As I sit in my room, surrounded by bundles of application forms and Korean homestay brochures, exhilaration begins to pump through my veins. The reality of my year abroad has fully kicked in and it is now dawning on me just how far from home I will be. What was once an exciting prospect is now a somewhat terrifying future. I want to say I have fully planned every aspect of my time away but in actuality, I have barely made a dent in my to-do list. Aside from planning all the hiking trips I want to take and all the beautiful spots I would like to photograph, I have barely thought about the essentials: housing, visas, insurance; these have all been so far from my mind for so long that now I am met with a sick feeling in my stomach at the mere thought of all the things I need to prepare.
When I tell people that I will be spending the year in Korea I am met with one of two reactions: ‘Wow that’s so exciting, you’re going to have so much fun’ or ‘Why Seoul? Is there anything to do? Surely China would be more interesting’. This then, of course, pressures me into giving a long monologue about how I have been long fascinated by the Western perception of the East; how I have always wanted to travel around Asia writing and learning about their cultures; and how my mother’s country of birth – Malaysia – instigated my interest in this continent. Without knowing anything about the country my interrogator forces me to justify my interest in Korea, Asia, and then by extension, my whole life.
Overshadowed by its older siblings – China and Japan – little is known about the Korean Peninsular and its history. In fact, we even call South Korea by the wrong name: it is officially known as the Republic of Korea. The Republic of Korea has an incredible history that we, the West, are simply unaware of. Primarily taught about European history and culture, we learn nothing of the East and their histories. All we are taught in school is that their cultures are different from our own. Undoubtedly, this is where our high school history classes fail us – how can we be expected to empathise and understand other societies and cultures if we do not know about them?
Today, when we hear about the Republic of Korea we automatically associate it with music and television, but South Korea is so much more than just pop culture. For example, the Korean language – otherwise known as Hangul – is the world’s largest language isolate and was formed in the 1400s to encourage literacy among the common folk. Yet, somehow, the only piece of Korean history we are aware of is the North and South divide, and even then, we lack in-depth knowledge about this conflict. Considering this, Wandering Seoul seeks to demystify the misconceptions of Korea and its neighbouring countries by offering a comprehensive insight into the Republic of Korea’s social norms, culture, and history.