Skincare in Korea

Reflecting on my time in Korea is one of my favorite pastimes. Especially after returning to the States, I remembered a lot more differences I had experienced during my semester there. One of the things Korea is most famous for is it’s top of the line skincare. Every block in Seoul had at least three skincare stores open and ready to sell to the masses. The obsession continued with advertisements of K-pop stars advertising new products from the most popular skincare lines all over the country. If you take a trip to Gangnam, the most expensive neighborhood in Seoul, you can see the countless numbers of plastic surgery clinics lining the road.

The skincare and cosmetic market in Korea is supported by the Korean culture. There is even a “10 step skincare routine” many Korean women swear by and follow religiously to achieve the perfect porcelain skin. Korean people begin their dedication to healthy, beautiful skin at a young age. From what I heard, parents start teaching their kids about moisturizing and protecting their skin from the sun around the time they learn to brush their own teeth.

Although I remember my mother slathering sunscreen on me as a child, she always was more concerned about skin cancer. In Korea, the skin is protected from the sun more to preserve wrinkle-free, porcelain skin that is coveted in Korean society. Instead of self-tanning products, they have whitening products for the skin. Just before summer, each cosmetic store had sales on sunscreen with huge amounts of SPF and supposed whitening properties. K-pop stars are often idolized for their flawless skin, clear skin.

Skincare is certainly high-quality and affordable. It’s also not entirely uncommon for parents to gift plastic surgery to their daughters on their 16th birthday to get double eyelids. This plastic surgery is also quite affordable compared to western standards. The Korean beauty standards are vastly different from those in the west and were interesting to learn about. Although they may seem extreme, there are certainly standards in the west that people take very seriously as well, such as idolizing tan skin or certain body types. Seeing old pieces of literature from Korea a few hundred years ago was also interesting as it reinforced the beauty ideals of long dark hair and very pale skin. Although certain things such as double eyelids most certainly were adopted from western cultures. Regardless, Korean skincare products were fun to learn about and test out.

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It’s a Small World After All

After my semester in Korea I had six weeks until my flight back to the US. With six weeks on my hands, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. Some of my friends I had studied with had plans to go to Japan. But I thought “No I want to do something different”. I could’ve very easily stayed in Korea, which I had fallen in love with at that point. But I though “No I spent too much money on a flight to see just one country”.  So with no other appealing options, I remember hesitantly googling “Women traveling solo”. From then on there was no going back. In six weeks I traveled to four countries, stayed in 8 different accommodations, took 9 flights and saw more of the world than many people do their whole lives all with a single Nike backpack strapped to my back.

It was the most unforgettable summer of my life. The value of traveling alone is indescribable. For six weeks not a single person knew who I was. I was just a person passing by. I spent a lot of time alone, but an equal amount of time making friends with complete strangers. The things I saw were so vibrant and amazing, I really don’t have words to describe them. But at the end of the trip I realized that I learned the most from the people I met along the way, both locals and travelers. There is a strange commonality that exists between those who love to travel.

The whole backpacking experience is entirely unique and requires a lot of patience. There are some days you just don’t want to get out of bed, and others you travel across an entire country. Every day you wake up and have to decide for yourself what you will do that day, which is a bigger responsibility than it may sound. As much as I wish I could go into details about what I did, saw, and experienced I just cannot begin to describe it. In addition to that, there’s something very appealing about having an entire summer worth of experiences to myself. Bits and pieces were shared with individuals who are now back in their home countries all across the world, but the whole story from start to finish is something only I know and I think that’s very special.

I would encourage everyone to take a solo trip at some point in their life. Whether you need a refresher or are looking to experience as much as possible abroad, traveling alone gives you a freedom to choose your experiences and go with the flow. Backpacking is preferable of course so you can also experience a minimalist lifestyle for a bit, but either way it really develops you. Some people are intimidated by the idea of traveling alone, but there really are safe ways to go about it. I wouldn’t change my experiences for the world, and I think people would come to see the value of solo travel if they’d give it a chance, even if it’s just a day trip one town over.

