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14 Things That Happen When You Move to South Korea

South Korea Student Work
by Jordan McCutcheon Jun 30, 2015

1. For the first time since high school, you remember how bad you are at volleyball.

You accept that your skills will never impress your co-workers because they’ve been playing for years and you’ve been playing on Wednesdays for one month. Everyone is a lot nicer to you about it than they were in high school, though.

2. You wait unreasonable amounts of time to pee.

You know you need to nut up but haven’t yet adapted to a manageable squat position. Most of the time, you have the option to use a squat toilet or the fancy sit-down ones with heated seats. When you don’t though, the struggle to not fall and pee on your shoes is real.

3. You become a “soju mixologist.”

Soju alone tastes a bit like vodka on the rocks, but with rocks melted. It doesn’t take long to figure out you can’t taste soju at all when another beverage is added. Lotte Redbull, Gatorade and Lipton’s iced tea make excellent soju mixers. Or get straight to the point and drop a shot of soju in your Cass like the locals.

4. Everyone else will always be wearing more clothes than you.

You show up for volleyball and look like a lone prostitute on a sand court of well-dressed beekeepers. At the beach, you’re in a bikini when most people are wearing clothes. In the metro, judgmental eyes cut into your exposed skin from traditional bystanders when you wear an open-back dress. While hiking, you question if you should have purchased a Louis Vuitton bag and a designer sports outfit for the trek. Never mind number 8. Everyone knows you aren’t from here.

5. You get really good at rock, paper, scissors.

You feel like you’ve been doing this wrong your whole life after watching a group of 10 children somehow play altogether and narrow it down to one winner. It’s intense and heated and you know you’ll never beat them. Rock, paper, scissors is no longer a game. It’s a skill you must master to get ahead in this life.

6. You turn a year older.

You can find your Korean age by subtracting the current year from the year you were born. So everyone is kind of one or two years older than normal. The harsh reality that you moved across continents and skipped turning 29, going straight to 30 makes you a little sad.

7. You have no idea what to do with your trash.

The streets are spotless, but how? Trash cans evade you everywhere you go. When you do find one, it’s full. At your apartment, you still haven’t found a dumpster. You’ve strategically been placing your small bags of garbage in the CU Market’s wastebasket across the street for months now.

8. You question why you packed so many shoes.

Footwear is now irrelevant during work hours. Yes, you need them when you’re outside, but not having to worry about pairing shoes to your outfit every morning is a gift.

9. You’re now a pro at adapting to quick schedule changes.

Everyone is really organized. You have your visa, your bank account, Internet and your furnished apartment on day one. Then there are times when you don’t know there is an after-work dinner until you are being driven to it. You show up for work and find out you’re in a volleyball tournament, and have no sports clothes to wear. A class is canceled or one is added 10 minutes before it’s supposed to begin. At first it seems like you’ve been forgotten, but actually, this is normal. It’s called the Korean surprise and it’s a thing.

10. You’ll choose to stay in love motels over hostels.

Korea’s love motels are like tiny amusement parks where you sleep. They aren’t seedy or run down as the name implies. Most have wild themes like “jail cell” or “The Smurfs.” All the amenities you need are included and they give you a ton of free condoms. You’ll never regret the extra $10 it costs you.

11. The metro amazes you.

When you figure out how to use a metro in a foreign country the first time you try without help, it’s a miracle. Thanks to the efficiency of the Korean metro system, you look like you’ve lived here forever as you navigate the railways with ease. As a bonus, festive music plays when the train arrives, crowds are tame, it’s clean and there’s free WIFI.

12. Kimchi happens. A lot.

Kimchi is part of your everyday life now. You’ve tried every kind, from cabbage and radish to leek and cucumber. Kimchi flavored snacks line the grocery store aisles and it’s available for breakfast. There’s even a Kimchi museum and festival in Seoul. You’re body may go into shock upon leaving the country and no longer reaping the myriad health benefits of this Korean staple.

13. You eat something that is alive.

Or you haven’t yet, but you’ve watched someone else do it. You could feel the tentacles of the Sannakji (산낙) (live octopus) sticking to the sides of your mouth even though you were just an observer. That was bizarre enough.

14. Caffeine is just one of many reasons you’ll frequent the quirky coffee shops.

Sure, the lattes are great, but where else in the world can you drink an Americano while you’re dressed like a princess surrounded by sheep as you play Jenga? Just kidding. Those are three different cafes, but you can go to all of them in one day!

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