The GoGlobal Blog

Author: Catherine Seltz-Drew

My name is Catie Seltz-Drew. I am currently a junior pursuing a degree in International Studies. My fall semester in Korea will be my third experience abroad following a year in Italy in high school and a semester at the John Felice Rome Center. I have a passion for cooking and eating; I love learning about a country through its cuisine. After Korea, I plan to spend my spring semester studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina after which I will graduate from Loyola.
What a long strange trip it’s been

What a long strange trip it’s been

I have been back from Korea for 8 days now, so I figure it’s now or never for some last-minute reflection on my time abroad. Please enjoy a final round my observations on Korean culture.

  • People spit everywhere. If you stop to listen it’s as though the whole population is on the verge of launching into a sick beatbox solo, but the reality is much more off-putting. In the words of the brilliant David Sedaris: “I saw wads of phlegm glistening like freshly shucked oysters on staircases and escalators. I saw them frozen into slicks on sidewalks and oozing down the sides of walls” (from an essay entitled “Chicken Toenails, Anyone?”).  Despite my initial discomfort with the habit, I can’t argue that it isn’t a necessary practice given the amount of pollution in Seoul. Though it’s nowhere near as bad as in China, on any given day Koreans don medical masks to protect their respiratory systems from the scourge of bad air and yellow dust.

  • Capitalism has found it’s home in Korea and has evolved to the point of being an inescapable festering disease. The two movies I had the pleasure of seeing in Korea were preceded not by trailers for upcoming films, but by adverts for phone companies and cosmetics. The much-anticipated “Seoul International Fireworks Festival” was interrupted every 40 minutes or so for a literal commercial break. Which is to say, the fireworks were halted and large screens situated throughout the park in which the festival was held boomed out adverts for (once again) food, cosmetics, and phones. I would say that the rabid commercialism in Korea is comparable to be screamed at as you walk down the street, but sadly this is a very real and everyday occurrence as many shops have a person posted in the front with a megaphone 24/7 lest anyone’s mind stray for a moment.

  • During my time in Korea I managed to visit a puppy cafe, a sheep cafe, and a cat cafe. There was also a raccoon cafe in Seoul, which I never managed to visit, though I can’t say I’m entirely disappointed. Raccoons are not native to Korea, but in my home country if I am ever struck by the desire to see a raccoon I can simply peek inside the nearest dumpster, thus the novelty of a raccoon cafe is a bit lost on me. I wouldn’t necessarily dissuade people from visiting animal cafes, simply because a lot of my friends (who like animals a lot more than me) had many a pleasant experience. However, I will say that the animal cafes I visited gave off a slight puppy mill-esque vibe. I have no doubt that the owners of the cafes took excellent care of the animals, nonetheless the fact that the furry residents remained inside for 99% of their lives in a space barely larger than the average prison cell was hard to overlook.

  • Smoking is very common among Koreans, particularly men. Women smoke as well, but as they are the ‘gentler sex’ (as I am constantly reminded) their impropriety is kept more secret. Should one wander into a coffee shop in Seoul, sure enough you will find a smoking room on each floor. The majority of clubs- and many bars- allow smoking indoors, without the need to retreat to a discreet section of the building. Even airports have smoking rooms, because no one loves the smell of stale smoke more than people trapped on airplanes.

  • There is little to no social welfare in Korea, which means that elderly people, should they lack the necessary funds or family for retirement, must continue to work at menial tasks until, well, they die. The most common menial task for the elderly of Korea is passing out flyers, often for various restaurants. These old women, with their jaunty plastic visors, stand for hours on street corners attempting to shove brightly colored flyers into the unassuming hands of the passing public. It would be quite a depressing situation if the women weren’t so alarmingly aggressive and persistent. Whatever modicum of sympathy I possess for the elderly women and their dire social/financial situation is quickly erased the moment one of them corners me and thrusts a fried chicken advert into my hand, causing me to drop everything else, all the while barking at me in Korean like a rabid chihuahau as I struggle to gather my scattered possessions.

  • Another common pastime for the elderly, although I doubt it generates income, is to spend great lengths of time in the park on Yonsei’s campus collecting fallen chestnuts like a pack of deranged squirrels. Do they eat them? Are they simply cleaning the park out of the goodwill of their hearts? We may never know. Quite puzzling indeed. But I must say, I will miss the sight of the herds of elderly Koreans in their neon tracksuits rooting for chestnuts in the early morning as I make my way to my 9am class.

  • Braces are more common for older people in Korea than in the United States. Not old old people, but mid-20s to late-30s seems to be the ideal windows for braces in Korea. Perhaps braces are not bankrolled by one’s parents and are only possible once young adults have generated adequate income of their own, thus the average age for braces-wearers has been pushed forward significantly. Whatever the case, in a country where people age with incredible grace, the predominance of braces among older people can make it quite difficult to determine someone’s age. Is the guy who bought you a drink at the bar 18 or 28? With braces it’s anyone’s guess.

