Telling your family and friends that you plan to study abroad will bring on a swell of curious questions. Consider tossing a curve ball and answering the general inquiry of “where are you going?” with “Seoul, South Korea.” This country is far more than simply “Oppa Gangnam Style” and a neighbor to North Korea.
Here are five little surprises that might just make you consider venturing off to find your soul by studying in South Korea.
1. Street Food
Kimbap, tokkebi, tteokbokki… It might look as if someone decided to bash their hands down onto the keyboard, but these are actually names of some of the more popular street foods found in Seoul. Kimbap, which might look a bit like sushi, is a rice roll filled with veggies and occasionally crab meat. Now, if you’ve ever wondered what a hot dog on steroids would be like, Korea has decided to answer your question. Tokkebi hot dogs are delicious creations of fried sausage wrapped in fries or other goodies, all placed on a stick for your convenience. Tteokbokki is another famous Korean street food, which is a combination of fish cake and spicy rice cake, and it will leave you wanting a second helping. After hopping off the subway, it only takes a quick stop at one of the red booths to grab your street food and then you’re set for a night of shopping and fun with your friends.
South Korea is a homogeneous society, and this applies to their clothing choices as well. The fashion in Seoul may surprise you with its classiness. Sweatpants and gym shorts are definitely a no-no, and although Seoul is a modern city there are still cultural “do’s” and “don’ts” in fashion. Women should be conscientious about wearing low-cut shirts and showing too much of their shoulders. And you definitely won’t be seeing chacos on the feet of any man in Seoul. The people on the street tend to reflect each other’s style and while you won’t have to pack your Sunday best, it is a good idea to take along a few nice clothing options.
3. Foreigner Friendly
It is no easy feat attempting to use the local transportation while you’re studying abroad in South Korea. A taxi ride might not be your best bet, unless you are confident in your ability to communicate in Korean. Seoul’s subway system, however, is surprising in its simplicity. Not only are there multiple subway maps available to download onto your phone, but the maps at the subway stations are also in English. In most of the subway cars at each stop a voice will come over the intercom speaking first in Korean and followed by English, to announce what stop you have arrived at. By far, the mastering of Seoul’s subway system will be an easy accomplishment.
Prepare your liver. One of the more unexpected aspects of nightlife in Korea is the role that alcohol plays. While Koreans are by no means alcoholics, nor do they expect you to become one, drinking alcohol can be an almost nightly enjoyment. With soju, a popular rice wine, priced at only 1,200 won (or 1.20 USD) a bottle, it is a practiced tradition for college students (including anyone studying abroad in South Korea) to hit up the convenience stores before heading to the clubs.
Another popular way to spend the night is at a bang, which in English translates into “room.” In Seoul there are different types of bangs; a few notable bangs are noraebangs, PC bangs, and jjimjilbangs. A noraebang is a karaoke room, PC bang is a place for people to rent and play video games on computers, and a jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse. Spending time in a bang is a popular practice among Koreans often as a means to escape the house and hang out with friends.
5. North Korea
Understanding the relationship between North and South Korea will help you keep your friends and family from worrying. There is a sad stigma attached to South Korea, when many hear the country’s name North Korea immediately comes to mind. The bond between the two countries is an old one, and complicated at that. Many South Koreans still have relatives on the other side of the 38th parallel. This makes for an emotional relationship between the North and South. However, residents of South Korea do not live their lives in fear of North Korea. You can put your loved ones at ease and erase any stereotypes by studying up on the subject yourself. It’s essential to know basic information about the country you’re planning on going to and South Korea is so much more than just a neighbor to North Korea.