"Wasting" a Day in Korea

Authored by:
Olivia O.

One of the hardest parts of studying abroad is always feeling like you have to be ‘on.’ Having such a short time limit, four months, makes it feel sometimes that unless you are doing something amazing or productive, the day is wasted and there’s a real sense of guilt that accompanies that. However, we as people cannot just keep moving 24/7. Every once in a while, your mind, body, and heart need a break. A few times since I’ve been here, there have been days where it feels like if I have to get up and stumble through a Korean conversation in order to get food into my body, I will burst into tears. Hopefully no one else will have to get to that point, so here is my advice on how to spend a day feeling productive or suitably ‘Korean,’ without expending emotional energy.

First, call your mom! It doesn’t have to actually be your mom, but start the morning off right by calling someone back home. For me, that is West Coast America, so morning is perfect timing with a 16-17 hour time difference. If you are European, put this step last, and end the night on a good note talking to your loved ones in the evening.

Next, leave the house. This might not seem like fun, but it is actually very possible to have a fulfilling day in Seoul without ever getting into an awkward or overwhelming experience. (Tip: pull out some cash! Most awkward cashier interactions come from a card not working. I often prefer to use cash for this reason. Automated machines at coffee shops only take cards, but only chains have them, and chains will not have problems with foreign cards anyway). Grab a coffee from a Coffee Bean or other automated machine, speak your one word of Korean for the day “감사합니다,” bow, and put in your earbuds. Get on the bus and head for one of these low impact activities.

Watch a movie in a theater! I recommend a 4D experience. It feels suitably foreign and I get Korean Technology excited without ever being overwhelmed. You can usually buy tickets from a kiosk or online as well, so no need for anxiety. 

Walk to the Han! If you’re feeling up to human interaction, you can rent a bike for a few thousand won by the river, or if not, you can get a bike off the city bike app for one thousand, though it might be harder to find a stand. If you don’t like or don’t want to bike, head down by the water and listen to some of your favorite music while looking at the beautiful cityscapes. 

If you’re getting hungry, there’s a few options. My two suggestions are heading into one of the boat-convenience stores on the Han, or heading up to Itaewon. The boat-convenience stores are pretty fun in terms of a mildly funny new experience, but in practice are the same as all other convenience stores, so you don’t have to worry about a new anxiety ridden experience (you will have to use your korean word again,“감사합니다,” but I believe in you!). This is also the cheaper option, as you can get raymun, protein, a drink, and snacks for a Han picnic for under ten thousand won. 

Itaewon has many cool restaurants, and it might be more work than a silent convenience store ‘thanks’ and bow, but most places there, the staff speak English. I actually have yet to go to a place in Itaewon where they greet you in Korean first: when they spot the foreigner, they start off in English. I tend to avoid Itaewon for this reason, but when I’m emotionally tired of feeling foreign or different, it is a nice place to rest. There are definitely less stares, and you are surrounded by people like yourself. 

Now, you’ve done your civic duty to yourself and left the house, it’s okay to head home whenever you want, even if you only completed step one and just got a coffee. When you get back to your dorm, if you did not exercise by biking, try to do something healthy for yourself. That might be exercising in the dorm, or reading a book, or putting on a face mask. 

Now you can sit back, and I recommend catching up on whatever K-drama everyone is talking about, and pretend that counts as studying. 

Remember, no day where you are taking care of yourself is a ‘waste’ and hopefully you don’t have the same stress I do surrounding that. If you do, however, I hope this was able to help with some ideas of how to combat those feelings while not overworking yourself.


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