I am in the subway and I feel like a celebrity. Except for people not taking my picture, nor are they asking for an autograph; they are staring.
As I prepared to study abroad at the University of Seoul, I knew there would be a language barrier and a culture shock to overcome. I did extensive research on South Korea in the hopes of minimizing the effects of the latter. For me, a culture shock is when the brain attempts to match what I am experiencing in my new environment to what I am familiar with at home. For instance, is it common for couples in the States to dress alike? Do cars in Michigan drive on the pavement with the possibility of hitting pedestrians? Did I ever see anyone in America wear eyeglasses without lenses just to appear chic? Or have I ever been pushed and shoved in public without receiving an “excuse me” or apology? When the majority of my answers are no, the shock settles in.
The first and the most uncomfortable one that I faced frequently was people staring at me. I have experienced this from the initial step I took at the Incheon International Airport to riding the subway and even boarding buses. I was uncertain if it was my tan skin-tone or hairy arms that attracted the gazes. I assumed that when I stared back, people would turn their glance another way. Nevertheless, they did not and suddenly the situation would turn into a staring contest. And after two weeks, I came to the conclusion that Koreans must be gawking at me out of curiosity.
However, whether the culture shocks were positive, negative or just uncomfortable, I have been satisfied with this city. Having lived in Seoul for a month, here are five reasons why I have fallen in love with it:
1. No Taxes or Tips: I could not believe this country does not place taxes on items and nor is tipping customary. In other words, a \10,000 detergent from Lotte mart costs only \10,000, and a \7,000 meal from the restaurant across the street is only \7,000. Do you have any idea how awesome this is?
2. Public Transportation: I live in a state where owning a car and driving is mandatory in order to travel. Words cannot describe how wonderful it feels not to worry about the rising cost of gas prices, wasting time searching for parking spaces and dealing with auto insurance. Transportation in Seoul is so efficient that I am almost tempted to permanently live here.
3. Fashionably Stylish: I cannot walk the streets without marveling at how fashionable Koreans are. Whether they are attending classes or running an errand, everyone wears the perfect color-coordinated outfit with matching footwear and accessories. Even the senior citizens in this country dress better than I do. Compared to them, I feel like I should be arrested by the fashion police.
4. Clean Streets: For a place that lacks garbage cans, Seoul is very clean. I am sure there are some parts of the city where this does not apply, but I do not know of any.
5. Affordable Meals: As a picky eater, I have yet to find a dish that I absolutely love. However, I cannot say that I have entirely disliked any of my meals, especially when the average price is approximately \6,000 and it comes with an infinite amount of side dishes. Additionally, when inexpensive street food is available everywhere, I doubt I will ever starve.