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International Bazaar-Event #2 Fall 2018

Every Fall semester the International Bazaar is held on the South Oval. This year it was held earlier in the semester than usual to avoid the Oklahoma winter weather. Each international student organization has their own table which they can decorate to represent their culture. The tables are set up early in the morning in a semi-circular formation to encourage people to stop by on their way to classes. The organizations can choose to sell food, set up games for people to play, and display things that are symbols of their culture. We create a playlist with music from all around the world which encourages people to dance and have fun.

The purpose of this event is representation. The International Bazaar encourages students at OU to learn about different cultures and also serves as a showcase for the international student organizations. People often don’t realize how significant the population of international students are. So this event is a great way to get them all together and allow the OU community to appreciate just how far people have come to attend the University of Oklahoma.  In addition, the International Bazaar allows the organizations to promote their own events on campus.

I really like how this year the International Advisory Committee (IAC) really encouraged the learning aspect of this event by giving away trivia prizes. Students could get a pamphlet from the IAC table and then take it around to all the other organizations. Each table would have trivia questions pertaining to their own country or region. They would ask questions like “What is the capital of China?” or “What language is spoken in Oman?”. If you answered the question right, then you got a stamp! After collecting a certain number of stamps you could get a gift card prize from IAC and walk away with a much broader knowledge base.

The international bazaar gives a sense of belonging to the international community on campus. Often times students feel like there is a disconnect between international and American students– a social separation. But this event provides the opportunity for everyone to come together and enjoy some good food and good music in the sunshine while learning from each other. It always brings a lot of joy and a welcome break from the monotony of the academic week. So next Fall, take a break and forget about your worries for a bit at the International Bazaar.

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International Advisory Committee- Fall 2018

Upon returning from Korea this Fall, I planned on focusing on my academics and work since junior year in mechanical engineering is extremely busy. However, I became aware that the International Advisory Committee (IAC) had a an opening for the Judicial Chair position and was having a hard time filling it. I have been a part of IAC now for all three years of my time at OU, so I simply could not stay away.  IAC is an umbrella organization that houses the other international student organizations from various regions of the world. IAC is structured like a government. It is often dubbed “the SGA of the International Community”. IAC is comprised of an Executive Board with a Sub-Committee of volunteers, the body of International Student Organizations, and the Judicial Board. My role as the Judicial Board Chair is to ensure the constitution is upheld and take care of all matters pertaining to voting both in IAC elections and for events where the general public can vote. The diversity of IAC reflects the spirit of the international community on campus. Students from all regions of the world join together to put on events that point out our commonalities as well as teach each other about our distinct cultures.

The Executive Committee collaborates with our Sub-Committee members, Core Volunteers, and International Student Organizations to create events that are open to all members of the OU community. Our Fall events include the International Prom where International Students can experience the quintessential American prom experience. I’m confident that the International Prom is consistently more interesting than my high school proms, and I organized those as well, so the comparison is relatively fair. Our other Fall event is the International Bazaar where the International Student Organizations get the chance to promote their organizations and culture on the South Oval for a day for all students to experience. 

The third event happens in the spring and it’s called Mr. and Miss International. This event gives students the chance to represent their countries in a pageant competition. The winners of the pageant then go on to represent the international community in the homecoming parade the following academic year. The final and fourth event is our largest event and it is the largest cultural performance in the state of Oklahoma. The event is called Eve of Nations and it’s so massive that we’ve started planning already a whole semester in advance. Although we traditionally stick to these four main events, IAC continuously strives to find new avenues to better the international community and increase awareness on campus. 

