Korea is one of the most traditional countries in the world while it’s one of the most modernized at the same time. Traditions and modernity harmonize in perfect unison. The perfect example for this would be the “Gyeongbokgung Palace”, the king’s traditional palace in between the modern business district in the heart of Seoul.
With more than 25 million citizens Seoul is not only the capital of South Korea but also its largest city. More than 70% of the Korean peninsula are covered by mountains so the limited space in between is densely populated. The weather is –for German conditions– very hot and humid, especially during the 1 1/2 month long monsoon time between June and August. During this time the air condition is you best friend and you are happy every time you take the subway. There is no better air condition than the one in the subway. Even the platform is air conditioned and there are no errors in the system, frankly speaking the Deutsche Bahn should take this as an example for German trains!
PEOPLE & CULTURE
As for European people, especially those who are tall or have blonde hair, you get stared at link you’re an exotic animal. But as time goes by you get used to it and you rarely get treated officiously. Koreans are very shy people keeping their distance while being very polite.
One interesting thing about Korea is that everyone, even older people in their 70’s or 80’s, is staring on his or her mobile phone nearly 24 hours a day. In the subway, while eating and even while walking in the crowded streets. You often bump into people suddenly popping up in front of you not looking where they are walking at. The mobile phones here even have an antenna so people can watch TV wherever they are. The subway is full of mobile TV watching people so be careful of your eyes you might unpurposely be threatened by the antennas coming much too close.
The most cultural experience we made was the “Chuseok” the Korean Thanksgiving, the most important festival in Korea. The date for Chuseok changes every year. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Families living miles apart celebrate together for three days in the house of the oldest family member. Self-made dishes, traditional Hanbok clothing, music and games are played during this time as well as celebrating rituals like paying respect to the perished ancestors. Since many people are leaving Seoul for this celebration in their ancestral hometowns the city becomes a ghost town for these days.
When we first came to the university we felt very welcomed! All professors are very friendly and helpful. You can really feel that they want us not only to study hard but also to enjoy our stay in Korea.
As a nice gesture every professor went eating with us at least one time. We gladly enjoy the the culture and mentality that they bring up.
Our schedule is good. We are very happy to have Friday-Sundays off in order to explore the country. Also, we have a class called Tutoring. On that day, we all go out doing some activities with our professors and some Korean students which we happily call our friends from now on.
We all live in different places. Two of us live in the Vabien Hotel, the others stay with a host family and in an apartment.
The transportation is quite easy. We either walk or use the subway which is very handy. The living costs are similar to Germany. Except for fresh food, such as vegetables and fruits. They are more expensive than in Germany, that’s why most Koreans go out for lunch or dinner rather than cook for themselves.
In our leisure time we mostly go eating, shopping and clubbing. These three things are the main activities that we all enjoy doing besides university:
Here the streetmarkets and shops are open nearly 24/7. You can get everything over here! Actually, you won’t miss anything concerning food: they even sell kebap, tacos, waffles, cotton candy, bread, steak, cutlets etc. Of course we also tried traditional Korean food, for example homemade kimchi and tea.
If you want to go shopping you have to go to Myeongdong. It’s the heart of Korean fashion. This shopping area is overwhelming! Compared to Korea, German fashion is stucked in the Middle Ages. The youth is very creative when it comes to fashion styles.
The look is very important to Koreans. The ideal beauty is being thin and having white skin. Most Koreans spend a lot of money in beauty, skin care and plastic surgery.
In terms of clubbing, Koreans can do party really well! Some of us live in Hongdae which is the location of clubs and bars. We all really enjoy the nightlife over here. In Gangnam there are several famous clubs as well. The clubs themselves are nicely designed and the people are in a good mood. The music is great and the atmosphere is nice, too.
If we don’t want to go into clubs, we often chill around Hongdae. You can just sit there and listen to street musicians. There are many of them that are very talented.
Besides all that, we also do sightseeing and learn more about the culture.
There are several temples and old buildings in South Korea which is a nice contrast to the modern skyscrapers.
Here are the links of two students who run a blog about their daily life in Seoul!