What is it like to live in South Korea with an obvious European face – I asked myself a hundred times before leaving. You should forget all the prejudice and ideally see for yourself! If you can’t, maybe this post might be a little enlightening…
Koreans are incredibly polite, helpful, welcoming and ready to excuse you just because you’re a foreigner. Seriously, they are popping up from everywhere trying to show you directions, explain how it works or help you carrying your suitcase.
Unless you don’t know absolutely anything about their culture and customs. Then they might be a bit mean, upset or give up on you. You can imagine how many different rules and regulations you have to obey, but once you do, Korean people are there to appreciate it.
The 6 very basic rules are –>
- giving and receiving with both hands,
- always bow – this is a great escape when you can’t greet properly yet, tried and worked!,
- no nose-blowing of course,
- no sitting down on seats reserved for elderly in the subway / a big issue,
- ideally no expressions of emotions in public
- ajumma is always right (every middle-aged woman)
How do Koreans see ‘Western people’
After the first couple of weeks I noticed that there’s a very fine line between interest and adoration. This of course depends on a person, their age and if they’ve been abroad or not. But it is absolutely an everyday experience to be stared at, pointed at or randomly greeted. And YES, you can be asked to take a picture with a stranger. And it’s kind of fun. At least the people who are present to this are having the time of their lives (yeah, I mean you K!).
Experiencing the real language barrier
Living here surrounded by a completely different language is another big step I had to overcome. What is not really helping is the Hangul – Korean alphabet, which is nice to look at, very geometrical, BUT you can’t derive anything, nothing of it is transferred from German or French…
On the other hand it is very relaxing, you are not distracted by either the signs or the people talking.
Once you know a couple of phrases and how to order your favourite type of tteokbokki, you’re safe!
What if you really don’t know anything?
You order by pointing at the pictures displayed or randomly stab in the menu, hoping the meal is not spicy as hell.
Usually, Koreans warn you about what is spicy or they will serve you a milder version. If they are not too busy laughing hard behind the counter and from time to time coming to the table to check up on you as you cry…
University point of view
As an exchange student at INHA University in Incheon, I am very lucky to share courses with Korean students too. My favourite class is the one with no other foreigner, that is where I can learn the most. There’s always the same routine repeating at the beggining: my new classmates are very shy and unconfident about their language skills, but luckily there are always heroes among them who come sit next to me, asking questions and then translating for the others. Apparently, they’re curious too!
The whole university system is different, but I have to admit there’s a huge input of effectiveness clearly visible – just as basically everywhere around you and it feels great being at least a bit of a perfectionist 🙂