IAC has had such an impact on my life and has definitely broadened my horizons. My life here would simply not be the same if I hadn’t met the incredible people I have gotten to know in IAC. I encourage everyone, international and American, to get involved in IAC. Attend our events, apply to be a Sub-C or Core Volunteer, or walk in our Eve of Nation fashion show to represent your country!

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Diwali Night-Event #1 Fall 2018

Every Fall OU’s India Student Association puts on a performance to celebrate Diwali. This is the third year I have attended the Diwali event and I always look forward to seeing the performances each time. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that is commonly celebrated all over India. It is largely recognized as one of India’s largest festivals. The celebration typically includes lighting lots of  candles and diyas during the festival time which represent the light conquering darkness.

The event was held in the Union Molly Shi Ballroom. The performances were a mix of classical Indian dancing and more modern choreography inspired by Indian culture. The music ranges from Bollywood style pop songs to live acoustic numbers. And of course it simply would not be a Diwali celebration without amazing and vibrant costumes in all colors. The event was totally student run, but you would think it was a professional show by the caliber of the performances and precise staging.

Some of the performers started practicing over a month before the event and the level of choreography that goes into all of the performances never ceases to amaze me.  I’m not sure how India Student Association has so many talented choreographers, but it seems as natural as breathing for them and it makes their shows truly spectacular to watch and a joy to participate in. Everyday students put countless hours and pull late nights to make this event possible out of their passion for the event and their organization. 

The ticket for the performance includes an Indian buffet after the event, which is always a highlight of the India Student Association events for me. The audience for the event was a decent mix of students and members of the community. I think that India Student Association does a really good job of involving the community outside of OU’s campus in their cultural events. This year there was even a guest performance by a group from a college in Oklahoma City. The India Student Association puts this event on every year to create an avenue to celebrate this traditional holiday as well as share their culture with the rest of campus who may not be as familiar with Indian culture. 

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Being Foreign in Korea

A lot of people have asked me what it was like being a foreigner in South Korea. Korea is an extremely homogenous society and people identify very strongly with their Korean heritage. Generally, my experience was very positive. I was never personally discriminated against or felt unwelcome by Korean people. Being foreign in Korea was, however, challenging at times.

Being in Seoul, most people had seen foreigners at some point. There was a split between younger and older generations. College-aged students generally paid no extra attention to me. However, older people and young children were a bit more fascinated by me. In the subways, you could feel people staring at you. They tried to be discrete and they were just curious gazes, but it was quite obvious when they tried to take pictures with their smart phones. Older women had a habit of complimenting my appearance in front of me, which my Korean friends were more than happy to translate for me later. After a few weeks, I hardly noticed it.

When I would go into traditional Korean restaurants, the employees would look a bit panicked sometimes. It was actually pretty amusing. But they were usually concerned about the language barrier. Once I spoke a few words in Korea, their panic would melt off their faces and they would look extremely relieved. But then, they would assume the opposite and immediately attempt to carry on a full conversation in Korean which was much beyond my capabilities. Most people in stores would just automatically assume that I understood Korean perfectly. Usually, I only understood about 25% of what they were saying. After about a month of just blindly answering yes or no to questions, I finally memorized how to say, “Would you like your receipt?” or “Do you need a bag?” so it was no big deal.

Being foreign also came with its perks though. A lot of the social rules in Korea did not apply to me since I was obviously not Korean. For example, Korea has a lot of etiquette practices for both eating and drinking. I learned some, but it was difficult to remember when you are out with friends, just enjoying their company. But no one minded if we didn’t pour a drink correctly, or hand money with both hands, or forgot any of the other dozens of rules. As a foreigner, some people were also naturally curious about me. So, I often had nice conversations with strangers, got free candy while hiking a mountain, and was offered food several times.

Overall, as a foreigner, I felt my experience was positive. Language made things a bit harder, but as long as you were patient, things always managed to work out. As I’ve mentioned before, even the little Korean I knew was extremely helpful and I found people were more willing to engage if I knew a bit of Korean. Sometimes it was easy to get frustrated when people stared too much or if they got angry that I couldn’t understand them. But I really had a positive experience and I felt most people were  simply curious and happy to share their culture.