Well, there you have it. My semester in Korea has come to a close. I’m not really the type for a bunch of clichéd reflection on how these last 4 months have been the most amazing/inspiring/challenging/incredible/yadda yadda yadda of my life, so just take my word for it, dear readers, I will not soon forget my time in Seoul (and I hope that my blog stands as living proof of this sentiment). Rather, let us turn our eyes to the future. In 2 short months, I will be jetting off to Buenos Aires for the final semester of my college career, and yes, you guessed it, I will be blogging my way through a haze of steaks, tango, and excellent wine (and of course, rigorous academics).

Until next time.

Food Porn, Delusions, and Free-Range Children

Food Porn, Delusions, and Free-Range Children


I have recently been made aware of a fascinating Korean subculture known as mukbang. Basically, it’s food porn but without the involvement of any actual porn. A person, known as a “BJ” a.k.a. “broadcast jockey” (you’d think if there wasn’t any porn involved they would have chosen a less suggestive name, but oh well) will either cook or order large quantities of food and then eat the whole amount live in front of a camera. Viewers can log in and watch the spectacle, even interacting with the “BJ” by way of a chatroom as they choke down enough food in one sitting to feed a village in Africa for a month. What’s more, dedicated viewers can send gifts (usually money and food) to their favorite mukbang stars (apparently one of the top mukbang stars was making around $9000 USD a month at the height of her fame, talk about dream job).

The purpose of mukbangs is entirely innocent and almost a bit sad. By nature, Koreans are very social eaters. However, as more and more young adults are moving out and living solo, the custom of eating alone is becoming more common, yet is often hard to adjust to. Thus, to fill the void, the concept of mukbang was created as a way for the lonely to simulate a social eating environment. Seriously. Honestly, I think I would understand the concept of mukbangs a lot better if the viewers were treating the broadcast like pornography, simply because I have have a hard time grasping the fact that people will watch another person consume large quantities of food for innocent entertainment and the replication of social contact. It is just so far off my radar. Here is a link for those of you who would like to learn more:

A Comprehensive Field Guide to Koreaboos

Koreaboo (noun)

Definition: A person whose infatuation with Hallyu i.e. the “Korean wave” has led them to possess inaccurate and distorted views of the realities of Korean culture and society as a whole. On their quest to consume all things deemed “Korean” (by their standards), they often strategically ignore social issues and other topics of significance that fall beyond the confines of their K-pop bubble.

Interests: An aggressive obsession with K-pop, K-dramas, Korean manga, cosplay, and any aspect of Korean culture that could be deemed “cute”.

Defining Characteristics: Use of the word “oppa”, meaning “big brother”, which is used almost exclusively in Korean society by females when referring to older males. Not that the Koreaboos’ repeated use of the phrase is gramatically incorrect, but the term implies a certain level of familiarity between Koreans (and even romantic intent, as “oppa” is used frequently when referring to one’s boyfriend) thus the phrase is distorted through its use by Koreaboos who more than likely picked it up when binging on K-dramas. Koreaboos also typically possess a pretentious and arrogant attitude stemming from his or her belief that they are Korean culture experts, despite having very limited practical knowledge about the realities of Korean culture. Engaging in rational discussion will usually end poorly and result in excessive eye-rolling on behalf of both parties.

Strengths: An impossibly detailed knowledge about the lives and musical repertoires of any given K-pop group.

Weaknesses: More often than not, the weaker Koreaboos in the herd will have their spirit broken simply by arriving in Korea. The realization that the country of Korea has more depth than what is portrayed on the average K-drama can often be too much for a Koreaboo to bear; many feel cheated or disoriented once they realize they are unlikely to bump into their favorite K-pop idol while strolling the streets of Gangnam and live happily every after. Many are unable to grasp the fact that Korea is a country that grapples with real issues such as political corruption, high suicide rates, and rabid materialism, among other things. While some Koreaboos are able to adjust to the reality of life in Korea, others are not so fortunate- life for a Koreaboo in the real world is not for everyone.

The Reverse Rapture

During my time in Korea, I have noticed a plethora of children. None seem to be older than four years old, probably because all the older children have already been shoved into the infamously rigorous Korean education system. Nonetheless, the weirdest part about the abundance of small children is the complete lack of pregnant women. You’d think that pregnant women would be much more obvious, given the fact that Korean women are notoriously slender creatures. Yet the entire time I have been in Seoul, I have seen literally one pregnant women. One. It’s as though all the Korean children were beamed down from the skies in reverse fashion of the predicted second coming of Christ (sorry, Harold Camping, better luck next time).

