It feels like it’s been years since I first applied and got accepted to study abroad in Seoul, South Korea. Midterms were last week which made me really think about how far I’ve come. I’m finally at the halfway point of the semester, and I guess you could say I’ve survived! I’ve prevailed! I’ve- whatever you wanna call it! In between studying of course, I would spend the week reflecting on how my lifestyle has changed from the first weeks to now. When thinking about my experiences here in Seoul, I couldn’t help compare it with a new relationship. This may sound strange, and I’m not saying I’m literally dating Seoul, but I think it fits perfectly as a metaphor. I’ve gone through three stages of the relationship so far. First stage, the awkward phase, second, the lovey dovey phase, third, the comfortable phase. There may be better names for these phases, but I’ll use these for now.
The awkward phase. This phase usually consists of the first few dates where you are unsure of yourself with this new person. You spend most of the time trying not to make a fool of yourself. This can pretty much describe my first few weeks here. I prepared for my journey by trying to understand everything I could about the culture. I practiced the common important Korean phrases, I read up on the foreigner dos and don’ts. Arriving at the airport I was filled with nerves and excitement. On my first day out around town, I found myself hesitant to speak to the locals, and when I did, I would practice what I was gonna say in my head over and over to avoid miscommunication. Making my way to different popular towns while trying to take in every aspect of them. Not only did the streets seem unfamiliar with their stacked shops and narrow alleyways, but the smells were also new. With so many restaurants lined along each street, smells of cooking beef, steamed veggie dumplings, and fermenting Kimchi overwhelmed my senses. All was so new that I’m not sure I really was able to be my self.
The lovey dovey phase. This phase is also known as a dream phase. I assume many experience this phase while traveling abroad. I would describe it as the first few weeks where everything seems so new and exciting. No matter what happens around you, you cannot find fault in it. I experienced this phase for sure! I was constantly on the move, trying to experience every little thing Korea could offer me. When I was out shopping or on the subway I felt happy, I felt like I could run the world. I texted my friends and family only positive things about Seoul, how kind the people are, how they have the best food, the best shopping, and the best night life! My parents still remind me of one of my long text I had sent them of how much better Korea was than America. I was constantly on the subway going somewhere and anywhere. Two of the friends I’ve made along the way are Kelli and Emma; also from the States, I would constantly give them a hard time for wanting to stay in or eat at the same restaurants. I think I was afraid to develop some type of routine, cause that meant I wasn’t going to experience the true culture surrounding me. I didn’t want to leave this dream phase I had developed with Seoul because then I wouldn’t have great stories to bring home. I didn’t want to stop loving Seoul; I wanted to avoid any boring routine where I would lose that love. Eventually though, it slowed down.
The comfortable phase. I’m going to be honest, this phase isn’t filled with fireworks and rainbows, but it’s more real. With school, my friends and I have slowly developed a routine. To be honest I love my routines! This phase is for sure way better than the latter. I won’t describe every thing I do each day of the week, but I’ll describe my Wednesdays. On Wednesdays, my two closest friends and I have Chinese Law and Philosophy together which begins at two in the afternoon. With such a late class, and my only class on Wednesdays, I tend to sleep in. Waking up at nine-thirty in the morning, I take a shower and get ready. When I say get ready, I actually mean get dressed up in the cutest outfit I can put together and put on a full face of make-up. Here in Korea, it is unheard of to go out in public, especially to class, in sweats and a sweatshirt. I usually watch Netflix or listen to music as I get ready and prepare my backpack. Around twelve-thirty, my friends and I love to go to this western style soup and salad little restaurant. It’s become our usual spot to eat before this class, and I’ll tell you why. It’s a small mom and pop style restaurant that is hidden behind a Starbucks and a bakery. As you approach it, you can always spot it by the blue bike that leans against the front wall. The restaurant is named “Hippocrates”, and is run by one older woman and a slightly younger man. I would like to say they are the kindest people I’ve met so far, and they always welcome us with the biggest smiles. It’s a self-seating area that isn’t very decorated, but offers a cozy feel. On a small table, they sell little pastries such as muffins and French macaroons. They offer an English and Korean menu, but we attempt to order in Korean the best we can. By now, the woman knows exactly what we want: Hippocrates soup, and a chicken salad. The soup is served with a variety of breads you can dip into the warm veggie soup. The salad is filled with tomatoes and chickpeas, that remind me of home. Each dish is definitely made with love. I wish I could take this place home with me because it is definitely one I will always cherish.
After we finish eating, we make our way to class. This class is by far my favorite! The professor is so laid back and encourages participation. It’s the highlight of my week! Sorry, other professors. After class, my friends and I then head over to the main library to either read some novels for fun, or work on homework. This library is five stories tall and has pretty much any book imaginable. Underground there is a convenience store for quick snacks. This definitely comes in handy on the days we spend all night there. After our work is done, we say our goodbyes and head back to our different living accommodations. The rest of the night is spent alone either studying or enjoying a Netflix film. I know this day seems way less exciting as my days in the first two phases of this “relationship”, but it’s become the one I’ve most appreciated: Having a restaurant with such good food and wonderful workers I can rely on, and a consistent place I can go to study while hanging with friends. I’ve created a great environment for myself. With my routine, I feel more at home here in Seoul, I feel like I belong here at Korea University. I’m not just a foreigner who needs to stress about what to say or where to go, I’m a local who has places to go that make me feel at home.
I’m halfway through this journey, and I feel more myself then I did a month ago. I may be able to see faults in Korea now, but it just makes me appreciate the wonderful things about it more. Korea isn’t some dreamland, but I feel even more proud of where I am, and what is left for me to experience. I hope for now on I’ll write about the little things I experience and enjoy. And I here’s to the next half!