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HomeNewsMountains to Markets (a month in Korea)

Mountains to Markets (a month in Korea)

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In June 2024, I spent a full month in South Korea, starting in the countryside in Yongin, shopping in Seoul, sightseeing in Gyeongju, city night walking in Gangnam, eating in Busan, and everything in between.
Having visited Korea for the first time and hardly knowing what to expect, I experienced plenty of culture shocks. Some of them were so different from my Colorado lifestyle that I had to readjust, again! Many family and friends assisted my trip to Korea, so conforming to the other side of the world wasn’t a solo job. But, there’s still plenty I wish I had known before my trip to get around like a local.
In this article series, I composed a list of my personal experiences to give the best taste of the vast parts of the beautiful peninsula country secondhand. Over the next few weeks look out for the Mountains and Markets series to see what South Korea is like!

The Unspoken… Being Korean myself did not prepare me for the hundreds of gasps and the “진짜?”’s throughout the trip. To avoid chaotic surprises and minimize those gasps on the streets of Korea, read and remember these aspects of everyday life in Korea.

  1. Hurry Hurry
    Koreans are often characterized for their 빨리빨리, or “hurry hurry” mindset. People on the street will constantly push you, car honks are the BGM in the city, and everyone walks and talks rapidly. Moving quickly and efficiently is considered a societal norm within Korean culture, even outside the peninsula itself. It’s best to move with speed and be mindful of acting swiftly to prevent delays and inconveniences for those around you.
  2. “Smile, you’re on camera!’
    June 18th, 2024, a Chinese child goes viral for defecating on a Jeju street. The tourists had unknowingly just been another one caught on a Korean CCTV. Don’t be surprised when you make eye contact with a camera passing in the street or every corner of a store. These cameras are the first step to solving any crime, those that haven’t been prevented, by said cameras, at least. Although in other countries that heavily value privacy, Korans feel safer in the presence of cameras due to surveillance measures, systematic law enforcement, and citizen vigilance. Many stores provide no in-person service in many stores and shops due to CCTV guards- perfect for those who agonize interacting with workers.
  3. Reduce, recycle, reuse
    South Korea has rigid policies and regulations when it comes to trash sorting. At every public accommodation, trash must be sorted, most commonly into waste, plastic, and cans. Korea uses its high CCTV tech to punish and penalize those who mis-sort their trash and fail to do it properly. Due to that immense regulation of sorting trash, there is also a one in a thousand chance you’ll find available trash bins on the street as it prevents misassignment.
  4. Watch my stuff for me, will ‘ya?
    Citizens at cafes, libraries, parks, and any public accommodation, hardly leave their items unsupervised to avoid theft. But stealing is so uncommon in Korea, that people will leave their items unattended, whether they’re headed up front to order food or out with friends for a few hours knowing their stuff will remain untouched. Now that isn’t to say stealing is nonexistent in Korea, but with all those CCTVs and even that hurry-hurry culture, other people don’t want to risk it or don’t want to waste their time.

Being a Korean-American and spending my entire life in Colorado, I still got the foot up being as accommodated to Korean culture as any born and raised American could be. The traits and habits people share don’t necessarily disappear once you’re in a different time zone, especially if you were raised in that culture.

But never stepping foot in Korea before still had its ‘side effects’. Never before had I seen so many cameras and sorting trash was playing a thought-provoking game. Still, my visit to Korea was so much fun I’d gladly take that (unnecessary) six-flight roundtrip again. Use this first part of the series to learn about the deeper parts of Korean culture in its homeland and immerse yourself in it!

By Bahnya Kim

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밝고 행복한 미래를 보는 눈, 소중한 당신과 함께 만듭니다.

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