Tag Archives: Auslandssemester

Daily Life in South Korea Pt.I

High-Tech toilets, smileys which look like a butt, life jackets in water parks, funny holidays with black noodles and teaching videos in the metro which show you how to use the escalator in the right way – that’s South Korea.

 

 

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I had the chance to live four months in Korea when I studied abroad. I already learned a lot about the huge differences between the Asian and Western cultures in my first week, or to be more specific between South Korea and my home country Germany. Here I want to share my experiences with you. Maybe you already went to Korea and find yourself in the stories. Maybe you are just curious, or you want to go and find one or another tip for your travels. If you’re Korean – you will see how I saw your country and what seemed funny to me (so funny I wrote a blog entry about it). Don’t take it too seriously because I love your country a lot.

 

Koreans love endings

Gu, Dong, Si, Gil, Do – Koreans use endings to describe places. First of all, it seems really complicated if you are not aware of the meanings. But if you know them, it is actually quite useful since it describes which places are “what”. The ending “do” markers the province you are in. South Korea has eight provinces and one special autonomous province. The ending “si” describes a city in this province. For example, the capital of the island Jeju has the same name as its island. In this case, Jeju-do describes the whole island as one province, Jeju-si is only the capital of the island.

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Jeju-do

Bigger cities have different boroughs with the ending “gu” (towns and the countryside have the endings “eup” and “myeon”) or rural districts “gun”. One level below is the district marked with “dong”. Villages are labeled with “ri”. Last but not least, is “gil” which tagged streets.

 

Special holidays

Koreans love to celebrate and give each other gifts. The biggest holiday is Chuseok (추석) which is equivalent to Thanksgiving and is a celebration with the whole family. The holiday is about three days and around autumn. Furthermore, Koreans celebrate a special New Year called Seollal (설날) after the Chinese calendar. This holiday is in the beginning of the year. Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February and a famous day in the whole world. In Korea, it is the day where women have to bring presents for their lovers. But Korea also has the “White Day” which is the equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It’s exactly one month later and at these days women get the presents from their partners. But Korea also has a special day for singles.

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Jajangmyeon

On the 14th of April, it is “Black Day”. All single persons wear black clothes and meet each other in restaurants to eat Jajangmyeon, Black bean noodles. Another commercial and unofficial holiday is “Pepero Day”. Pepero (빼빼로) are little sticks with different flavours as chocolate, berries or green tea. It is supported by the big company Lotte and celebrated on the 11th of November since 11/11 reminds to the pepero sticks.

 

Overnight in libraries

Since I studied in Seoul I already know Koreans are really diligent and have to learn a lot. Especially before midterm and final exams, the libraries are full of students. Some of them are so into their learning period they even sleep in the library. My friend accidentally stayed overnight in our library at my university. She didn’t know the doors close at midnight and since a lot of other students also stayed beside here she didn’t think of the closing hours. When she wanted to leave the doors were closed and she was forced to stay until 5 o’clock in the morning to get out of the library. The students told her that they stay by their own choices in the library to concentrate fully on their exams. If necessary, they take some naps or bring blankets to sleep overnight in the library to start learning early in the morning.

 