What’s more, Korean children are allowed to wander around like a gaggle of free range chickens. Unlike American children, Korean children are not strapped into strollers and carted through the city; rather, their parents let them walk, with their feet, like humans. As floods of people exit the subway at any given stop, one must always be careful to watch the ground lest there be a stray toddler underfoot. Additionally, Korean parents display more patience with their children than I have ever before seen. This may seem like a paltry and somewhat insignificant observation, but once you become aware it’s actually quite odd. In the United States, particularly in a busy city such as Chicago, I would be pressed to find a parent patiently walking their newly-mobile one-year-old step-by-step up the stairs of the subway exit. Rather, Americans have invented nifty tools such as ‘child leashes’ (charmingly referred to as “safety harnesses”) to prevent the young from getting a taste of freedom. Thus, American children are the medicated battery-cage counterparts to Korea’s free-roaming chicken children.

The DMZ: Come For The Scenic View of North Korea, Stay Because There’s Literally Active Landmines Everywhere

A few weeks ago, I took a trip up to visit the DMZ. The DMZ (“demilitarized zone”) marks the border between North and South Korea. By far, the highlight of the trip was the 8-minute film that was presented in the vistor’s center. Although our tour guide vehemently insisted beforehand that the film was “not propaganda because we’re not like the North Koreans”, I was amused to discover that she was entirely wrong. Among other things, the film claimed the DMZ to be a “sanctuary for deer and other wildlife”. A quick look around at the numerous yellow signs warning of undetonated landmines in the open fields proved the exact opposite. All in all, I would give the DMZ a solid 3/5. South Korea certainly has quite the racket going with these tours. There’s not much to do or see besides a brief opportunity to peek into North Korea from the safety of a ‘scenic’ observation point, but the novelty of the locale makes the trip worth it.

I’m Just Trying to Not Get Run Over or Threaten the Delicate Patriarchy

I’m Just Trying to Not Get Run Over or Threaten the Delicate Patriarchy

Frogger: Seoul Edition: If I were to visualize the hierarchy of road occupants in Korea, the order would be as follows: TaxisTrucks → Cars → Scooters → Bicycles → Floating Plastic BagsPigeons That Wandered into the Street by AccidentDiscarded Cigarette Butts → then all the way at the bottom we would reach People (this is the only time you’ll find people ranked lower than pigeons, see below). Never before have I seen cars (and in particular, taxis) so blatantly ignore pedestrian crosswalks and attempt to pass through while people still crowd the way. I swear Korean taxis exist in an alternate Mario Kart-themed universe in which each pedestrian they swipe with their side mirrors while blasting through a crosswalk earns them extra coins.

To further confuse the matter, the roads of Seoul aren’t exactly filled with clunky, rusted Datsuns wheezing old exhaust. Rather, on a daily basis one can expect to see an army of Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, and Bentleys cruising the streets at breakneck speeds. Thus, it is beyond my comprehension why a shining new Porsche would want to pay to get a Catie-sized dent removed from its hood after I am inevitably run down, much like Regina George in Mean Girls (hopefully minus the spinal fracture and halo brace).

Guys and Dolls: Relations Between the Sexes in Korea

Dorm life has its ups and downs, but one of the most striking differences between dorming in the US versus Korea is the rules imposed to regulate interactions between males and females. Each floor of the dorm is strictly separated by gender, which is not surprising to me as my freshman year dorm at Loyola adhered to the same protocol. However, males and females are strictly forbidden from entering each other’s rooms under any circumstances. Males and females are only allowed on each other’s floors from 8am to 10pm (after that they are strictly forbidden). Offenders are quite literally threatened with eviction if any such shenanigans should occur. Even the laundry rooms are segregated by gender. Additionally, should any resident or visiting guest forget that they are in the presence of weak and easily-overpowered females, helpful reminders have been placed near the entrance as a warning to possible miscreants.


So, what if one does wish to rendezvous with the opposite sex while in Korea? I’m glad you asked. As many young Koreans live with the parents until marriage (which often does not take place until late 20s/early 30s), the Korean youth have invented several convenient loopholes. Two popular locales exist:

1) DVD 방 (DVD Rooms) i.e. Korea’s answer to “Netflix and chill”. In these establishments, couples can rent movies and are provided with their own private room in which to watch said movie, thus what happens behind closed doors for the duration of the movie is their own business.

