What was your favorite place and why? I think that my favorite city on the trip to South Korea was Seoul. I really enjoyed Seoul because I thought there was so much going on right near us, with a mixture of small shops and big retail stores all very easy to get to. What I also appreciated about Seoul was the different districts and how they all seemed to be their own little cities. For example, we stayed in Hongdae which was a major road with tons of buildings on both sides of it with webs of alleys off of the main road. There is also Gangnam which was had the more expensive shops for high end fashion. Then there is Itaewon which is more for the foreigners and most things are in English. In Itaewon you can get a lot of pizza and burgers if you need a day off from Korean cuisine, and we ran in to many Americans here. This is just a small sample of the different regions in Seoul. We only got to see a fraction of the entire city, but we still saw so much. Seoul seems to have everything and it is also has a very clean and efficient subway to get to all of these spots. I also liked Seoul because I was able to visit my brother and see the school he is teaching at, Seoul Foreign School. The teachers did an awesome job of giving us free time in Seoul and I am very grateful that they made time so that I could see my brother as much as possible. When I return to Korea I will definitely start in Seoul again!
What simple items from home did you miss while traveling in South Korea? What simple items did you find in South Korea that you wish you had at home? On our trip to Korea so far I have been quite impressed with the similarities between most simple parts of life here and back home. I have noticed some differences, but it is hard to write a blog post on this topic without sounding like I am complaining about the situation. I have loved all of my different experiences here in Korea, and what I have blogged below has not made my experience unenjoyable, I am just doing my best to describe a difference that I have noticed in simple situations that we have experienced here in Korea. The thing that I have noticed most of all for small differences between here and home is the bathrooms in South Korea. When you enter a bathroom back home you have a general idea of what you’re getting yourself in to. When you enter a South Korean bathroom you are never sure what you’re going to get. Most bathrooms in Korea have a separate entrance from the restaurant, museum, or building that you are visiting. In these bathrooms it is usually the same temperature as the outdoors, which is around 25 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year. These bathrooms can have a regular toilet or just a porcelain hole in the ground. On the other hand there are some other bathrooms that you enter that have heated toilet seats, which are actually quite great, and a bidet, for those who so desire. Our bathrooms back home are usually your standard toilet in a room with a decent temperature. Bathrooms in South Korea fit both sides of this question because I definitely wish that every toilet in America should be set up with a heated toilet seat when I am using one of the fancy bathrooms. However, when I enter a bathroom with a porcelain hole in the ground in a room that is below freezing, then I definitely start to miss the simple thing of a standard bathroom setup that we have back home.
Describe experiences you had dealing with different languages. What would you recommend to others visiting similar places? My experiences with different languages has been very interesting here in Seoul so far. I basically have learned two words in Korean on my trip, “Ahnnyeonghasaeyo” which is hello and “Kamsahamnida” which means thank you. My inability to quickly pick up the language surrounding me has made the language barrier quite prevalent on my trip so far. Very few people that we come across in a day actually speak English. Our professors where well prepared for this and each group on our trip has to stick with their designated Korean speaker. When my Korean speaker has not been directly beside me I have tried to be adventurous and attempted to converse with South Koreans, which has been fruitless so far. In one instance where I could not seem to get my point across through gestures I resorted to Spanish, a language in which I am far from fluent in, to try and communicate my point. Funny how the brain works, but needless to say my point was not understood and I had to have my Korean speaker help translate for me. To someone traveling to an area similar to Korea I strongly encourage you to take some online language lessons or at minimum a dictionary that translates to English. The Korean people are very patient with us and are always willing to try and understand, but the barrier is just too great and I think it is essential to get some lessons before visiting a foreign country like Korea. Learning the Korean language also shows respect to the South Koreans and you can tell that they appreciate when you put in an effort to speak their native tongue. I also believe that learning the native language is a positive reflection on Western countries, showing that we want to learn more about Korea and that we are willing to make an effort to connect to their country. There is much to be gained from taking lessons and doing your best to understand the culture that you are visiting and I strongly encourage anyone looking to travel to an area like Korea to do so.