Free time in Seoul

If Koreans don’t study all night and stay in libraries they of course also enjoy some free time in Seoul. One of my favourite stories is my day in a water park in Seoul because I felt like I learned a lot about small differences that day. I went with three other friends to a water park in Seoul. We are all from Western countries, so for us, it was pretty in common to wear a bikini. The thing is wearing a bikini seems not so famous in Asia. In general, I also felt Koreans don’t wear low-cut tops (miniskirts are no problem). This is the reason why I felt a bit uncomfortable in my bikini. Most Koreans wore swimsuits made out of neoprene or long shirts. In general, I was really surprised how many people wore just normal clothes as jeans, shoes, sunglasses or shirts for riding a slide. I am pretty sure in Germany they wouldn’t be allowed to wear street clothes in a water park.
Another fact is that many Koreans (but also in other countries) can’t swim or aren’t the best swimmers. That is why many people also were lifejackets. Actually, that was another fact, why we attract attention. I wondered about the girls in the water park who wore nice makeup and lipstick. Because for me a water park wouldn’t be the spot where I would wear any makeup. But my Korean friend told me the water park is also a possible flirting spot so it is important to look beautiful even there. Furthermore, people had little transparent and waterproof pockets where they carried really expensive cell phones, makeup or credit cards. More stuff I wouldn’t bring in a water park so I really had to think about the difference. Another interesting fact is that in Korea it is totally fine to be naked in front of the same gender. In Germany, we have single changing rooms and most people would not show themselves naked not even under the public showers. On the other side, German television is more open showing naked people in movies or series. Whereas in Korea naked parts in movies and series are rare.

 

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A game place in Seoul

One other thing I really loved for our free time are the game places. There you find a lot of nice games you can play by yourself or with friends. Really famous is the Baseball game where the player plays the role of the Batter and hopefully hits a home run. Also famous are the machines with soft toys you have to grab in one shot with a crane to get the toy.

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Noraebang (노래방)

The most important free time activity is: Noraebang (노래방) – Korean Karaoke. It is a good opportunity to meet with friends and sing favourite Kpop music, but als hits from Japan and China and of course world hits in English. Every group gets its own room with big screen, microphones and party lights. Noraebangs are sometimes also a good opportunity to bypass the time until the first metro is running again.

 

 

Click here to read part II:
Daily life in South Korea Pt.II

 

 

 

Curfew. Woman’s University. Visa. And lots of preparation.

In preparation for my exchange semester in Seoul …

 

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Why South Korea?

“Of all things, why South Korea?” This was a question I had to answer really often when I told someone I will make an exchange semester in Seoul. I never was in Asia before (once I crossed the Asian border of Istanbul – however, I’m not sure if this will count). But I was always really interested in the culture and people of Asia. I believe one of the main reasons are the cultural differences in the opposite of Western Europe. My first contact with Korea was through a friend a few years ago. She is a big fan of Japan and once she told me she had watched a really great TV series from South Korea and – for sure – I would love it. So I followed her advice and watched my first K-Drama (this is the abbreviation for series in the Korean language). The title of the series was “Playful Kiss” (or also “Mischievous Kiss”/ “Naughty Kiss”/ “장난스런 키스“) – a clumsy girl falls in love with a handsome and clever but also sometimes really rude boy. K-Dramas are really different from American, British or German series – I normally watch productions of these three countries.

The Korean culture is different, they have a variety of Dos and Dont’s which were really strange for me (… and they censor cigarettes on TV – because nobody will understand what a person holds in their hand when smoke is coming out of their mouth). Honor is an important value of the Korean culture and of course, the tribute and respect for older people and traditions. Korea has a high hierarchically system, which is especially striking in their language – Korean has five different polite forms. I also was really surprised that living together seems a really big no go for lovers in South Korea. However, I was really fascinated by all that – for me – crazy (but in a good way) new world in Asia. Later, I watched three, four other K-Dramas and heard some Korean Songs (it is called K-Pop).

The official YouTube channel of the TV series “Playful Kiss” – The producers created seven mini episodes for YouTube after the large success of the series.

 