2) Motels that can be rented by the hour (I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory)

All in all, Korea has made astronomical strides in gender equality in the last fifty years. I mean, South Korea has only been a democracy since 1948 (if we’re going to be really honest, it has only been a functioning democracy since like 1993 but I won’t get into that now) and yet it has already elected its first female president, Park Geun-hye. Not that we’re keeping score, but the United States has been around since 1776 and has yet to see a female president in office. Anyways, I’m getting off topic. The point is, in many ways Korea has made impressive strides in gender equality, yet remnants of its traditionally patriarchal system are still evident. For example, in Korean class we learned how to introduce our family members and their various occupations. As I began to describe my family, I made the ‘mistake’ of beginning my description with my mother’s occupation instead of first talking about my father, causing my instructor to interrupt and remark: “In Korea, we talk about the father first, not the mother. Why did you talk about your mother first? Are you a feminist?” which caught me off guard. More than anything, I was surprised that a detail as small as referring to a woman before a man in a sentence is what constitutes an act of feminism in Korea.

I’ll end my thoughts on the matter with this observation: I’ve found that in Korea, masculinity seems much more fragile than elsewhere, an impression made apparent in the tiniest interactions.  While out to dinner with two Korean guys and a western girl, rice was delivered to the table in piping hot metal pots, which were determined by one of the guys to be too hot to distribute to the table at that moment. Being a waitress, I’m used to touching hot plates, so I simply picked them up without hesitation and passed them out. The look on the face of the Korean guy was one of unfettered embarrassment and humiliation; in that moment, I had basically discredited his masculinity by saying he was too ‘weak’ to pick up some stupid rice pots (and what’s worse is that I had done it publicly). This, of course, was not my intention- I just really wanted rice. I love carbs. But it’s the little moments such as this that get blown out of proportion that I am really made aware of just how fragile is Korean masculinity. As always, this statement is not true of all Korean men, nonetheless after such incidents I find myself becoming hyper-aware of such things.

Gangnam Style- (Not “Gang-land” Style): After skyping with my dear mother one Sunday evening, I came to realize that the title of the immensely-popular “Gangnam Style” by PSY was quite possibly a complete mystery to those unfamiliar with the geography of Seoul. Therefore, to save others the possible embarrassment of possessing the incorrect belief that Gangnam is a play on the English word “gang” (spliced with mystery Korean syllables), I feel it is only fair to explain that in reality, Gangnam actually refers to a very wealthy district of Seoul. If the song were set in New York City, the title would be “Upper East Side Style”; if it were Los Angeles, it would be “Beverly Hills Style”; as the song is Korean, the title remains “Gangnam Style”. Thus, the song is simply a celebration of the wealth and excess of the Gangnam lifestyle.

Pigeons: The Harbingers of the Apocalypse: Koreans are absolutely TERRIFIED of pigeons, which I find hilarious. It is a widely-held (and entirely accurate) belief in Korea (and pretty much everywhere else) that pigeons carry a variety of nasty diseases; the motion of flapping wings is believed to sprinkle said diseases like a morbid and unappetizing dusting of invisible confectioners’ sugar. However, it is the Korean reaction to pigeons that is something entirely unique. I have seen people literally cross the street to give a single scrawny bird a wide berth; if a pigeon takes flight, people duck and cringe in unison like a demented flash mob. I’m not saying that I would respond with delight and enthusiasm if a pigeon were to suddenly accost me in the face, however I must admit that there is definitely some comedic value in seeing a country full of reserved and dignified people respond with such hysteria to the presence of such pathetic creatures.

The “Thin Phenomenon”, Homosexuals, and More: Some Observations

The “Thin Phenomenon”, Homosexuals, and More: Some Observations

Welcome back! Let’s get right into it. Topics of the day include: “Where Are All the Fat People?” and “Gays: No Bueno” with bonus categories such as “Mormons!” and “A Small, Yet Amusing Compilation of Creative Uses of the English Language”. Off we go.

“Where Are All the Fat People?”: This is a question I ask myself on a daily basis as I shove my busty 5ft8in frame like a battering ram through crowds of petite Asian women with figures similar to 5ft Korean Barbie dolls. Perhaps as an American, my opinion on what constitutes an “average” body size is slightly skewed given the well-known fact that Americans are well above “average” (I mean, Americans invented the “Fat Acceptance Movement”, that should tell you everything you need to know). Everyone claims that the traditional Korean diet is exceedingly healthy, hence the reason why Koreans are able to ‘naturally’ maintain low body weights. While it’s true that traditional Korean meals are primarily comprised of rice (fat-free empty carbs), meat (lean protein), kimchi (fermented cabbage, not exactly an abundant source of anything unhealthy) and bean sprouts (basically water held together by air, if we’re being honest), in recent years there has been an influx of fatty fried foods (fried chicken joints, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King, not to mention there’s literally a Starbucks on every corner). Additionally, Korean women do not eat like the delicate baby birds they resemble; Korean women I’ve observed in restaurants literally inhale their food in a manner similar to the Super Smash Bros character Kirby. Combined with a complete lack of exercise facilities (apart from the campus gym, as far as I can tell there are no gyms, yoga classes, or CrossFit centers available to the greater public, or if there are they are certainly well-hidden), I am stumped as to how Korean women manage to maintain such slim physiques.

