Study Abroad in Korea: Culture Shock in South Korea

It’s kind of hard to say that I have experienced that much culture shock since I’ve been here since most of the media I consume comes from here! Even so, there have been a few things that reminded me that I’m not home, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

Paying for plastic bags

So if you’re from the States, you might have the occasional super market that makes you buy your bags when you check out or perhaps receive incentive for bringing your own. Now multiple that and spread it across pretty much every type of store. Shoe store? Clothing store? Accessories? Home goods? Discount Store? All of the above! At home, I have tons of reusable shopping bags that I always leave home because I know I’ll end up getting a bag anyway, but after a while, buying bags becomes an expensive thing that could  have gotten me an ice cream cone!

The Hills! And walking, oh my!

For some reason, through all those dramas and variety shows, I never noticed all the inclines. Honestly, even with the super comprehensive public transportation system, you still need to walk…a lot! During my  first week here, there was a day that I walked over 20,000 steps and climbed up over 30 flights. My FitBit was shocked (but it also wrecked my daily average)! My relatively new Chuck Taylors are already cracking, so I’m thankful I have another pair of sneakers plus some I bought a couple weeks ago. Though I must admit, Seoul as a whole has nothing on the mountain of Seoul National University. Now that’s an incline.

Costs of Western cuisine

To be fair, I knew this was going to be an issue, but I didn’t realize how much I’d miss certain American foods. Something as simple as cheese became a problem really quickly, and most cheese you find at the market is akin to Kraft Singles, without a block of cheddar in sight. And the price ranges from 2,000 won to 14,000 won(!). The other thing is pizza. Korean pizza is good, at least the non-American-style pies, but the cheese is kind of elastic, almost like fake mozzarella. I just had a thought: are they melting string cheese and putting it on pizza, because that’s exactly what it feels like!

Oh, gosh, I almost forgot about coffee! I don’t drink it as much as I did in the past year or so, but I still enjoy a cup every now and then, hot or cold. Well, Korea didn’t tell me that they mostly just have Americano and those specialty drinks that barely taste like coffee at cafes. Brewed coffee? Haha, maybe at Starbucks. If you want cheap, non-fancy coffee, you’re stuck with the can coffee at convenience stores and vending machines, or instant mix coffee, which is mediocre, weak, and usually too sweet.

Walking next to cars?

No, I’m not talking about parking lots or sidewalks, I mean in the middle of the street. Granted, this doesn’t happen on main streets, but almost every side street and residential areas lack proper sidewalks. This leaves people having to walk in the street, and cars tend to be a little more aggressive over here. Put that formula together and at -first- you’re terrified, but later on you become more brazen and glare at the cars that try to hit you. University City taught me some life skills after all~

Trash and Recycling

I live off campus in an apartment with five other girls (3 bed, 2 bath), so I’ve become quite experienced with the world of Korean waste disposal. You have to separate your recycling, normal trash, and food waste, the latter which they charge you for by the gram. Go figure, a system that praises people for not being awful human beings. It takes a little adjusting, but I think it makes trash day in general smell a whole lot better! Not sure about what happens if there’s food in the normal trash, but I’m not about to be the one to find out.

The Classic Stare of the Old People

Admittedly, this really only happened in the first couple of weeks since my neighbors are relatively young, and mostly used to me by now…not to mention I’ve also assimilated to their fashion culture. But every now and then, I’ll get a little old lady or man that stares mercilessly, not even hiding the fact that they’re staring. They just don’t give a fuck. To be honest though, it’s not uncommon for them to stare at any and everything, even in Seoul, given the country’s rapid development. Korea grew so rapidly that older people are still getting used to foreigners, the bustling city life, and simply the new land that their home has become…. not to mention I stick out like a sore thumb. Hell, even I find myself staring at foreigners in the sea of Koreans. =.=

There are a lot of things in Korea that I haven’t talked about, but these were the highlights of things I either forgot about or underestimated. Culture shock doesn’t have to be all bad! I think some of these things are great.

Thanks for your patience as I try to get these posts up! See you next time~

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