The Han River and its many blessings: Why I Chose South Korea

Author: Maryann Choa

‘Welcome to Seoul, South Korea. The local time is 5:10 P.M., at 10 degrees Celsius with slight overcast in the sky”

After passing by customs and immigration with the appropriate documentation, I drove into the
Seoul metropolitan area at around 7 P.M. with one of the local taxi companies.

“한국어 차랬어요” (Your Korean is very good)
“안니에요, 지금의 공부해요” (No, I am currently studying)

Taxi Ride

Despite an awkward conversation with my taxi driver due to the limitations of my Korean and his
English, everything was pleasant. Passing by a plethora of Hyundais’ and Kias’ mixed with
imported European cars such as Mercedes and BMW’s, the road signs were no longer
recognizable as I had been reading 한국말 (Korean words) with each passing sign. I could not
believe it, I moved to South Korea. A dream that I had harboured since I was 15 years old
through the exposure of Korean Pop Music.

Fast forward to April. I have been in the country for exactly a month. Despite the language
barrier involved and the drastic cultural differences… I love living here! I would like to provide
some context, I am someone who does not get overwhelmed by drastic changes. As much as I
love and miss my Mom, I am someone who can adjust in less than a week to my immediate
environment. Hence, my decision to move from Calgary to Nanaimo for my post-secondary
studies. Besides the point, the ‘발이 발이’ (bustling) culture of Seoul is perfect because it
actively forces me to be hyper vigilant of my surroundings, all while immersing myself in cultural

For instance, if you’re ever at a Korean restaurant they have drawers for utensils so patrons can
grab chopsticks and a spoon for themselves cutting the time it would take for a waiter to deliver
the utensils.


In addition, there are buttons for you to call the waiter! One aspect of Korean culture I love is
eliminating the need for small talk in order to gain more gratuities for the employee involved with
the patron. The majority of people reading this blog post are more than familiar with tipping
culture at restaurants. Tipping is disrespectful in Korean culture. The service you get is what you
pay for based on the set price in the menu. I love cutting to the chase and getting to the point
which is what I love the most about the service in the country.

Why I chose South Korea as my study exchange is the respect and admiration I have for the
country and the difficulties they endured. More often than not the sentiment I encounter is
almost always fixated on projecting a fantasy through their national media. For myself, it’s purely
out of sheer curiosity to educate myself on its history and each person’s lived experiences.
When encountering a culture built on collectivism, it’s important to acknowledge the importance
of not treating a collective group as a monolith rather to treat every interaction as an isolated
unique experience. Hence, my ongoing fascination to learn more beyond the confines of
academic teachings.

Nevertheless, it is still important to contextualize Korean culture and its history, by analyzing
how the country achieved rapid economic expansion in less than 50 years. More often than not
Korea’s past is overshadowed by its cultural exports of Korean media, in addition to its
neighbouring nation receiving most kudos while omitting vital information. In order to gain a
sense of familiarity and desirability for the culture it's important to understand how Korea came
to be otherwise travelers that are interested in pursuing an exchange program here will face
difficulties in adjusting to the culture. You are culturally pivoting yourself in a 180 degree
direction, especially if you are seriously considering immersing yourself in the culture while
limiting your interaction with other foreign students. The existing habits you have gained in the
west are not applicable in the east, hence the beauty of international travel. In order to gain a
greater sense of understanding, one must respect the lived experience of others.

Interested in Exchange?

Exchange is your opportunity to have an adventure, earn valuable transfer credit towards your degree, connect with the global campus community and gain a whole new perspective on your education and career.


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