What I like:
Korean supermarkets: For some reason I love shopping in supermarkets, not in the states but in any country I've lived abroad in (namely Germany and here). I really and truly enjoy the experience. I like looking at all the products, I like trying to find things I know, I like trying to figure out things I don't and I even like comparing the prices and I especially like the crazy free samples, its like Cost-co but you're not guilt tripped into buying anything, there are samples at the end of every aisle and you simply stop where you want to try what you want and then move on to the next thing. Grocery stories are so basic about life in another country but it tells you a lot about the place you are in and I probably use my Korean the most here because if nothing else you are basically forced to have interactions with people. Now I'm not really shy about speaking to strangers. I know for some people it may be hard for them to go up and ask for something especially when you don't really speak a language well (or at all) but this isn't a problem for me. It's really hard sometimes to even get up the courage to try to say something in a another language to someone who speaks that Language fluently. You're always embarrassed that you might say the words wrong, or that the person doesn't understand you or that you may say something completely different and violate some unspoken taboo or whatever, but frankly you can't learn if you don't try and if you don't know you're never going to find out unless you ask. I understand it but and the same time it seems so silly to me. I'm an English teacher so it would be frankly hypocritical of me to expect my students to try to speak English despite this if I didn't do the same in my daily life and frankly thank goodness because it makes my life here in Korea so much easier. Today was my schools birthday so I had the day off but I needed to go to Incheon to register for my ARC (foreigner identification card/number) now at multiple times during the trip I was lost and confused (I was by myself trying to find the immigration office in a city an hour to 2 hours away never having used the train system here and in fact not even knowing how to get to the train station from my home). Needless to say I had difficulties and at multiple times I wanted to scream in frustration because I didn't know where to go or what to do. Fortunately like I said before I'm not scared of asking for help/directions and even with my very minimal Korean, I was able to figure it out (this combined with my korean phrasebook and hand gestures made it all possible) but I would have gotten on multiple wrong bus' and trains if I hadn't asked. Haha back to the regularly scheduled program, what I like about Korea.
The People: If nothing else the Korean people I have meet are a whole incredibly generous and kind. I think about how I must look sometimes this crazy foreigner who barely speaks Korean but needs constant help. Today while I was standing there lost and confused and Korean lady who works in the store I was standing in front of came and asked me where I needed to go, well at least I think thats what she asked because she was speaking Korean and I only speak English. I tried to explain in my broken english-korean. Miguk (point to me) mime ID card...she says "ahhh then incomprehensible korean" to me. At this moment an older korean lady comes up to us cause she saw us talking and wanted to help. She looks at my papers that I brought and snaps her fingers and then says something to the other lady. One lady tells me to take bus 12 and the other lady holds up her hands for bus 24. Now one of my friends had already told me I could take either bus so I knew I was on the right track but couldn't seem to find the bus stop (thats one thing I hate about Korea theres no Hauptbahnhof or central train/bus station). Bus stops are scattered willy nilly (which is why yesterday I was wandering around Bucheon station around midnight trying to figure out how to get home because I couldn't find my bus stop...but I digress) but they both showed me that I had to go around the corner to a bus stop on the other side. Now in this case I hadn't even asked for help (though I would have pretty soon) but was instead approached and they both tried their hardest to figure out where I was going and how to get me there. This happens a lot in the Supermarkets as well (probably why I like it so much). Its not that I get approached a lot but that when I need help someone/multiple someones will go out of their way to figure out what I need and how to get me it. This involves simply showing me where to go, to disappearing for 15 minutes and then finding me where I had wandered in the store with someone who could speak English, to stopping me as I was walking and repacking my basket cause I had too much stuff and it was overflowing. People here are so nice to me that I feel really grateful because I would be really lost without them. If I ask a bus driver if they are going to a certain place and they say yes, when we get to that place they will stop the bus even if I didn't push the button and make sure I know to get off. Seriously NICE!
My students: Haha I love my crazy kids. I'm such a novelty to them, first because I don't speak Korean and second because I definitely don't look Korean. They get suck a kick when I know a popular Korean song or when I can throw in a Korean word to help explain something. They yell my name down the halls, will go out of their way just to say hi to me and can't understand why I don't have a boyfriend cause they think I'm pretty (haha I need to write about my first week but I'm too tired). They draw me pictures and try to hold my hand. Haha its just too adorable!
The food: Seriously the food here is good, even my school food. There is just so much variety and it's so cheap to eat out (though not really to cook in). Frankly I didn't really like kimchi in the beginning but everyday (and I do eat it almost everyday since its alway served with lunch) I like it more and more.
