First POV of Seoul

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Within the first week of being in Seoul, a wave of emotions consumed me. It finally settled in that I was in Seoul when I finally arrived at my accommodation around 4 pm. The first week of being in Seoul consisted of traveling to Busan for 2 days with my program and starting my classes. Within that first week, the events I anticipated happening occurred along with ones that I hadn't anticipated. Seoul is a busy city at heart and I shortly experienced this when I stopped at a 7-eleven to get my T-money card and some food for dinner. A t-money card, by the way, is a form of transportation that enables usage of the subway, buses, and taxis in addition to allowing purchases at convenience stores and a select few other stores. As soon as I finished choosing items at 7-Eleven, the cashier quickly scanned them and was ready for me to pay. I was pretty slow with getting my cash out and there were people already lined up behind me. After I handed my cash to the cashier, I realized I had to carry my items in my hands because plastic bags had to be paid for. It was extremely hot that night and I didn’t want to carry my groceries to my hotel so I had to join the queue and purchase a plastic bag. However, this time I had my money ready in my hand. As an observant person, I have the habit of picking up things pretty quickly. The following day, I went to the subway because I had to meet up with my school’s group for the Busan trip! Being in the subway for the first time, I wasn’t sure how to navigate around the place, and there were so many signs. Fortunately, I ran into two girls who were wearing t-shirts from my school (Hanyang International Summer School) and assumed they were going to school as well. Normally, I shy away from asking strangers questions but in that moment I had to step out of my comfort zone if I didn’t want to miss the bus for Busan. I reached out and introduced myself and asked if they were going on the trip as well. They said they were and that I could tag along with them, and one of the girls knew how to use the subway well, so she taught me what apps to use for navigation and how to know what line to get on. I was extremely glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out for help. I noticed a lot of hustle just from being in the subway as people tried to get where they needed to go. I learned quickly that I can’t be slow around here because people have places to be. For example, when a person instantly got up from their seat on the subway, the next passenger close by was quick to sit down. I was hesitant at first to get a seat because I didn’t want to seem desperate and rude for wanting a seat as soon as someone got up. However, the more I took the subway, I learned that if you do not want to be standing for the whole duration of your trip, you better take that seat as soon as possible. Also, you won’t be seen as desperate or rude for doing so either. One thing I learned from TikTok was that Koreans do not say “excuse me" when maneuvering around and it isn’t to be rude but it isn’t a norm either. I witnessed it when standing in the subway and people were making their way through the subway, and not once did I hear “excuse me”. It was interesting to notice that TikToker wasn’t lying! Another aspect that demonstrated how fast-paced of a culture it is in Seoul was the number of times I witnessed people on an elevator press the “close button”. If I’m being honest, before coming to Korea, I didn’t even realize elevators had a close button. Usually in the U.S., we just wait for the elevator to close by itself, however in Seoul, people do not hesitate to press that button if they do not see anyone coming in. It’s the little things that show how much they do not like wasting time and are always on the move. On the other hand, something I anticipated to happen according to hearing people’s experiences on social media was how Koreans react to foreigners. As a black woman, after hearing other people’s experiences, I expected most Koreans to stare at me whenever I walked the streets or entered a grocery store, or even got on the subway. However, that hasn’t been the case for the most part. Yes, I have received some stares but it hasn’t been rude. Some people have slightly looked at me when I would get on the subway, or enter a store but I felt like it was a stare anyone would give to seeing a stranger. Obviously, I look different but the majority of the people I’ve come across do not care about that! Many Koreans are going about their day and do not care that much about foreigners in my opinion. Maybe living in the city may be the reason and they are used to seeing foreigners more now but the majority do not stop and stare at you. I’ve also heard from others' experiences that the people they met were rude to them or were even denied service. However, that hasn’t been the case for me yet and I have met extremely nice people, even older people. That was a bit surprising for me because I have heard that older Koreans may not be open to foreigners and are even mean in general but I’ve interacted with some nice folks. I’ll end my recap here and hope you tune into my next blog post!