. I have taken a lot of time to reflect on my time here and the privileges and disadvantages I have as an American. As time goes on, I aim to keep an open-mind and create many meaningful memories during my stay.