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The Korea Diaries: Part 2

ByIMG_0163 Ryan Loughrey

These past few weeks have been an incredible blur. The sights and sounds and culture of Korea invite themselves into your senses and you slowly fall in love with them. My second class starts tomorrow, and I can only hope my mind has successfully made the shift from ‘freedom of summer’ to ‘intellectual student.’

 

When I last wrote, I had not left the country yet. I am happy to report that I have indeed arrived safe and sound, although navigating the airport made me feel like a mouse trapped in a maze, but have settled in and unpacked and made my room become more homey by throwing clothes about and not picking up after myself. I am now typing this in my quiet room where my new roommate no doubt is trying to sleep to the gentle staccato of my typing keys.

 

Korea is a beautiful country, to say the least. Once one has become acclimated to the humidity, which is something that in Redding is not felt in the way it is here, one can truly appreciate the natural wonders here. For example, there is the fog that sets in over the mountains in the morning, or the heavy clouds that keep sunshine out but the warmth stays, like a light blanket. The city I am in is called Asan, although technically this smaller suburb of Asan is known as Sinchang, which caused a lot of confusion when trying to navigate the metro rail. Asan is enveloped by mountains and verdant hills that seem to not only to surround but exist with the city. It is not a city with nature around it; it is a city with nature fully in it.

 

I live in the Global Village, which is essentially the dormrooms for internationals and Korean’s who pay extra for the privilege (not being facetious, just factual)  of living with students from around the world, in the hopes that their second language skills may be improved. Students hail from near 7 different states in America, ranging from Hawaii to Pennsylvania to denial, as well as countries such as Canada, Indonesia, China, Japan, England, Mexico, and Finland. We are the foreigners here, and although many Koreans speak English, I can’t help but feel horribly ignorant whenever I go into town and someone asks me a question I can’t understand. Everyone is kind and patient, though, and most speak enough English that we can do basic tasks, like find bathrooms and order food.

One nice aspect of Korea is that public transportation is so ubiquitous. I was afraid that without a car I would be utterly at the whim of friends, my freedom essentially gone. This worrying was for naught, however, as it is relatively to travel via the metro train or the KTX (which is just a quicker but more expensive train), buses, or taxis. I have never hailed a taxi before coming here, so when I first put my hand in the air and had them stop for me, I felt powerful. The taxis drive different than the way I do, for you see while I take my time and drive slow, there is no time to be taken here. The drivers know you are on the clock and will drive as fast as needed to get you to your destination as soon as possible. In my first ride, I thought it was something like a roller coaster and put my hands in the air, much to the confusion of the driver.

Walking is also a very viable option to driving. In fact, we walk almost everywhere. If we want to go into town to get dinner, we can just walk down the hill and find a restaurant. If we are in Seoul and want to explore another district, we just take the subway to the main station and then walk around to explore and try our best not to get lost.

I can’t forget to mention Korean food. Sometime in the first week, the date is lost to my memory, we went to a traditional Korean diner. To enter, we first removed our shoes, a custom that was quite new to me, and sat cross legged at the low tables on soft pillows. In the center of the table sat a kind of stove and cast iron pan. The meat was brought to us raw, and we cooked this and the vegetables in the stove in the middle, where the scents permeated the room and our stomachs grumbled approvingly at the prospect of consuming this food. The meat was quite tender, and we wrapped it up in a kind of large leaf of lettuce with the vegetables; I thought about how it was similar to a taco but with a lettuce shell.

I feel I should mention something about the drinking culture here. The drinking age is roughly 16 or 17 (Koreans count their age in a different way than we do), and alcohol is served casually with dinner. With our meal we ordered makgouli, which is a kind of rice wine, and it tasted sweet and was a nice beverage after eating the hot meat. Soju, the drink of choice here, is almost as cheap as water, and on some weekends flows more than the water in the Nile.

The people that I have met are all wonderful. The other internationals are all kind and open minded; everything is an adventure to us now and there are no clichés or drama, we just spend time with anyone and learn about each other. Everywhere is new and exciting, even going grocery shopping at Emart and buying things like toilet paper and food. Although many Koreans can be shy, the ones who have spent time with internationals tend to be very friendly and are always curious. I feel like we have learned a simple lesson: no matter where you go, people are always people. Everyone has fears, desires, hopes, and dreams, and it is impossible to stereotype, everyone is unique.

Other top memories: getting a massage for about 20 dollars, which forced the tension out of me, eating silk worms, which were strangely crunchy, walking the crowded streets with open markets in Onyang, playing soccer with the other internationals, and having a mini movie night in the lounge in our dorms.

There is almost too much to remember. Adventures everywhere, friendships forged, alcohol consumed, mind opened, and Korea officially experienced. And it’s only week number 2.

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