I’m going to boil this whole thing down to a math equation. Thus, we have:

Korean women whose eating habits rival the inhaling power of Kirby himself  + a lack of any discernible exercise plan + a traditional diet that has been distorted by the arrival of fatty fried foods = Thin women i.e. the Korean “Thin Phenomenon”

While I have been able to draw a couple hypotheses, they are less-than-pleasant but not entirely off the mark. Basically, it is no secret that the majority of Korean society is infatuated with physical beauty. Plastic surgery ads are everywhere and each smiling woman on the advert appears to beckon to the viewer, insisting that “Yes, there is a new life awaiting just beyond the knife!” Even my professors unabashedly admit that many Koreans look the same, not because of their shared ethic/racial heritage but because the plastic surgery craze is quite literally transforming the nation. Thus, I have come to believe that the general consensus is: “What good would your new and improved face do if your body didn’t match?” Furthermore, I have also discovered that the term “diet” among Korean women has a different meaning. What would constitute an eating disorder in the western world might be passable as a harmless diet plan by Korean standards. For example, if one were to google the diet plan of a popular Kpop idol, suggestions such as “5 strawberries and 1 cucumber for dinner” or “1 sweet potato for lunch” might pop up as an legitimate diet suggestion. In America, another word for diet habits such as this might be… anorexia? But who’s to say. Cultural differences are a funny thing.

“Gays: No Bueno”: Although homosexuality is not criminalized in South Korea, gay marriage is still illegal. The Korean population’s reaction to homosexuality is… frosty, to put it kindly. On an evening out with a group of westerners and Koreans, I witnessed a western companion become increasingly intoxicated and proceed to loudly discuss how much he missed his boyfriend back home. When it became apparent to the Korean males in the group that there was a gay man in their midst, the mood of the night changed irrevocably. I know this is an odd metaphor, but the best way I can describe the situation is to refer to the scene in The Little Mermaid in which Ariel’s voice is stolen by the sea witch Ursula. The moment the word “boyfriend” left the westerner’s mouth it was as though some octopus woman had reached her clawed hand down the Korean boys’ throats- leaving them speechless- while the rest of us tried to recover in the atmosphere of uncomfortable hostility that was left in the wake.

Ironically enough, in Korea it is quite common to see male friends in close physical contact- intertwining arms, hugging, and at times even holding hands. As an American, the sight of two men engaged in such close physical contact indicates (to me) that they are most likely a couple or involved in some type of romantic relationship. However, by Korean standards, same-sex physical contact is merely a sign of friendship and nothing more. Thus, it is entirely possible that there is a myriad of gay couples on the streets of Seoul openly displaying their affection for one another and no one is the wiser.

Bonus round #1: “Mormons!”: The amount of Mormons I have seen out and about in Seoul is astonishing. They trot around politely, dressed in black pants and crisp white button-down shirts with spiffy name tags in English and Korean proclaiming “Elder John”, “Elder Thomas”, or “Elder So-and-So”. They are a fascinating group. Minnesota is not exactly a mecca of Mormon activity therefore I have not had much contact with Mormons in the past. To be honest, my knowledge of Mormons is limited whatever I could glean from The Book of Mormon (a fabulous play, if I do say so myself) and therefore I wouldn’t exactly say I have had a ‘traditional’ education about the Mormon religion. Nonetheless, I just find it amusing that I have to go halfway around the world to encounter a religious group whose roots are American through and through.

Bonus round #2: A Small Yet Amusing Compilation of Creative Uses of the English Language: I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory. Whenever one travels to a country in which English is not the native language, one will undoubtedly encounter a few amusing mistranslations/misinterpretations of English words or phrases, and even a few where you have absolutely no idea what they were trying to get at.


This one reads: “HUK HUC is a common exclamation from feeling of relief after hard exercising”. I found it printed on the sleeve of a white t-shirt dress in a rather high-class boutique. The meaning still has yet to be deciphered.


I found this printed on a snapback at a street market. It reads: “I read a book in the mouth and spiny bumps”. I really don’t know where they were going with this one. I am seriously considering returning to buy it. So watch out, the Secret Santa at this year’s Christmas party is about to get weird.

Maybe one of these days I will actually get around to writing a ‘traditional’ blog post filled with fun pictures of Seoul and my trips around Korea. But maybe not, because that sounds kind of boring and I like writing a post wherein which I can discuss homosexuals and mormons in the same breath. Stay tuned!

