​The Best Kind of Culture Shock I’ve Had in South Korea

Christine Anusim is a student at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

Let’s talk about “culture shock”. If you’ve never heard of the term, a quick Google search defines it as “a disorientation a person may feel when they enter a new environment with a different culture”. Many students go through it regardless of if you want it to happen or not. In most cases, people only consider the culture shocks that are deemed negative- the feelings that can leave you feeling isolated- but in fact, there are many positive aspects of culture shock where the outcome is something influential that you can take home back to your own neighborhood. I am going to talk about one positive culture shock, and one challenging one, that I have experienced thus far in my time in Korea. So, like ripping off a band-aid, let’s start with the anxiety-giving shock.

ZoooOOOOOoooM ( a.k.a. The Pace)

I wish I had done some research on “city life” before going to Seoul, because I was kind of taken aback when I was thrown into the unfamiliarity of it.​ We’re in Seoul. A city. A large metropolitan city. A large metropolitan city that is also the CAPITAL of South Korea where there’s a population of almost 10 million people.

I grew up and currently attend university in a suburban area of Texas, so this city environment was a little different to me. People in Seoul walk everywhere (yay, exercise), mind their own business, and use the subway– a system I have never had to navigate until now. Yikes! Everyone minding their own business was a little intense for me because I grew up in the American South where it’s the opposite. Where I’m from, EVERYONE wants to start a conversation with you, whether or not you felt like talking. It’s like an unsaid obligation, and if you do not engage in a chat, you’re seen as rude. So, you put on a cheesy smile and act like you’re interested in your 30 second conversation. Because I grew up with that, in South Korea I find myself smiling at strangers because it’s something I’ve always done. If I don’t, I’m worried that my face will always look either angry or sad, and I really don’t want to come off as unapproachable since I am here to learn.

This is the primary style of businesses in the metropolitan area—one building with each floor occupied by a different business.

I find it neat to see that living in a metropolitan area is this intense. I am not sure if I would want to live in an environment such as this one forever, but I think that decision will be made at the end of this program. Studying abroad is a life changing experience, so of course it will make marks on my development and future life aspirations, which is something I look forward to.

My exploration of some parts of Insa-dong during my free time!

*Insert “Take a Walk” by Passion Pit here* (a.k.a. Feet are a Popular Mode of Transportation)

As for a more positive culture shock I’ve experienced, I love how in Seoul, places are within walking distance of where you may live. I think it promotes a healthy lifestyle and I feel like it can do a lot for the environment (don’t quote me on the environmental status of South Korea, I am just speaking generally). I appreciate the healthy lifestyle because I want to become a physician in the future, and it is always important for people to always have conscious thought of how their environment may affect their health. What makes this place even more challenging is that there are many steep hills throughout the city. You’ll breath heavily when you’re done climbing the hills, but it will all be worth it because you made it!

I love how nature-first Korea is. This is the City Wall of Seoul.

With reference to both types of culture shocks, there is a lot to learn from each situation. Though that is true, I think the challenging aspects of culture shock are great ones to pay attention to because they will help you grow as a global citizen in terms of cultural competence. When you overcome such differences and find your place in the society and apply what you learn to your life and to others around you, it will definitely have a positive effect on helping reduce cultural gaps in the world.

Our visit to one of the many palaces of Korean history—Gyeoungbokgung Palace.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

Leave a Reply