“I wish I could wash the kimchi before putting it in my mouth.” says Alexey (Department of Electrical Engineering ‘08). “It is tasty but way too spicy for me.” He leaves to refill his glass of water.
It is not easy to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time but the greatest difficulties are often faced in the beginning. This problem is particularly acute for those who come to pursue full-time studies at SNU and not just as exchange students. Staying at one place for a long time requires a totally different set of adaptations as opposed to staying for one semester – which is more like a form of educational tourism. For students staying for just a semester, the problems are usually circumvented by Lonely Planet or by the company of Korean friends but for those who intend to stay longer, assuming the role of a tourist is a luxury that they cannot afford. Today the world seems all too familiar with the Western way of life; however, for many people, the Orient continues to be a mystery. People often have expectations very much removed from reality and it is only after they have arrived here, that they become aware of the actual situation on the ground. As a result of which the culture shock arising from migration from East to West is far less than the opposite case.
Till a few months back, finding information in English was a difficult task indeed. In a large number of restaurants and coffee shops, many foreigners observe that the only English word on the menu is the word “Menu” itself! One of the most pressing problems is the complicated procedure for getting a phone connection. The number of lectures offered in English is also often inadequate to cover all the areas of interest. But things are improving. Announcements in shuttle bus are made both in Korean and in English. The mailing service from Global Information Center, highlighting the main events of the week, is helpful in keeping foreign students informed. With time hopefully, the usage of English will become more widespread.
To a foreigner, