South Korea and Seoul itself are full of new experiences, differences in culture, language script, food and even the everyday life. It’s a country full of opposites. The new-age Korea with all of its high modern technic versus the old traditional Korea with all of its Palaces and Hanbok .. This post is about my first week as an exchange student in Seoul.
Facts about South Korea and Seoul
The official name of South Korea is Republic of Korea. The official language is Korean and the official script is Hangul. In 1910 Korea was ruled by the Imperial Japan and after World War II it was divided into North and South Korea. Since then, North Korea is the only borderline to South Korea. The capital of the Republic of Korea is Seoul. It is also the largest city of the country and the 16th largest city in the world. Circa 50% of the population from South Korea live in the metropolitan area of Seoul.
My first week in Seoul
Finally, my semester in Seoul started. I arrived after 18 hours with a little stop in Abu Dhabi in Seoul with seven hours time difference to my home country. Lucky me, I hadn’t to fight with a jet lag since I am in Seoul and the weather is also very nice. Something between late summer and early autumn.
I am studying at the EWHA Womans university which is really beautiful and even a little tourist attraction in Seoul. Rents and especially deposits are really high in South Korea, which is why I am happy to stay in a dormitory (if you want to read more .. click here to read my post Curfew. Woman’s University. Visa. And lots of preparation.) The running costs for a living are really high in Korea what makes the country so expensive in the relation to Germany (and many other countries in the world). Also, the food prices in supermarkets and Convenience Stores are high, especially, fruits and vegetables (for example, 5 apples cost approximately 6,000 ₩, these would be 5.45$). In my opinion, some restaurants are not so expensive in Korea and I love that you always get free water and can refill it as often you like. The cheapest way to eat is properly the street food (you pay something between 1.80-4.54$). Also really in common is to order food. Even McDonalds has his own delivery service. At public places as Han River it is easily possible to get 40 flyers for different delivery services. But I will write an own post about food in Korea.
Learning a new language script
Hangul (한글) is the official script in Korea. Although it looks really complicated, it’s not so difficult to learn. My university book for Korean classes said it’s the 12th widely used language in the world and ahead of Italian and French (sounds unbelievable, I know).
Hangul was invented in 1443 by King Sejong, the fourth monarch during the Joseon Dynasty. The new language script should help ordinary people easier to write and read. Because before Hangul, Korean was written in Chinese characters. One says a wise man could learn Hangul in one day, a stupid man could learn it in ten days. I have Korean classes twice a week, so I learned Hangul in seven days ;). The modern Hangul has 24 letters and 27 digraphs. But also if you don’t speak the Korean language, especially Seoul has many English speaking people who will try to help you and the metro signs and the station announcements are also in English.
Cultural Day in Korea
Since 2014 Korea has the cultural day every last Wednesday in the month. Then is the best time to visit museums and cinemas, because the cultural day offers discounts, sometimes even free entries and extended opening hours. Since I arrived in End of August, we have been using this day already to visit the Seoul Museum of History. The museum shows the history and culture of Seoul from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to the present day. It represents the living of the people in Korea, also during Korea under Japanese Control until the late 90s.
Samul nori – Traditional Korean Dance and Music
Samul nori is a genre of traditional Korean music and dances. Me and my roommate were lucky to see such a dance performed by Korean students at our university. Samul nori uses four different percussion instruments. They have a small gong (Kkwaenggwari), a larger gong (Jing), an hourglass-shaped drum (Janggu) and a barrel drum (Buk drum). The students were dressed in beautiful Korean dresses, called Hanbok. They had two students, which were dressed differently from the others. They had the small gongs and provided the rhythm. Some students from the audience ran to the dancers and clipped some banknotes under their hats. There was also a little ceremony in the beginning. We didn’t understand what they were saying (because it was in Korean), but one girl had a mask of a pig. Pigs count here as lucky charms. Some girls stand in a row, got something to drink, then they kneeled down and after standing up they gave some little papers to the pig mask. Perhaps they wrote down their wishes or something similar.
The official name of the Namsan Tower is N Seoul Tower and it is one of the most famous attractions in Seoul. It’s a TV tower and has its name from the hill Namsan. When you go to Namsan Tower you can choose between using a cable car or many, many stairs. I would recommend the stairs because of the view. The tower is circa 237 meters high and gives a nice few over the city. For people which try to save money, I think it’s not absolutely necessary to get up the tower because the view is already really good from the bottom of the Tower. There is also one viewing platform which is adorned with many love locks.Actually, there is a little shop for love locks in the Tower.
The entrance for adults is 10,000 ₩ (circa 9$), but the viewing platform is just inside and around the windows are many bright shining stalls which make it really complicated to make a good picture. I liked that the windows have flags from different countries which show how far away the capital of the particular country is. Nonetheless, it was a really nice view from the Namsan Tower and I didn’t repent to spend the money.
Deposit and free trips for foreigners
Why is it good to be a foreigner? South Korea is really interested in introducing their country to foreigners. They want to make K-Pop more famous in the world. So as a foreigner, you can visit some concerts which are especially (and actually only) for foreigners and (that is the best) for free.
I was lucky to join a free trip to Jeollanam-do Provine deep in the South sponsored by the Korean government. It was a free trip also just for foreigners, two busses full of exchange students. We went to the Great Battle of Myeongnyang Festival and the Korean Minhwa Museum with traditional Korean paintings (also a section with erotic paintings). But the best was the trip to the little island 가우도 (Ga-u-do). It is really near to the mainland and connected by a bridge. We saw fisher boats and at the beach were beautiful shells and tiny crabs.
Sometimes foreigners also get deposit for free time activities. So that is the reason why it is good to be a foreigner in South Korea.