by Jessie Yang
‘Annyeonghaseyo!’ I greet the stewardess with a smile, excited to be able to use a word from my poor Korean vocabulary and also thrilled because this flight is the beginning of my highly anticipated exchange semester.Upon arrival in Seoul, the extremely nice staff at the airport arrange a taxi for my friend and I, which would take us to our hostel an hour away from the airport. Before taking the taxi the staff explicitly mentions that this taxi is only for foreigners and that the cab driver speaks English but during the drive we realize that the level of English of the cab driver is fairly disappointing.
Even though the constant miscommunications are a bit frustrating, it does not really matter at the end because it results in an amusing conversation. ‘What is fun here in Seoul?’ I ask, hoping that he could give us some recommendations for Seoul. ‘I am not interested in hanging out.’ he responds. And that very first taxi trip in South Korea is also the first time I got rejected in this country unexpectedly.
Luckily this kind of rejection is just an exception here. For the past few weeks in South Korea I have constantly been meeting kind-hearted locals who are willing to support us foreigners during hopeless times, even when their English is not fluent. These considerate Koreans amaze me repeatedly, as it often occurs that they walk with us to our destination after giving directions, no matter how far away it is.Currently I am an exchange student at Seoul National University (SNU), which is a university with more than 200 buildings and that is bounded on all sides by high mountain ranges. Walking from the main gate of the university to the dorms means that you get to enjoy the fresh air and view for approximately 25 minutes. Because SNU is such a big university it provides free shuttle buses for the students. Usually the line for the bus is quite long and the bus rides bumpy, so I prefer walking to class. I like this option, because it not only lets you admire the gorgeous mountain scenery, it also prevents you from skipping leg day, which your body will thank you for.
After the short work out session, you get entertained during class by the hilarious lecturers – at least that is what the local Korean students would say. I remember in particular my very first class when laughter spread through the classroom after my professor said: ‘If you want to say something just raise your hand’. This is just one of the many surprisingly ‘funny’ remarks that left the majority of the exchange students confused, yet still excited, for the upcoming classes.
Laughter cannot only be found in classrooms, but also in the numerous cafeterias on campus. Each cafeteria has several mouthwatering options for just 2 to 3 euros.
When eating on campus there is no need to worry about eating the same everyday, because fortunately the menu changes on a daily basis and is different in every cafeteria. On campus you can find a world line varying from Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese to obviously Korean. Korean meals include rice with the daily specialty, kimchi, and a few side dishes. The best part of these authentic Korean meals in the cafeterias is that you get free refills of your tasty dishes – though usually you are already full after your first round.
All in all, South Korea is a country full of surprises. Being an exchange student has been a great experience so far, as it allows me to explore the unknown and break out of my comfort zone together with many others. They say travelling is good for the soul, and Seoul confirmed this! There is still plenty to uncover in South Korea, ranging from food to travel destinations and I cannot wait to experience more remarkable adventures here!