So you want to eat out in Seoul…

So you want to eat out in Seoul…

Food is my favorite part of any day, thus I try to spend as much money as my budget allows stuffing my face with various Korean (and various other) cuisines. As I do not have a meal plan, this means I must venture out into the greater Seoul area in search of daily meals. For the unassuming foreigner, Korean restaurant etiquette is a tricky thing. My first few experiences left me red-faced and flustered, despite many a chipper waiter who chattered away in a cacophony of Korean in what I assume was a well-meaning (yet unsuccessful) attempt to guide me through the motions of eating in a Korean restaurant.

– Firstly, diners set the table themselves. As far as I know, only in western-style (or perhaps very fancy) restaurants will the cutlery, cups, and napkins be neatly waiting at each diners’ places beforehand. Instead, chopsticks and spoons are neatly tucked away in wooden boxes or in a drawer on the side of table waiting to be distributed. In addition, Korean chopsticks (unlike Chinese chopsticks) are made of metal and are usually flat, not round (a much more comfortable shape). As somebody who had never used chopsticks before, the first few weeks of using flat chopsticks made me feel as incompetent as Edward Scissorhands (and speaking of scissors, they are also typically provided by restaurants in place of knives to cut noodles or meat).

– It is rare for each person to get their own menu. Rather, people share one menu (or in the case of a larger group, additional menus will be provided, but the total will still fall short). This makes for some awkward moments: either no one wants to be over-eager and be the first to snatch the menu, or everyone is starving and is desperately trying to pry the menu from each other’s grasp before the waiter approaches to take the orders. I have encountered two types of waiters in Korea: the first type places the menu on the table then immediately proceeds to stare at me until- in a panicked state- I am forced to blurt out an order like a contestant during the final round of Wheel of Fortune, whereas the other type of waiter will leave me sitting with the menu for so long that I reach the point of hunger in which the menu itself seems like a viable (if not hard to digest) food option.

– After delivering the food, the waitstaff does not return to the table to see if additional items are needed or to check the quality of the food. If you do not call your waiter over, you will literally never interact with them again before leaving the restaurant. However, the Koreans have come up with an ingenious solution: a call button. Each table is equipped with a button that when pressed, will summon the waiter to your table. This saves you a lot of awkward attempts at eye contact that usually just end with the eventual acceptance that you will have to do without that additional bottle of peach soju.

– Upon the completion of your meal, the check is not delivered to your table. In order to pay, you must approach the cash register (typically located near the entrance) and attempt to recall the Korean name of the dish you just inhaled. After listening to you pathetically attempt to (incorrectly) sound out the first two syllables, the man behind the register will give an exasperated sigh and demand your credit card, which you happily relinquish. Tipping is not custom in Korea, so with a quick signature the process is complete.


(Obligatory picture of food, known as 비빔밥)

Until next time.



Stitches, Sports, and Saunas

Stitches, Sports, and Saunas

Before I launch into a variety of stories, I think it’s important that I add a little note to the beginning of this blog post (I really should add it to all my blogs, and pretty much everything in my life all the time but since that’s unrealistic this will have to do). What I want to do is make a public declaration of how GRATEFUL I am for the literal never-ending love and support that I receive from my wonderful parents, Corinne and Doug. I can honestly say that I absolutely would not be halfway across the world right now having the time of my life if it were not for them. I don’t know a lot (or really any) other kids who can say that their parents have so selflessly supported all their reckless and spontaneous decisions, especially when said decisions involved leaving home to study on the other side of the world four different times. So… THANK YOU MOM AND DAD. Only because of you is any of this possible, and for that I am exceedingly grateful.


Now then… I had big plans for Sunday. Well, not ‘big’ plans. I was going to make some tomato soup and then sit down to write a nice long blog post filled with sarcasm and witty observations. Instead, as I was making the first cut into the onion to put into the soup, I slid a butchers knife straight into my hand and went to the hospital to get 8 stitches instead (although I must say, in my defense I paid the equivalent of $2 for the knife at a Korean dollar store called Daiso. I did not exactly expect to be paying for a quality knife because, seriously, I was expecting a $2 knife to be as dull as a rock). I pride myself on being a good cook, but I like to balance out that talent by doing stupid things like licking food off sharp knives, which is exactly what I was doing the night before I sliced my hand open with another knife from Daiso, so I guess it’s inevitable that something like this was going to happen. Anyways, the silver lining of this whole mess is that I got a first-hand look at the intricacies of the Korean healthcare system:

#1: Healthcare is not free. I mean it sure beats the $700 I would have likely paid if I had sliced my hand open as an uninsured youth in the United States, yet I was expecting the equivalent of the European universal healthcare system. Sadly no. However $70 for 8 stitches is a pretty sweet deal.

