Navigating Korea By Yourself: Odd or Nah

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With midterms around the corner, I wanted to take time to discuss the differences between the US and Korea when it comes to individual vs group efforts within casual life and education. In other words, I want to discuss if it is easy being an independent or introverted person here in Korea in day-to-day life as well as within classroom settings.

The answer is honestly no to both of those things. Korea is very much enshrouded in a couple and group culture. While it would be unfair to say that it is not possible to do many things alone here in Korea, it might be better fitted to say that it is just very out of the normal and you will feel self-conscious. I am an introvert, for some reason I thought that coming to Seoul would make me less so, but truly it has only solidified the fact that I am through and through an introvert. On top of that, I accidentally created a schedule to where many of my classes are online, keeping me from interacting with many of the students on campus, and I am not often one for going partying, another activity commonly used here to socialize. All that is to say that I have not really connected with many people here as of yet, so I am often doing things by myself! To some extent, I actually prefer this because it feels like I am becoming more confident in, as well as comfortable with, myself!

However, it can make it difficult to do some things like eating out and going to events. While not super common, there are times when restaurants will want you to have two people in order to dine in, or activities will require you to have two participants to create a booking. Generally, though, you will notice a subconscious criticism of doing things by yourself. When I talk to my Korean friends about what I have done with my day, they often ask who I did it with, and I’ve noticed that when my answer is, “Oh, by myself!,” they are often confused or pitying. As I am sure most people know, Korea is a homogenous society, so while I wouldn’t say that conformity is preferred by the people here, it is more natural for everyone to have similar views and practices – even if those practices is just doing activities with several people than by oneself! In this way, you do get curious looks when you are doing stuff by yourself! At the end of the day however, when you are a foreigner, you’re likely to be getting several curious looks regardless of who you are with or what you are doing. So! My advice would be to set your sights on what you are wanting to do, travel with your head high, and go and enjoy your time while you are in Korea, regardless of if you have a travel buddy!

Now, why did I mention midterms you might ask? It is because I have a group project for a midterm, and it is proving to be just as frustrating as the group projects I have had to do in the US. I would say that in Korea teamwork is prioritized and people typically take group projects seriously. On the other hand, I can’t say the same for most group projects in the US. In my experience, people don’t put much care into group projects and often push the work onto the one person who cares about their grade. I was complaining to a friend of mine here, Gyu, about how I was struggling to even get my groupmates contact information, when he joked about his own group project where everyone else was too eager about the project. In this way, I would say that here in Korea there is a mindset that people need to work collectively for success, which is why you are likely to have a group project in most of the classes you take here. Between this and people’s tendency to travel in groups for everything, there is a definite emphasis on collectivism here in Korea, that you do not see as much or feel pressured to conform to within the US.