Navigating Culture Shock


Wandering Seoul Column:

Prepare to immerse yourself into the historically beautiful, technologically advanced and remarkable culture of South Korea. CUB Magazine’s column ‘Wandering Seoul’, written by Ruby Punt, aims to dispense with overusing itineraries and reflect the extraordinary personal experience South Korea has to offer, whilst also challenging many western misconceptions about South Korea. All that’s left to say is 읽어 주셔서 감사합니다 .


I moved to Seoul in August 2019 for my year abroad scheme and, if I am honest, the transition was rough. Within a week I had found myself isolated in my apartment, feeling like a complete loser: you are in an exciting new country, Ruby, why are you INSIDE? Go have fun! Despite arriving early, especially so I could sightsee, I couldn’t find the energy to leave my bed, let alone the room. However, as time went on, I began to venture out and forced myself out of my cosy hermit shell. 

It wasn’t so much that I was homesick or lonely – okay, I was a little lonely – it was more that I was physically and mentally exhausted all the time. I would enviously look at my friends Instagram feed, all of them grinning together, and feel pangs of jealousy. More than anything I wanted familiarity. South Korea felt overwhelmingly bigger and more difficult to navigate compared to London, and, as such, I retreated from the outside world. 

Culture shock to me is not only the feeling of ‘missing home’ but the difficulty you face settling in. With the hope that my troubles can help someone else, I came up with the ABC[D]’s of how to quickly get over culture shock. 

Apps

As I arrived a month early, I had no way to meet new people aside from through apps such as MeetUp. I used Apps like this to find events that genuinely interested me so that even if I were to go alone, I could still have a great time. My first event was with a hiking group and involved climbing two mountains in Seoul. I chose this activity because I would never choose to do it alone, for safety reasons. This outing really changed my outlook on soloing big group events. Before I was scared that I would be self-conscious and avoid talking to everyone. However, I quickly made friends with most of the group, and still keep in contact with some of them! I was shocked by the amount of people there, who were close to my age. Previously, I had a misguided belief that I would be out of place and share no commonalities with them, but that wasn’t the case at all!  

Bad day preparation

My friend actually recommended this one to me which I thought was immensely helpful. You have to plan for those dark days: the ones where you physically can’t get out of bed. Whether you have an on-going scrapbook, a list of recipes from home, or a hard drive full of cheesy rom-coms, it is important you have something prepared for when you’re feeling particularly blue. When I feel down – or just bored – I tend to list places I would like to visit, both in and out of South Korea. This helps me get excited about the future and all the possibilities it can bring. 

Culture and language classes

These last two are more concerned with how to alleviate culture shock. One of the main reasons I had difficulties settling down in Seoul was because I couldn’t understand anyone there. I would walk into my building and a lady would angrily shout at me in Korean, this would of course put pressure on me because I didn’t know what I was doing wrong! I found culture and language classes useful because they expanded my knowledge on South Korean customs. Whilst I still have no idea why the woman was angry, at least now I have the ability to ask her.

Do your research! 

I cannot recommend this enough. Do! Your! Research! You need to know about the country’s history and political stance to understand why they may behave differently to you. In my case, researching the Korean war and the current economic status helped me understand why there were so many anti-Japanese posters. Keeping up to date with Korean newspapers – English translated of course – continuously allows me to understand the current issues South Korea is facing. All of this research is paramount for both your safety and integration. You need to be aware about what is going on around you in case there is an emergency.


CUB’s Ruby Punt is a third year comparative literature student, currently embedded in Seoul, South Korea. She is exceedingly sporty: regularly rock climbing, hiking and practicing pole fitness (with a spot of skiing on the side). She enjoys reading fiction and, despite her athletic disposition, has an ‘unhealthy’ Netflix addiction. 


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