Why South Korea?
Initially, I was considering Japan or China as I thought I already knew a lot about South Korea (I grew up with South Korean parents). However, I decided to go to South Korea because I wanted to study more about South Korea’s history and how this continues to influence domestic and international politics. In addition, this was an opportunity for me to learn more about my heritage and to understand where I stand as an Australian Korean/Korean Australian.
I’m studying a Bachelor of International Relations/Bachelor of Laws, however I can only take my international relations subjects in South Korea. At Yonsei University I am taking three subjects: International Politics of the Korean Peninsula; Korea-US Relations; and Korean Intensive Language Course (KLI). The KLI course adds up to two Bond subjects because I take this class five days a week for two hours.
I am currently living in one of the student accommodations at Yonsei University. For international exchange students there are two on-campus accommodations: I-House and SK Global. I-House is an all-girls accommodations while SK Global is mixed. There is a slight difference in cost between SK Global and I-House because I-House only has double rooms with shared bathrooms while SK Global has both single and double rooms with private bathrooms. However, all I-House rooms have a fridge and has more storage space while SK Global rooms have to share a fridge and has limited storage.
The biggest challenge I have encountered is trying to understand and accept the cultural differences between Australia and Korea. Even though I have been exposed to some Korean cultural norms, it was different when experiencing it in Korea. There are three that come to mind: (1) traffic; (2) general introductions; and (3) micro-dust.
(1) In South Korea, the pedestrian is never first. The cars, motorbikes and scooters do not stop for pedestrians so there have been several occasions where I was almost run over. Even if the lights are green for pedestrians and red for the cars, I learnt that you always have to check if the car stops before you start walking.
(2) When introducing yourself in South Korea or meeting up with old Korean relatives, general introduction lines include “How old are you?”; “How much do you weigh?”; “What is your blood-type?”; and “Oh, have you put on or lost some weight?” Although I was aware of this cultural norm, it was very different when I was actually asked some of these questions, so occasionally I found myself feeling quite offended. However, after accepting that this was just a cultural norm, I was able to calm myself down. [FYI, Koreans are ardent on identifying personality traits. Knowing your blood type is one way of identifying your personality.]
(3) They say you begin to appreciate the things you once had when you lose them. In this case, I started to appreciate Australia’s fresh air once it was imperative to wear a mask and use an air purifier in my room due to the micro-dust. To state what is causing this phenomenon is quite political, so I will not state my views, but it no doubt is causing Korean children to develop health problems. As a result, whenever I say I am from Australia, many South Koreans have said, ‘I’ve heard the air is so good there.’ Yet, a mask is a great South Korean fashion accessory so it has its pros and cons.
North Korea, no worries
In Australia or anywhere outside of South Korea, there is a lot of talk about the North Korean missile tests. However, I noticed that many South Koreans are indifferent to the imminent threat. Although they are aware of the threat, people tend to just go about their daily lives as if nothing is really happening. In fact, Seoul is only 50km away from the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ line) and up until now, the threat never really crossed my mind nor has it affected my exchange experience.
Life in South Korea
I love the balance between the city, the natural environment and the historical buildings in South Korea. In the city, I can experience the fast-paced shopping and fashion culture, but then take the subway or the bullet train to the various mountains or countryside. As a person who is inherently nostalgic, I also love to go visit the various royal palaces, historical sites and technologies that date back to the Three Kingdom period (57BC – 668 AD), which is something I don’t see as much in Australia. In addition, to be able to speak in my heritage language daily is something that I enjoy and I tend to inter-change between Korean and English (Ko-nglish). In other words, my vocabulary has expanded. Another point to add is that South Korea has one of the fastest internet connections in the world so Netflix, E-games and booking concert tickets without the interest crashing is a privilege (and there is free Wi-Fi everywhere in Seoul.)
There is something about South Korea that makes it so unique to other parts of the world. South Korea is best exemplified as a hybrid between a technologically advanced society and a country where history is still an integral part of everyday-life. I would highly recommend coming to South Korea for anyone who wants to experience a unique culture, learn more about international relations in East Asia or who is simply a fan of K-pop, Korean drama or Korean food. If you’re a fan of Korean food in Australia, you will be mind-boggled by Korean food culture in Korea.
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