#2: Koreans go to the hospital for everything. And I mean everything. Small cut? Hospital. Slight fever? Hospital. Sneezed a few too many times in a row? It could mean immanent death. You guess it. Hospital. As I was waiting to get my hand stitched up, I was sitting next to a four-year-old child whose mother literally brought him to the hospital with a simple bloody nose and was waiting to be seen by the doctor. Which now explains the reason I was initially told I would need to wait 5 hours to get my hand sewn up (they later sent me to a less-crowded, if not lower-grade hospital with a shorter wait).

#3: They err on the side of caution. For a simple stitch job I was given an antibiotic shot beforehand and then was sent home with painkillers (side note: by “painkillers” I assumed they meant a stronger version of ibuprofen. I found out in the middle of my first class, when I nearly wobbled out of my chair, that they had actually prescribed me something closer to oxycontin) and another course of antibiotics. In addition, I was told I need to keep my hand tightly bandaged for two weeks, change the bandage every 2 days, not expose the wound or bandage to water, ect… I mean I know I’m no expert but this seems a bit extreme for a small cut.

#4: Again with the dramatics. Any Korean I have come in contact with (language teacher, grocery store clerk, waitress, ect) has been intensely curious as to how I injured my hand and has proceeded to gasp audibly in shock/horror when I describe the incident. They react as though I am describing how I purposely stuck my hand in a garbage disposal for fun and not just mildly injured myself by my own stupidity. This is funny for many reasons, but primarily because the cut itself is pretty small (but a bit deep- I am a very vigorous onion slicer) so it’s just the bandage that makes the whole injury look exaggerated.


In other news, last weekend the Yon-Ko games were held, in which Yonsei University and Korea University face off in 5 different sporting events (rugby, soccer, hockey, baseball, and basketball). I only attended one of the games (basketball) but that was enough to get a pretty good idea of what Yon-Kon is all about. The first thing I’ll say is that I rarely attend sporting events, but when I do it’s to watch the athletes engage in physical activity. To be honest I usually just show up for the food; it’s rare to find Dippin’ Dots outside of sports arenas in the United States. Point being, when I attend as a spectator I do not expect to be the one getting the workout. However, at the Yon-Ko basketball game I attended, from the second I walked through the door of the stadium it was like entering a beehive; the entire stadium was on its feet engaged in rapid, intricate dance moves, led by the respective Yonsei and Korea University dance teams. The dance teams themselves are a whole other story. The Yonsei dance team was dressed in costumes with elements of both go-go dancers and French Renaissance fashion. They led the crowd in a series of non-stop dances that lasted the entire span of the game. Unlike sporting events in the US, the dancing was not limited to pregame festivities or the halftime show. Rather, for the entire duration of the match, speakers blasted music and the crowd furiously danced, cheered, and managed to watch the game at the same time. The other Korean students were clearly familiar with the dance moves and as such they followed along comfortably with the dance team. My fellow exchange students and I, on the other hand, were totally out of our element, a fact which was made incredibly obvious as we were grouped together in the stands (as part of the “Mentor’s Club” mentioned in previous posts, Korean students paired with exchange students) and our section was the only one that remained awkwardly out of sync with the rest of the stadium. Nonetheless the atmosphere alone was not to be missed. As much as I love Loyola, I will admit that sports are not our strong suit (save for men’s volleyball that one year) therefore it was nice to experience a bit of rabid school spirit.

Yon-Ko Dancers

The Yonsei dance team at the Yon-Ko Games

A few weeks ago, on a late Friday night (or early Saturday morning, I should say, as it was nearing 5am), I found myself in a Korean bathhouse (called a 찜질방) which was awesome:

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.22.27 PMFor a mere 11,000 won (about $10), you can splash around in hot tubs, cold tubs, saunas, cold rooms (humid rooms? I’m getting creative with the names here) and even get a ‘scrub down’ (I opted out) in which a stranger uses a cloth similar to fine sandpaper to, well, scrub you down.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.22.27 PMThey give you a nifty outfit to wear, not unlike nurses’ scrubs. You are also provided with a ‘towel’ (which is a generous word, because I don’t understand how you are supposed to use a piece of fabric about 6×12 inches to dry your whole body).

