Note from the editor: Staff writer Oscar Jimenez is currently studying abroad for a semester in Seoul, South Korea. This is the first bi-weekly check-in from Oscar, where he fills us in on the cultural differences and experiences he has while abroad.
On a map, the Pacific Ocean is portrayed as a vast body of water separating North America and Asia. Yet maps fail to capture the absolute magnitude of just how far the two continents are from each other. On my 12-hour flight from San Francisco International Airport to Incheon International Airport, all I saw from my window seat was nothing but blue for thousands and thousands of miles.
For the first couple of hours on the flight, I couldn’t wait to touch ground in South Korea but as more time went by, I started to remember what a close friend of mine said before I departed. He told me that by the time he wakes up in the morning, I’ll be on a different continent. The thought of spending four months in a different country with a different culture and language did startle me and thoughts of doubt started to creep in.
However, as nervous as I was to start this chapter of my life and educational journey, I always remember that without the love and support from my family, my partner and friends, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to start with. My philosophy has been to make the most out of the opportunities that come to me, so in my head I thought, ‘why not go to Korea?’
In the two weeks that I’ve been here, I would say that it’s been quite the experience and I’ve been facing daily culture shocks. For example, I have never been more afraid than when I’m walking on the sidewalk and seeing a motorcycle coming straight toward me. They don’t move onto the street or out of the way at all – they just come straight at me without a care in the world or my safety. If I die here in Korea, it’ll be from those damn motorcycles.
Everyone here always seems to be in a rush but something about the mannerisms and the way folks commute here interests me. Imagine a packed bus or subway train, you probably think all the seats are taken with a lot of people standing and holding onto handrails. Now quadruple the amount of people you are picturing standing, crammed into one singular space. I likened one of my experiences being on a packed bus to being a sardine in a can. But don’t get me wrong, as a self-proclaimed public transit nerd, the public transportation here is otherworldly compared to what it is in the United States. No shade, of course, it’s honestly just that good.
Traveling around Seoul, there is beauty everywhere, but I would define it as unconventional to most. I see a lot of modern buildings that are just amazing to look at in every way imaginable, but where I live there are buildings from the Korean War that are still in use. The buildings have a war-torn exterior covered in nothing but vines and plants, and looking from the outside you would assume they might fall at any moment. But no, to the folks who live there, it’s just their home and I find that fascinating.
Seoul has been spectacular and just like any major city there are always attractions. I typically am not a fan of going on any guided tours as I like to explore and get lost. As someone who only knows how to say ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘boss can I have more water please’ in Korean, I get lost a lot. One of the first major places that I wanted to visit here in Seoul was the Han River. On the plane, it was one of the first things I saw and it was absolutely breathtaking.
The Han River is very important to the South Korean people as it helped elevate the country to what it is now after the Korean War. Visiting it was awesome because as a kid, my little brother and I watched The Host, a popular South Korean movie about a monster that comes out of the Han River and indiscriminately kills hoards of innocent people. Fortunately, no monsters visited me and the experience was safe and cool. I visited a couple of other important monuments, as well as attempted to hike Bukhansan National Park. This adventure ended 10 minutes in, as I have never hiked a moment in my life and was severely underprepared.
One spot that I have repeatedly gone back to is Cheonggyecheon, a massive stream through Seoul where folks go to enjoy the views and occasionally dip their feet in the stream, something I have done every time.
My first two weeks in Seoul have been dope and I can’t wait to experience the rest of the semester. Check back into Issue 6 to hear more about my semester abroad!