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Aspects of Korean Culture

If you are reading this, hopefully you are considering going to Korea. In this post I would like to discuss some aspects of Korean culture that I learned while in Korea. Some of these things I wish I knew before I went to Korea, but you really have to be immersed in the culture to fully understand the dynamics within the culture. I was there for four months, and some things still confuse me. But that’s part of the experience of going abroad and being slightly confused on a consistent basis taught me a lot. Everything in South Korea was also slightly more complicated to understand because I don’t speak much Korean and English is not widely spoken.

The first and most useful thing I learned about Korean culture is the art of bowing. When you receive something, you bow. When bump into someone, you bow. When you have to apologize for something because you are the confused foreign person, you bow! It’s just a small nod of your head really, but in South Korea a bow goes a long way toward expressing your gratitude and showing respect. Once I left Korea, I found myself subconsciously bowing for every little thing. It was an extremely useful skill that helped me get through a lot of situations especially if there was a language barrier.

Another aspect of Korean culture is how people interact with each other on a daily basis. In the United States, we tend to be very informal and friendly in our daily interactions. However, in South Korea visitors often say people seem unhappy. This is not true. People in South Korea just walk around with a very controlled and straight face. You do not smile at strangers or make eye contact when you pass by people. This does not necessarily mean they are unfriendly people though. If I ever stopped someone and asked for directions, their straight face would fade away and they were often extremely eager to help me find my way. It is simply part of the culture to maintain a neutral expression in public. In daily interactions, Koreans tend to be much more formal. They use formal language with those they do not know and it’s very important to express politeness through both vocabulary and body language.

There is no such thing as personal space in Seoul, South Korea. It does not exist. It is a myth. Almost 10 million people live in Seoul. Everyday around 7 AM and 6 PM, the subways are overflowing with people commuting to work. You have to elbow your way into the swarm of people crammed into the compact metal car. During the peak hours, there is not enough space for everyone to hold on to something. But there are so many people that you all just sway with each other as one body moving with the cart. It feels like you are a can of sardines because sometimes you can fully lean your weight on the person beside you and you will no one will lose their balance. People are extremely used to these sorts of crowds everywhere- in the subway, the busses, the streets and the stores. In daily life, people are not bothered by bumping shoulders, pushing people, or elbowing their way through crowds. Being from California, I am a bit more used to crowds. But some of my friends felt this was the hardest aspect of Korean culture to accept. But, Korean people are not being rude, there is just no room for personal space when there are so many people.

Ultimately, Korean culture was extremely interesting to experience. There was definitely a steep learning curve, but keeping an open mind helped me navigate much more easily.

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Korean Food Trends

In the previous post I discussed a bit about traditional Korean food. Traditional restaurants can still be found all across Korea, and many of traditional eating habits are still a part of daily life here. However, as is the case in every country, South Korea’s eating habits are influenced by trends and globalization. The younger generation in particular has an affinity for foreign foods and fads that are deemed more stylish than traditional foods at times. I’ve noticed that most Korean students will gladly choose foreign food when eating out over Korean restaurants or the all popular (and amazing) fried chicken.

While you can get a full Korean meal for less than $6, foreign food tends to be between $10-$20. It’s possible to find any foreign food you want in Korea, but for me at least, it doesn’t really satisfy my cravings. I’ve had tacos with bulgogi meat, pizza with powdered sugar on the crust (surprisingly not bad) and a chicken quesadilla with almost no cheese in it. I have had a lot of success in finding good healthy food places where you can get fresh salads and avocado as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Another fad in Korea is the unusual obsession with baked goods. I was really surprised when I first got here to see so many bakeries. They are everywhere. There’s even chain style bakeries such as Paris Baguette spread throughout the country. People stand in lines for some bakeries that are famous to get their fix of breads, cream cheese buns and croissants.  There’s also pop up dessert shops on every street. Subways in Seoul aren’t complete without the smell of freshly baked bread coming from the dessert shops near the exits. Waffles with ice cream in the middle, churros, and sugary juices are other popular choices that clearly cater more toward the younger generations.