Hangul and Coffee shops which sound as copy shops

However, when I decided to make my Master Studies in Berlin another aim was to make an exchange semester abroad because this was something I missed during my Bachelor Studies. You have three choices for the stay of an exchange, I thought I had to pick three countries (for real you have to choose three universities) – so I prepared myself for a counselling interview. I chose Vietnam, Thailand, and South Korea. The consultant was happy I named Korea and totally ignored the other two countries. She encouraged me to go to South Korea and told me that every student, who was in Korea, was highly satisfied with their choice. That was the decisive reason why I picked South Korea and applied for three universities in Seoul. In 2010 – when I was highly addicted to Korea and watched the K-Dramas for the first time  – I would have given everything to get the opportunity to go to Seoul. So six years later I wanted to take this chance. Actually, the only reason I didn’t choose South Korea at the first side was because of Hangul (this is the Korean alphabet). I was afraid I wouldn’t understand a word and couldn’t even buy Ramen (Ramen is a noodle soup and a famous Asian dish) in a supermarket because of the missing vocabularies. To be honest, I still don’t speak Korean. I can only say some useful words as “saranghae” (I love you) or “keopi syob” (coffee shop but sounds as copy shop).

 

Much preparation stuff

After I wrote motivation letters, collected thousands of important papers and provided all kinds of evidence, I finally got my accommodation letter. I decided to go to the EWHA Womans University in Seoul because it has the largest and the best offering for my field of study – Media Studies. At this point started my preparation time: I needed a visa, a place to stay, a flight, inoculations, health insurance, apply for a scholarship and other financial facilitation, I had to freeze my contract of my cell phone, needed a backpack… thousands of stuff.

The visa is relatively easy to get for Germans because the countries have a good relationship to each other (and it’s free). The inoculations are really expensive and there are a lot of recommendations about immunisation protection. If you don’t want to pay more money for inoculations than for the flight, it is impossible to get inject against everything. The flight is one other problem. My plans are to travel a few months after my exchange semester that’s why I don’t know yet when I will come back to Germany. However, it is cheaper booking of a return flight. That’s why I would recommend to search for a flight with nice rebooking options. One other problem will be the luggage. I have to left some stuff in Korea while I’m travelling around. I also have just 23 kilogrammes of free luggage from Germany to South Korea. A friend gave me a really nice advice. She loves backpacking journeys so she is kind of an expert. She always takes some old or washed out clothes to her travels or just outfits she doesn’t like anymore, so she can throw them away and has more space for clothes, souvenirs or just food. I believe it is a really useful advice.

 

Immaturity in Seoul

Flats and rooms have – at least compared to Germany – really high rents. Some cheaper flats have a higher deposit up to 5000 Euros respectively Dollars. This is one reason I really wanted to rent a room in a dormitory (and there you still can pay over 500 Euros/ Dollars). Unfortunately, curfews are a common thing in the dormitories of Seoul. I knew that South Korea is more strict with the separation of sexes. However, the curfew shocked me a little bit. I read that not all universities have stringent conditions. However, one article (here) from October 2003 from the English newspaper of the EWHA Womans university – the university where I will study – discourage me a little. But perhaps something changed meanwhile because the article is 13 years old by now. The curfew is just in some of the dormitories in the EHWA, however, in my opinion, the rules are very strict. The curfew is from midnight until five o’clock  in the morning (12pm-5am). The article talks about black marks: Three for being tardy, five for staying out without permission – the students who collect ten marks have to leave the dormitory. If ones want to stay out, they need to sign up hours earlier. The process is even more complicated at the weekend. Then students need the permission of their parents.

I read that some reasons for the curfew are the responsibility to take care of the students. The curfew would help the students to go to bed early and stay healthy. And also to maintain their regular daily life.  Actually, to me, this sounds really unbelievable. Don’t get me wrong, however, in my opinion, of an age of 20 or older you should be able to organise your daily routine by your own. But perhaps some don’t want this and it is one of the differences between the cultures. I also read that some people like the rules and feel more organised and save with them. So it perhaps depends on the person which dormitory is the best for themselves.

By the way, the International House of EWHA hasn’t a curfew and I’m so glad I got a place there. Because in my opinion, dormitories are in general a perfect decision to live for an exchange semester. The dormitories are near the university on the campus, you meet really fast other students, you already got the most important furniture, the period and costs are complementary. Therefore, we will see how it will work for me. I am very pleased to get the chance to study in Seoul. For sure I will tell more about South Korea from time to time because the adventure has just begun.