Observations (First Few Weeks in Korea)

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Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Emma M.

Observations (First Few Weeks in Korea)

Inspired by travelers’ journals of the past, I am writing this blog post to record some observations I have made during my first few weeks in Seoul, South Korea. (Some of these things will be in direct comparison of my previous experiences studying in Seoul; on the other hand, others will simply be newfound observations) And of course, disclaimer: these are just some shallow points of notice that I thought were interesting.


1.The trendy ‘street food’ as of late is 탕후루 (Tanghulu) or sugar-coated fruits. 

Traditionally, it is a Chinese sweet snack food and although I am unsure what has sparked the more recent popularity of it--its popularity is quite visible insofar as there are 탕후루 vendors/stalls on every block within major shopping districts. Back in 2018/2019, this street food was in certain areas (like Hongdae & Incheon Chinatown) but it is literally more widespread now! And then, the most common sugar-coated fruits were strawberries and green grapes--now, you can get tangerines, pineapples, tomatoes, kiwis, Chinese black grapes, etc.

“Trendy Korean Food” according to Americans are still corndogs/mochi donuts which aren’t as popular here--it is a lot harder to find those on the street in comparison to other snack foods.


2. Long pants in the summer and “shade umbrellas” at bus stops

One sight that took me by surprise when coming back to Korea was the addition of covered (and sometimes even air-conditioned) waiting areas for bus stops and busy crosswalks. These sorts of structures have been built for the very purpose of keeping the population even a little bit cooler during the hot summer months. But also sort of related, I found it interesting how many people--despite the high temperatures--continued to wear long pants/jeans and even long sleeved tops at times! It is one thing when needing to dress professionally for work but the majority of Yonsei’s campus dressed like this! Stylish but… what about the sweat?!?


3. Ambulances don’t have “full” right of way?

I am a bit more unsure of this one but recently, perhaps because I live really close to Yonsei University’s Severance Hospital, I have noticed that people will still cross the street when ambulances clearly have their lights/sirens on. And I do not see as much effort by cars on the roads to move to the side to allow for ambulances to pass. I see ambulances stuck in rows of cars a lot and people continuing to cross at crosswalks while, in New York, people would always stop at the crosswalk if an ambulance was in the near distance.


4. Pedestrians also ‘don’t have full right of way’

If you are not careful here, cars/motorcycles will hit you. The minute the crosswalk lights end, Korean stop lights turn green and cars book it. There seems to be no few seconds of lag time between these two things. I know many people who have had some “near-incident” experiences and one person who was less lucky and made it out with a broken foot. This is why when the crosswalk light is counting down, you will see Koreans literally running across. They know all too well what is at stake.

My foot...yes, is in a boot but I promise I did not break it by getting hit by a car.

5. Americanos (or coffee in general) at 8 pm 

I also do not understand the obsession with Americans but that is not the point of this observation; rather, I am impressed at many Koreans’ ability to drink coffee after dinner time. Cafes here often stay open much later than 5 or 6 pm (more common closing time for cafes in the states). I would say most close anytime from around 8 pm to 12 am honestly--this even excluding 24 hour cafes. I will be clocking in to my local coffee bean at 8pm to study and I see Americanos being ordered left and right!!! Crazy.


6. Taxis after 1am are RARE 

The last time I was in Korea, I had a curfew so I was never out much later than 11 pm on any given day. Which meant that I never had to deal with the inconvenience that is having a subway that isn’t operational 24 hours of the day. Just last week I was coming back from a trip and our train from Daegu to Seoul station pulled up a little bit after 1am--no subways or (useful) buses running. But it literally took us one entire hour to secure a taxi ride back to Yonsei’s campus which could not have been more than a 20 minute car ride. And we literally had to book a deluxe taxi as other taxi services were ‘busy’ or had no drivers around. We also had to deal with the humbling experience of getting accepted by a taxi and then canceled on. Buses usually don’t start running at 4 am; while subways start at 5 am--so this is something to consider when staying out late.


7. Alternative milk at cafes is still not the standard 

In the states, it is really rare to enter a cafe in the city--especially a chain--and not have any options for alternative milk. Honestly, usually, there are multiple milk choices at your disposal. But in Seoul, independent cafes are usually hit or miss on whether they have dairy-free milk options. Usually they have soy milk or oat milk--and not usually both. I also have not really seen almond or coconut milk here. In Daegu and Busan, the lack of dairy-free milk was a lot more prevalent!


8. The Kakao store is an addiction

This is all I have to say about this one.


9. Photo Booths are EVERYTHING now!

I feel photo booths are not only more populous now but they have thought of everything!! More cool designs on frames/borders, filters, cute headbands and props, QR code download, videos of the session, .5 camera, remote controlled photos, etc! And photo booths are literally everywhere--especially in areas surrounded by lots of youths and colleges. They are definitely now mostly in their own buildings and no longer just propped up on the street somewhere too. I feel like hangouts are never complete without a photo booth memento.

Headbands >>> Props
Yonsei Frame!

10. Deodorant is hard to find

Personally, I knew this one already so I brought enough to last me this semester but in trying to track some deodorant down for my friend… we have had no real success. We even went to the pharmacy to ask. It just seems to not be a common product used here.


Bonus: a lot of conventionally “un-sweet” things (in the states) end up being sweet here somehow…. Like garlic bread, cheese, and spicy chips