안녕하세요 (Annyeonghaseyo), it´s Agnes and Yasin calling from Seoul.
Smoggy, drab and grey was our first impressions of Seoul. But the picture of Seoul changed in the next view weeks. The scenery moved to a more friendly and vivid layout.
Unlike our home campus, Hongik University seems huge. Funny thing is that the university here is one of the smallest in Seoul. The Campus has its own little universe, and besides the enormous amount of cafes, you can find some convenience stores, a bookshop, a gym and even a doctors office. In the first few weeks we had great support from our buddies, who helped us a lot with the authorities and other questions. We quickly found a connection in the “Kimchi Club” which facilitates the exchange between the students.
Both of us decided to stay in the dormitory, which was built in 2016 and has really good facilities. We each share a room with another exchange student who has the same linguistic background like us. Each room has its own bathroom with a real shower(!), which is a rarity in Korea. The dorm is separated for sexes, there are separate entrances and also a separated laundry room. Annoying is the curfew which does not allow us to leave and enter the dorm between 12 and 5. That is why the majority of exchange students are living outside the campus.
The university is located in Hongdae quarter, which is one of the trendiest districts in Seoul. You will find here a flood of cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars and a lot of young students. The density of cafes matches that of hairdressers and kebab shops in Pforzheim. Besides working, learning and meeting friends, cafes are a popular hotspot.
The choice of food is huge! However, vegetarians and vegans have a hard time here, as almost everything is prepared with animal products. Nevertheless, the cuisine of Korea is very diverse, tasty and usually inexpensive, which is why everyone goes out to eat. As a rule, it is not uncommon to share several dishes for which kimchi and water are served for free. It’s important to know that tips are not common, koreans mentality is to work for the money, that is also the reason why you rarely see beggars.
The public transportation network in Korea is very well developed and makes it possible to reach any destination by bus and train. For this purpose it is recommended to download the appropriate apps because Googlemaps doesn’t have access to a lot of locations and navigations. Koreans often come across very shy, but are always helpful. Sometimes, in everyday life, they seem to be very hectic and gruff. The country is very safe, there is literally a security camera on every corner.. you really don’t have to worry about any street crimes, because the Koreans are usually too afraid to get caught for stealing.
Contrary to our expectations, Seoul is not as technologized as we had imagined before our stay, although the use of screens is larger than ours and key cards are everywhere. Otherwise, it is sometimes rather surprisingly retrograde. The older people do not enjoy a good pension. Many are forced to work at a high age, which is why you often see old women and men in convenience stores behind the counter, or dragging their way through the street with primitive handcrapers to collect waste paper or sell fruits and grilled topoki (rice cakes) on the roadside.
Coming from Germany, we were often asked about the tensions between North and South Korea – if we hear about it in the news and what is being said. Amazingly little. The young Koreans don’t really care and you notice little to nothing in everyday life from the near border.