Dear Korea, (by Miia)

Dear Korea,

 

It is the end of the Autumn semester, and I still can’t believe how fast these 4 months have gone by. You welcomed me with open arms, with a strange culture to explore and new people to meet. I have to admit, when I first arrived in August I was a bit nervous, wondering if I would get overwhelmed with the language I couldn’t speak or read, a warmer climate, and different manners people had. I had never tasted your food, so I was worried I might not like it since it is so different from what I was used to. Mostly, though, I was excited to experience what you had to offer, and eager to meet your people.

1

The first day in Seoul was rough, as they always are when arriving to a new place. I was exhausted from my long trip, found myself in a bare dorm room and had no idea how to even find food. Thankfully I learned quickly where to find some essentials like sheets and towels (Emart), as well as dinner (Wangsimni is full of restaurants). Looking back, isn’t it astonishing how quickly people get used to a new place? I got comfortable living in Seoul, and studying at Hanyang University during this short semester.

2

As I’m writing this on the flight back home, I remember the many hours I spent on campus, studying and meeting friends. The Korean school system was new to me, with the mandatory attendance at lectures and midterm exams. Teachers were respected, and many of them wanted total silence during their classes. The native students seemed all so hardworking, and you could find many of them studying at empty classrooms and nearby cafes even during the weekends. Besides that, there was a ton of other coursework throughout the semester, which was intimidating to say the least! Although I thought I’d drown in deadlines the last couple of weeks before the finals, I managed to finish everything in time because of the motivation Korean students gave me… phew.

3

Speaking of Koreans, I was lucky enough to make a few friends during my exchange. A few of them were fellow exchange students, but most of them were locals. Many of them were quite shy at first, not used to speaking in English, but once they crawled out of their shells they turned out to be great people to talk to and hang out with. They were kind, helpful and interesting. I learned so much about the local culture, the Korean way of thinking and language through them. If I hadn’t met them, there is no doubt that I would’ve felt more like a visiting tourist, but instead I got to feel like I was part of the group, an insider. Korea, you made me love you through your people.

4

I grew to like your spicy foods, refreshing drinks and the peculiar way of making meals social events. My favourite dishes now include Korean fried chicken and tteokkbokki. Gosh, I will miss them at home. At first I found it weird how almost every meal is expected to be shared between friends, but now it’s just normal to reach for a common plate in the middle. No, I still won’t share my dessert though, don’t expect miracles to happen! The way some dishes like BBQ are meant to be prepared on the table gave it even more of a ’cooking together’ feeling.

5

Korea, I wish I had more time to explore everything you had to offer. One semester turned out to be much shorter than expected, and before I knew it it was already time to head back home. I managed to see some of what Seoul had to offer, as well as a glimpse of Busan in the south. Palaces where one could see girls wear traditional clothes, or hanboks, would show a peek at your history, whereas the urban shopping areas and animal cafes were a charming part of what you are like now.

6 7

I have never been to a place like you are, Korea, and am glad to have been able to experience it first hand during these four months. You are quirky and unpredictable, and it was sometimes demanding to keep up with your fast pace of life. Yet I wouldn’t change it for anything. Although I’m glad to go home, I’m also sad to leave you and the new friends I made behind. What I know for sure though, is that this isn’t the last time I will be visiting you.

8

Love,

Miia

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