I could write a whole post on cafes, but I will try to summarize. There are some distinct differences from western cafes. First, a lot of cafes don’t open until 10 AM. For someone who needs coffee to function, that’s a problem. But they stay open (and busy) until midnight or even 2 AM on the weekends. Coffee is a bit pricier in cafes because you pay for the space essentially. Most cafes have a cool aesthetic where people can take Instagram photos and talk with friends for a few hours with access to free Wi-Fi. So essentially the higher price compensates for the café’s high rent bill. Another difference is that cafes usually only serve desserts. In the states, you can go to a café and usually there’s something small like a sandwich or salad you can order to keep you going through long nights of studying. But here, coffee and cake go together more often than not. Even near universities, I’ve found most local cafes are not meant for studying, while chains like Starbucks and Holly’s are popular spots to sit with your laptop for a few hours. Thankfully, for people like me who desperately need a reasonably-priced caffeine fix early in the morning there are pop up coffee shops like Paik’s Coffee (빽다방 ) which have no seating and are therefore much cheaper and open around 8 AM.

Now, I may sound a bit bitter about the foreign food. In reality, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just Korean-ized. I’ve been fooled by foreign food before. You think you’re going to get a delicious pizza to satisfy your needs for cheesy goodness. Instead you bite into corn and potatoes on top of a sweet tomato sauce (the potato is actually pretty good, but my feelings towards the corn are a bit more hostile). Korean food, on the other hand, tastes exactly how it looks. It looks like Korean food, it is Korean food with the characteristic flavors and textures that I’ve come to associate it with. So personally, I prefer the Korean food every time.

With that being said, of all the newer Korean foods, fried chicken is superior (although I’m not entirely sure how long it’s been popular). Korean-fried-chicken is the best fried chicken I have ever tasted in my life. What’s even better is the fact that the chicken can be delivered to your precise location in 20 minutes or less. Unfortunately, most of the delivery systems require some Korean in order to explain exactly where you are, but it can be done (don’t be shy to ask a Korean for help)! Alternatively, if you are sitting at a popular picnic spot the chicken delivery people will come to you and let you order and then they will come back with your chicken. I know it seems a bit suspicious to give your money to a random chicken delivery man, but I promise it’s legitimate.

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The Wonderful World of Korean Food

I love Korean food. I mean I really really love it. Very early on in my semester I already knew I would miss Korean food after my semester. I would like to discuss some of the basics of Korean food and food culture. Although I could also go on and on about my favorite foods, in this blog post I will try to give a general overview of traditional Korean food and eating customs. In the next post I will explore some of the modern eating trends and fads.

Traditional Korean food is extremely fun to eat. There is always without question a bowl of rice. Even in Korean, the word for meal is the same word for rice (밥 bap). A meal is just not a meal without rice. Then, of course, there is kimchi, all the time, every meal. Kimchi is spicy fermented cabbage. People are always very pleased when they discover I like kimchi. Asking for more kimchi may earn you some bonus points. I’ve been told there are over a hundred varieties of Kimchi in Korea, and I wouldn’t doubt it. At first the kimchi consumption seemed a little overboard, but now my day is just not complete without 1-2 servings. There is some sort of meat dish, usually pork, seafood, beef, or a combination of all three. Then there is the banchan (반찬). Even numbers tend to be unlucky in Korea, so there is usually an odd number of banchan served (usually 3 or 5). Banchan are the side dishes (which are always refillable for no extra charge) that are served along with the main components of the meal. Usually these dishes come in small bowls and are meant to be communal. These are usually vegetables that have been pickled, fried, or marinated in a spicy sauce. But there are an endless number of banchan possibilities. Finally, Korean meals are served with a simple soup, like soybean sprout or seaweed soup.

