When you live in another country there will most likely be differences that you will have to get used to. Some of these differences are shocking, weird or convenient. Here are a few things that made an impression on me while living in Korea.
Naked Gym Time:
Working out in a Korean gym is quite the experience! From the lack of air conditioning in the summer to strange gym uniforms you are given, nothing made a bigger impact on me that getting used to seeing naked people.
In high school all of the girls tried not to look at each other in the changing room or went into the bathroom stalls to prevent the awkwardness while here I was seeing boobs and pubes everywhere. I never knew that in Korea, people see no issue being nude in front of their own sex. I was stunned to see so many naked people walking around the changing room. I was terrified the first time. I had to keep reminding myself to look at the floor to avoid embarrassment.
I was embarrassed to change in front of the other women or shower at the gym. My first gym had no walls separating the shower stalls, just a small glass divider the size of a medicine cabinet mirror. At first I kept trying to cover my body with the small towels we are given. I felt like everyone at the gym was judging me not only for my body but because I was foreign. I felt absolutely 0% comfortable at the gym during that time but after going through the same process everyday for the next month, I started losing fear.
Eventually I switched gyms due to my budget but by the time I was at the second gym, I had lost all fear. It didn’t phase me changing right across from an old lady butt-naked drying her pubic area with a blow drier. I feel like in some way I became less self-conscious about my body and just see nudity as a little less taboo.
Subway Seat Race
I would have never guessed that some of the most aggressive subway riders are people in Seoul! When they need to catch a train and you’re in the way, you become the enemy. They can school you in the art of competing to find a seat. From the grannies with the hiking gear to kids coming from school, anyone can turn from normal to the Flash to get a seat.
Depending on the number of people, when the doors open you need to spot a seat and run for it because someone will shove you out of the way for it. Rush hour can make the situation a little more intense by adding traffic. With more people than there is space, sometimes people try to push through while you’re still waiting in line.
During the working hours or family holidays, the subway cars are usually empty. Every other time you can see at least one person throwing their bag on a seat, someone being shoved or someone running for that empty spot. I feel like it comes with the city life but a little too intense in Seoul. I don’t even want to touch Friday & Saturday nights and rush hour. It’s every man for himself.
Not having to Tip
For Americans coming over to Korea, guess what? You don’t have to tip for services. It feels great not to calculate a tip but it is hard to break the habit. I am not implying I WANT to tip but rather I feel like they might spit on my food if I come back because I didn’t tip.
Once you get used to not having to tip, it’s wonderful to know you will be paying only for your food! Nothing extra. You don’t have to worry about tipping based on the service, that option is taken away entirely! On the other hand, when you come back to the States, it becomes a dangerous habit. In the U.S. you basically tip for absolutely everything. It really makes you wish for the days where you only paid for what you wanted and not the service. Don’t worry, you will get used it after a while.
The two hands to give back money:
One of the first things I was taught about Korean culture was how to give back money. Usually when I received or gave money, I would only use one hand, but I was told that was rude. So in Korea I learned that you either give or receive money with both hands or use a respectful gesture. This lesson in manners soon proved to be very useful because my coworkers would always hand me things in such a respectful manner, even though I was younger and foreign. I felt I should learn to be as respectful as they were, so I did. This turned out to be one of the simplest things to adapt to in Korea.
I realized how well I adapted to it because the instant I left Korea to travel anywhere abroad, I still kept giving or receiving money with both hands. That wonderful look people outside of Korea give you when you give them money respectfully though. It makes you feel like maybe you have adapted too well into Korean society.
I’m not sure about other people but in my house it was common practice to take your shoes off at the door so you won’t drag dirt in. I was used to taking my shoes off at the door before going to Korea but something that never hit me was taking your shoes off at work!
I feel like the only time it is really hard to get used to it is if you are working in public school during the winter. During the winter it is pretty well known that you will be working in the arctic. So taking your shoes off and putting on your inside shoes may make you question your life choices.
I was able to buy shoes that were lined with fake fur and looked like crocs, but even they were no match for the bitter winter. Taking my shoes off at work was just something that I couldn’t get used to duringthe winter. My students caught me wearing my outside shoes a few times because I kept forgetting to change. Although it might take a while to get used to in the winter, wearing comfy sandals is definitely way easier when you have to stand for several hours teaching, so it’s not all bad