What I don't like:
The stares: So because Korea is so ethnically homogeneous Foreigners stick out like no other. Now I don't stick out as say a person with blond hair and blue eyes but I definitely look different. Anyways because of this Koreans will stare at you simply because you are unusual to them. Most don't really mean it in a bad way but after a while it can be a bit unnerving and/or annoying. This also goes hand in hand with random people saying hi to you. Now I tolerate this a bit more and most of the time I think its really cute. A middle school girl was walking by me on the way to work and she raised her hand and said in this small voice "hi" and I can really appreciate the effort and courage it took to do this and it really does take courage, but sometimes I wish I didn't stick out as much (but by no means do I have the worst of it, due to my dark hair and eyes and sort of blend in, try being black in Korea or having blond hair). The saying hi I can handle because most of the time whoever's saying hi is just trying to communicate. The staring I can do without because frankly I'm not an animal at the zoo.
Smoking: People smoke like a chimney here, seriously its awful and you can't really escape it. Smoking here is worse then when I lived in Germany and I thought it was bad then. Don't quote me on it but someone told me recently that as much as 70% of people in Korea smoke and really, I believe it. I'm seriously scared I'm going to get cancer from second hand smoke because I inhale it constantly and it's not like I'm not trying to escape it. Ugh its awful like really really awful!
Spitting: This is really disgusting in my opinion but people spit everywhere here. And I mean everywhere this includes indoors. Ugh. I can be walking down the hallway, in my building and someone hocks a lugee right there. hmmm no bueno.
What I find interesting
Kids cleaning: So in Korea the students clean the school. Well lets be honest they are basically the slaves of the teachers. If one of the co-teachers need water or something they'll literally pull a student from the hallway hand them a giant water bottle and make them go fetch this heavy water and it doesn't matter what they were doing beforehand. Everyday after classes are finished the students have to sweep each classroom, they have to mop the floors (I'm taking little 2nd graders who are at most 6 or 7 as well as the older students but no one over 11 or 12) and if the teachers feel like it they can make whoever they want stay and clean (not only the classrooms but the students come and clean the offices and the teachers lounge). They also have to fetch their own food from the cafeteria and bring it to their rooms. I'm not talking just one tray I'm talking enough food to feed their entire classrooms. Imagine little 8 year olds pushing a cart full of food taller than they are.
Bowing: Bowing is a sign of respect in Korea so basically everyone bows to everyone else the deeper the bow the higher the sign of respect. The teachers command a lot of respect from the students so the really good students will bow completely at the waist and greet you as soon as the see a teacher. One of the cutest things I've seen so far is when I was walking down the hall I came upon five 3rd graders who bowed in sinc and said "Annoyhaseo" which means good morning/hi/good afternoon when they saw me. I nearly died with cuteness overload it was that adorable.
Age: Korean's count from conception so every baby is born starting at a 1 year old, in addition to that everybody in Korea gains a year at New Years (not on their birthday). Example a baby born on December 31 2009 is considered one year old and the next day (Jan 1, 2010) they are considered two years old.That means a baby born on January 1 of 2009 is the same age as a baby born on December 31 2009 even though they are 12 months apart. Haha its strange so I tell my students I'm 25 even though I'm 23 in the states. And when they tell me they are 13 it means they could either be 12 or 11. I actually had a debate with my co-teacher about this. She said the American system is too confusing. Her point was that with our system all the kids would be different ages (some 11 some 12 some maybe even 10) but with the Korean system the students are all on the same age. At first I thought of course they're different ages, because well they are. But in the context of Korean society their way does make sense. Korean culture places a heavy value on age. i.e. If someone is older than you, then you must treat them with respect (bow, use formal language, defer to them etc.), while the older students can talk down to the younger students and make them do things for them, which would make for a awkward class setting... If your confused this might help you understand a little better. In Korea the word for friend is Chinguk, the only people koreans refer to as friend are those who are the same age (born in the same year), everyone else besides these get a title. If they are younger they are called doesang and if they are older they are called oppa/unni/noona/hyung depending on gender of both the speaker and receiver. Every interaction with people (both old and young, familar or unknown) is dominated by age.
All that being said, this blog is made up only of my opinions and personal experiences living in Korea (which amounts to less than two weeks). I am by no means an expert and certainly don't claim to be. If you have a disagree with what I said feel free to leave a comment but know that though there might be culturally reason why such and such practices exist I reserve the right to dislike said practices (such as spitting in buildings and eating dog).
Haha I said it wouldn't be a long post but I apparently I lied :D