The presentation of all these foods laid out in front of you is quite appetizing. There is always a variety of colors and flavors that go together nicely. Eating Korean food is meant to be a balanced activity. One should alternate taking bites of the different foods rather than finishing one thing and moving on to the next. Taking bites of the kimchi, rice, and soup in between the banchan and the meat dish allows your taste buds to reset and not become overwhelmed. Eating Korean food is thankfully never boring and my chopstick skills have improved tremendously since I first arrived.

Now let’s talk a bit about the traditional Korean restaurant. Traditional Korean restaurants still have floor seating which is nice in the winter when you can enjoy the heated floor. As I mentioned before, the banchan and rice is almost always refillable, just ask nicely! Water is either provided for free at your table or it will be in a refrigerator nearby where you can help yourself. This varies by restaurant, but it’s fairly simple to learn how to ask for water in Korean. The menu will most likely be all in Korean. I recommend you look up the Hangul for some of your favorite foods. Or you can just point and be surprised when your food comes as long as you don’t have any dietary restrictions (or an aversion to spicy food). The bill will not be given to you, so you must get up and pay when you are finished. It is common for a table to pay altogether. Cash is essential to have to split the bill more easily among friends.

A quick note: being vegetarian in Korea is not very easy. Even things that seem to not have meat in it, will have a small bit of pork or beef randomly at the bottom of the dish. Even asking in Korean if something has meat in does not always work. The concept of meat here is more like “Is there a noticeable amount of meat in the dish?” Also, meat sometimes only translates to beef. If you are strictly vegetarian, I suggest learning how to list every type of meat you do not eat (pork, chicken, beef, fish, shellfish, etc.) and ask if a dish has any of these things in it. My vegetarian friends have found dishes that don’t have meat in them, but be patient and just know it might be a bit difficult at times!

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Transportation in Korea Part II

This is a continuation of my previous post on transportation systems in Korea.

Part II

Taxis:

Note that my experience with taxis are limited entirely to Seoul. In my opinion, taxis are a last resort if you cannot take a bus or metro to reach your destination.

  1. Orange is good: Take the orange or white city taxis and not the black ones. Black ones are more expensive.
  2. Payment: Taxis are relatively cheap in Seoul, but it’s best if you can split cab fares. You can pay by card, cash, or T-money card. A taxi from the city center across the river costs around ₩15,000-₩20,000.
  3. Uber?: Uber is illegal in Korea(?) as far as I know. That being said, there are Ubers that are a bit more expensive. KakaoTaxi allows you to call a cab in exactly the same way as Uber. You can track your driver and everything. There are two problems though. 1) You need to know your address in Korean. 2) The driver will call you when they arrive to pick you up. If you don’t speak Korean, there can be some confusion with that. But it is possible. If you are a foreigner standing outside on the phone telling them that you don’t speak Korean in very poor Korean it will be pretty easy for them to spot you anyways.
  4. Send me your location: With KakaoTaxi and hailing a cab, you need to know your address. It should be simple, but it’s not. A few years ago, the address system in Korea changed. The taxi drivers (and sadly all the chicken delivery services) tend to be more familiar with the old system. It’s best to have a local write down your address in your phone or somewhere so you can show it to the chicken delivery man taxi driver.
  5. Common sense: Just like anywhere else in the world, you can be up-charged by taxis. Always make sure the meter is running when you get in. Just get out if it’s not running. It’s not super common in Korea anymore though and I find most taxi drivers are extremely kind and do their best to help.
  6. Itaewon and how to get home: There are no taxis that will take you home at night from Itaewon. I don’t know why, no one knows why. Find a McDonald’s, Lotteria, or chain of your choice and wait for the subway. If you are not in Itaewon and are desperate to get home, flag down a taxi and you may need to get in before telling them where you are going. Most taxi drivers don’t want to go to Seoul National University for example, since they know they won’t pick up any other fares.

