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Misconceptions about Korean Culture and YES Club

Misconceptions about Korean Culture and YES Club

I should rename this blog: “I Am Constantly Surprised By Korea Because I Am Lazy And Did Not Learn Anything About Korean Culture Before Arriving And Thus Wrongly Assumed That All Of Asia Was The Same”. But since that title is annoyingly long and I’m not even allowed to name my own blog (only my posts) I will have to settle for the next best thing, which is dedicating sections of my posts to addressing my misconceptions about Korean culture.

Misconception #1: Koreans primarily drink tea. Wrong. If I had done even an ounce of research on Korea, I would have realized that tea is infinitely more popular in China and Japan. In Seoul there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE. I used to scoff at Chicagoans who are so obsessed with Dunkin’ Donuts that they build them into El stations (I’m looking at you Loyola stop on the Red Line) because god forbid anyone should have exit the El train without a cup of Dunkin’ coffee in hand. But here in Seoul, coffee is taken to a whole new level. My guess is that high caffeine intake is what allows Koreans to consume copious amounts of alcohol for such a long periods of time (I just can’t get used to the fact that they start drinking at like 7/8pm) but once again this is just random speculation. I hope that by the end of these four months I will have reached a definitive conclusion. Nevertheless, the point is I have never seen so many coffee shops in one place and I have no idea how they all manage to stay in business.

Misconception #2: Soy Sauce is a common condiment in Korea. Once again, I was thinking of China or possibly Japan. Soy sauce is not typically offered with Korean dishes. Korean food is not salty, or at least not nearly salty enough to be up to snuff with my American standards. For the first week everything I ate tasted incredibly bland. After a lifetime of excessive sodium, ‘natural’ (i.e. unprocessed) food initially appears to lack flavor. (Un)luckily for me, Koreans make up for reduced salt with an abundance of SPICINESS. There is so much spice in everything, especially the things you’d expect to be ‘safe’ (chili popcorn disguised as “cheddar” popcorn). To further confuse my palate, certain foods are unexpectedly sweet, such as anything ‘butter’ flavor. In a moment of weakness following a long soju-filled night out, I ordered the garlic butter fries to be delivered from McDonalds (fast food delivers here! It’s amazing!). But ‘butter’ flavor here is sweet in the most unappetizing sense possible and the fries more closely resembled one of those high-brow ‘gourmet’ flavor combinations that no normal human being outside a Michelin Star restaurant would ever be dumb enough to consume. So in the future I’ll pass on anything butter flavored.

As the weeks go by I will continue to add to this list or misconceptions as I’m positive there are many things I have yet to discover about Korea…

In other news, I have joined the YES Club, also known as the “Yonsei English Society”. Originally I was hoping to join the Mentor’s Club, which involves exchange students being paired with Korean mentors who then do stuff as a group. However, after being rejected no less than three times from the Mentor’s Club (despite my enthusiasm) due to an abundance of exchange students and a lack of available mentors (can you tell I’m not bitter about it?) I decided to try something else. I had to interview to join the YES Club, which I thought was very formal, however I am told this is a common occurrence when joining a club (at least for the clubs at Yonsei Universities, I’m not sure about all Korean universities). Anyways, we have had only one ‘meeting’ so far, which involved going out to dinner as a group to eat Korean BBQ. This is always a fun activity because it’s perfect for a group- there is a grill in the middle of the table upon which the meat is cooked and everything (the meat, side dishes, drinks) is served ‘family style’. I am not sure yet what a typical YES Club meeting will look like, but I am told that at the end of the semester the club will perform a musical (they are trying to narrow it down between Mamma Mia! and Cats) which I am sure will be interesting to say the least.

In the meantime, the most important upcoming club event will be held Friday night, called “Membership Training”. This is a fancy word for what amounts to a night of binge drinking, the purpose of which is to get to know the other members of the YES Club in a relaxed, fun atmosphere.”Membership Training” is apparently as common an event in Korea for clubs as “carbo-loads” are in America for soccer teams before big games. The current schedule has us set to depart campus at 6pm on Friday evening and return to campus at 8am the next morning. I am not rock-solid on all the details (I am more of a follower than a leader in this situation) but I was told that we will take a bus to some house in suburban Seoul and then the festivities will commence. I am really looking forward to getting to know everyone in the club as I have not yet had a chance to meet very many Yonsei students because most of my classes are with other exchange students.

Until next time!




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