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.22.27 PMCommunal bars of soap are provided and widely used by everyone, which I’ve never thought was very sanitary. So far everything in Korea has been up-to-snuff sanitation wise, except when it comes to the practice of using communal bars of soap. In most public restrooms, there is no liquid soap but instead a bar of soap usually attached to the wall by a metal bar for easy access. Puzzling.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.22.27 PMNudity is the name of the game. This might not be a shocking thing to people outside of North America (as I am told that people go to bathhouses/saunas naked in Northern Europe and elsewhere), but I have never been to a sauna in the United States in which people were not wearing either towels or swimsuits. Obviously it’s strictly separated by gender, but still, communal nudity is not a common occurrence and it definitely takes some getting used to. It’s funny that Koreans dress more conservatively than westerners in public but in private, nudity is not problem yet for westerners, public provocativeness is a non-issue and in private, modesty is more important.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 3.22.27 PMPeople go to the bathhouses to sleep. After paddling around for awhile like a drunk duck in the various hot baths, I put on my scrubs and wandered into the communal area to get a drink. Upon opening the door, it looked like I had entered the Jonestown commune. There were bodies sprawled on every inch of the floor, in various states of consciousness. After a night of drinking, if people are unwilling or unable to make it back to their homes (the subway is closed from midnight until 5am), people simply convene in bathhouses (it’s cheaper than a motel and cleaner than the street). You can also sleep inside the actual 120-degree saunas, which are shaped like little clay igloos and are heated by broiling furnaces, but I have yet to discover the health benefits of this behavior besides headaches and dehydration.


Until next time! Hopefully by then my hand will be healed because right now my left hand is bandaged up like a flipper which makes typing slightly tedious.


As an awkward afterthought, here is a picture of the older part of the Yonsei campus as I realize that I have shared very few (i.e. none at all) pictures on this blog.

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!




First Impressions of Seoul

First Impressions of Seoul


I arrived in Seoul last Monday and as classes still don’t start for another two days, I have had a decent amount of time to get acquainted with the city that I will call home for the next four months. Before coming to Seoul, I conducted literally no research about Korean culture/society/language/food, simply because I am lazy. However, this wasn’t always the case. I began the summer with high hopes, going as far as to buy a Korean language workbook to learn some basic phrases but I soon came to terms with the fact that 5 summer classes, work, and Netflix would take top priority. Therefore, upon arriving in Seoul I did not know what to expect. I had eaten Korean food perhaps once or twice before but it didn’t stand out in my memory than any other Asian cuisine. I had watched only one South Korean film- Old Boy- but only remembered it for the scene where the man ate an entire live octopus, which was equally fascinating and horrifying to watch as the octopus literally tried to claw his way out of the man’s mouth as he swallowed. But I digress… the point is I arrived in Seoul unprepared. Prior to my departure, when people would ask me why I chose to study in South Korea, I had a hard time coming up with a good reason because the honest truth is I don’t really have a lot of good reasons for choosing to study in Korea. I have a variety of reasons as to why I didn’t choose other countries in which to study abroad, but not many reasons for choosing Korea itself. I feel a bit awkward saying that because there are a lot of people who have spent years planning their experience abroad in Korea. Nevertheless I am confident that this semester will prove to be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life.

It has only been 6 days and already I am in love with Seoul. It’s so vibrant. At all hours of the day and night there are people in the streets, cafes, restaurants, shops, doing stuff. Stores stay open past 9pm. My hometown of Ham Lake, Minnesota is not exactly a hotbed of glamour and intrigue. Therefore it is a bit overwhelming for me to find myself in such a busy bright hub of activity. Last night (Saturday) I ventured out to the district of Hongdae in Seoul to explore the nightlife. There are clubs, bars, and restaurants  everywhere, all filled with groups of Koreans enjoying themselves. One thing that must not be overlooked about Seoul is the drinking culture. I had heard that Korea in particular has a very active drinking culture, but it definitely must be experienced firsthand. At the orientation for the new exchange students, the International Buddies program (exactly what it sounds like, Korean and international students forming friendships) ended their introductory presentation by announcing to the crowd: “Join our club! We can all go out and get wasted together!” When I studied in Rome at the John Felice Rome Center, the consumption of alcohol was repeatedly stressed as a social activity that was not to be abused, as Italians typically do not go out and get roaring drunk. Whereas in Korea, drinking appears to have evolved from a social activity into a national sport. Say what you will, bars and clubs have proved to be an excellent way to meet native Koreans, all of whom have been eager to learn English and help me learn basic Korean.

A quick word on some favorite Korean foods I have discovered thus far… (the descriptions and spellings of which may or may not be accurate as I still don’t know any Korea so I have been guessing wildly when reading menus)

  • Bingsoo: shaved ice covered in sweetened condensed milk, tried one in a bowl with almonds and one in a cup with an entire slice of tiramisu on top

IMG_1867 2IMG_1876

  • Shabu-shabu: basically a pot of soup in the center of the table over a burner, you are provided with a bunch of ingredients that you can cook in the pot (meat, veggies, noodles)


  • Japanese curry: similar to Indian curry (if not the same? Difficult to say…)IMG_1862

Stay tuned! More to follow…