TLDR: Taxis are a bit of a hassle if you don’t speak much Korean. Know how to use them in case you are desperate at some point. Be patient and know when to admit defeat.

(This bus is only half full)

Navigation and the art of getting lost:

I have not been lost many times in Korea. The few times that I have proved to be as pleasant as getting lost could possibly be. Korea is extremely safe and while you need to exercise common sense, I feel safer in Korea than I do in the US. You can easily find a source of WiFi and figure out where you are going at any hour of the day.

  1. Getting kicked off of buses: Occasionally, you may get kicked off of buses and metros and not know why. Perhaps I am unlucky because some people experience this while others don’t. Three times now I’ve been kicked off of a bus and denied entry to another bus because the drivers knew I was going in the wrong direction even when I did not know it myself. I have no clue how the drivers know where I want to go, but apparently, they do and as soon as they realize you are not where you’re meant to be, they either kick you off at the next stop or won’t let you on.
  2. Getting kicked off the metro: The metro (yes, I am looking at you, line 2) has kicked me off several times. I think it has something to do with transferring or changing the trains out. I really don’t know. All I know is if there is an announcement over-head in Korean, the Koreans leave the train, and the lights start to go off, leave and follow other people. You will get on a different train on the same line in the same direction and continue on your way. If you’re really an expert, you will get off one stop before the transfer (again follow the locals after you hear the speech on the intercom) and wait on that platform for the next train to come. It’s faster that way. Line 2 tends to do this transfer around midday, but not every train does this. So you just get on and pray.
  3. You are in Korea, Learn Korean: If you do nothing else before coming to Korea, learn Hangeul. It takes only 3-4 days and your life will be so much simpler. You can navigate anywhere if you can read Hangeul. A lot of signs are in English, but transportation apps (that actually work) are not. GOOGLE DOES NOT WORK HERE. Say goodbye to google and apple maps because they are utterly useless in Korea. I will post my app recommendations below, BUT YOU NEED TO KNOW SOME KOREAN for almost all of them. They are the only reliable ones I have found thus far. They will even tell you when buses arrive and give you multiple alternative routes. It is 100% worth it to learn Hangeul so you can type in the names of your destinations, know your address, and read the stops on the apps. A lot of exchange students don’t learn Hangeul and it takes longer to learn the transportation system and as soon as there is no English, you are completely lost.

TLDR: Learn Hangeul. Quality of life will improve and you will learn a lot more quickly about everything even outside of transportation.

Apps:

Here are some apps that I recommend. There are other bus apps and metro apps for Jeju, Busan and Daegu, but my expertise is limited to Seoul. Note: I have not been paid by the producers of these apps, I just really love them and they are necessary for survival.

  1. Subway Korea: This is specifically for the subway system in Seoul. It has all the stops in Korean and English. You can use this app to search routes, but I just use it to look at where the transfers are and how many stops I need to stay on the metro.
  2. KakaoMap: This is my absolute favorite. It reminds me of a google maps but in Korean. It will give you all the directions you could ever need and includes the cost of the transportation. I believe there is an English version, but it is not accurate. The Korean one was easy to get used to. Sometimes you can still search for the names of places in English.
  3. KakaoTaxi: Uber for Korean taxis. It’s useful to have in cases of desperation. It’s even more useful to have a person who speaks Korean help you call the cab.
  4. Other apps that I don’t like but some do: Some of my friends have had success with NaverMaps. These same friends have led me up hikes that should have been 1 km but ended up being 11 km and left a group of us standing in front of a bus stop for half an hour in the cold. But, hey, maybe it will work for you.

This is summary of what I know about the transportation system so far. It was easy to learn, but I still get kicked off the bus from time to time.

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