The Bad and the Good of Seoul

After being in Korea for more than three months it is safe to say that I have noticed some things I am not particularly fond of. These are things that not everyone does, but I have noticed them more often than not. Also, there are a bunch of things that you won’t find in America that I would gladly accept if they migrated across the Pacific.

Things I am not used to

  1. This is the one I complain about the most: People not washing their hands. As I said before, not everyone does this, but I have seen it more than enough. It is truly mind boggling coming from a place that has a heavy emphasis on good hygiene, complete with posters in public bathrooms that say “employees must wash their hands.” I have seen countless girls who use the bathroom and walk to the sink where there is a mirror, touch up their hair, and then leave. People will use the bathroom to brush their teeth, but they will not wash their hands. At first this truly mortified me, but I don’t freak out as much as I did before. I do tend to stress on it, but for the first few weeks I was in total disbelief.

  2. The traffic laws. It is mainly about seat belts. Rarely do people use them and that sort of things stresses me out. Considering how crazy the driving is here, the stress is heightened even more. Just like the hand washing, it has become apart of daily life, but am still shocked watching people enter cars and not put on their seats belts.
  3. People constantly bump into each other. This comes with some understanding; I have been told by my Korean friends that Seoul life requires constant moving and having to be places. In a crowded place like the bus or the subway, where people have to push through, I don’t mind when they bump into me. The problem I have is when there is so much room between me and one other person and they still bump into me. Often times, no one will apologize and it can be a little infuriating. Some do say sorry, though I’ve noticed it is generally the younger people who apologize.
  4. This can annoy all people, not just the foreigners: The couple culture here. For some reason I cannot recall what couple culture is like in the U.S., but I would say it is far more subtle. Of course you will see those couples who think it is OK to make out in public (which it isn’t). However, in Korea, the ways they display affection is extremely obnoxious and annoying. This is hard to explain when you do not witness it, but people really practice public displays of affection (PDA) in the most obnoxious way possible. I have witnessed people make out in cafes; one time this was a little humorous because it was midterm week and everyone around the couple making out was studying. The weirdest form of PDA I have sever seen was a guy eating his girlfriend’s hair. I wish I was making this up, but it really did happen. They also perform PDA almost everywhere; in the convenience store, in the subway, in the arcade-basically anywhere. This rant could go on for hours but, basically, couples here really annoy me.

I don’t like to dwell too long on the things that drive me crazy because there are so many things Korea offers that makes those inconveniences so small – minus the seatbelt thing, that one is a little alarming.

The things I love
There are so many things I love about Korea and wish would exist in America. I have come to realize when I go back home I am going to have a hard time adjusting to those great features.

  1. McDelivery. OK here is the thing: I love Korean food a lot, but I have a serious obsession with McDonald’s chicken nuggets. I really don’t care what is in it-I love them. How ecstatic was I when I found out the chicken nuggets taste the same here? Beyond. I also found out that McDonald’s does delivery here. Actually, even Burger King does delivers. Additionally, McDonald’s is open 24/7, so if it is 3 a.m. and I am hungry, I can order chicken nuggets.

  2. Speaking of which, a lot of restaurants here are open 24/7. I am a night person; it is when I thrive. I usually go to bed after my latest class and wake up at midnight or even later. I don’t have to worry about going hungry though because so many restaurants around me stay open (this includes Krispy Kreme). Even the convenience stores stay open 24/7. However, now that it is getting cold, I don’t venture off too far from the dorms. I usually just rely on convenience store food until morning when the cafe in the basement opens up.
  3. You may think it is a little dangerous for someone like me to be walking at 3 a.m. to go get food, but it is a lot safer to walk alone at night here. I have to say that doesn’t mean I am 100 percent safe – I should always be cautious – but it feels safe to walk alone at night. I think the biggest reason is that so many people walk and drive around late at night; there are witnesses and a lot of street lights. It sounds ridiculous, but this is probably one of my favorite things I wish I could do in San Diego.

  4. Here is the top thing I love: There is free Wi-Fi available almost everywhere. There is also a strong coffee culture, so just about every cafe provides Wi-Fi if you purchase a drink. However, if you are in the subway (depending on the station), there is Wi-Fi provided. A lot of people here use Kakao, a popular Korean chat message app, so I actually don’t even have a phone plan here. I have come this far without needing data because there is Wi-Fi almost everywhere. On top of that, when there is no Wi-Fi, I put my phone down and focus on my surroundings.

I would add food to this list, but that deserves its own post. I will say I do love that I don’t have to tip and there is no tax is included. I am truly going to miss this one the most. Food here is relatively cheap, so it’s nice not having to pay extra for a meal.

Every place you visit will obviously have attributes you are not too fond of, but then there will be things that make life so much better. When traveling abroad spend more time enjoying the things you love rather than stressing over the stuff that bothers you.


Erica McGee is an English major who aspires to teach abroad. She is studying at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea for a full academic year.

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