29 hours of travel later, I am in Seoul!
The language barrier here has been the realest I have experienced. I haven’t had the experience abroad of not recognizing characters, and trying to communicate has so far been really silly. When shop owners or waiters will ask me something, I’ll face them with a deer-in-the-headlights look until they register my blondeness and communicate with gestures. Everyone so far has been kind, but I am looking forward to understanding more of the language.
The housing is similarly non-Western. Shoes are prohibited in the room, the beds are very hard and basically on the ground, and there is no shower area, just a shower head in the middle of the bathroom.
This evening, my friends and I conquered the Seoul Subway system, navigating our way from our University to the very exciting Central Seoul. In Myeong-Dong, assertive venders stopping passersby and unique street foods are everywhere. We tried fried squid tentacles – very chewy, but decent!
After some light shopping, we went to a cat café! I had heard a lot about these, and it was at least as cool as I had imagined. For about $8 we got a drink and access to about 20 cats that just walked around, sometimes sitting in customers’ laps or eating food out of their hands.
We then ate dinner at a restaurant where all the food is cooked in and eaten out of a large pot in the middle of the table. This is very consistent with the Korean customs of sharing food and paying all together.
So far the most striking cultural difference so far has been how kind Koreans are to foreigners. I’m used to people teasing “annoying tourists,” but we have had several people notice we’re lost or struggling and go out of their way to help us without even asking.
On this Fourth of July, this proud American is still pretty stoked to begin integrating into such a different culture here in Korea.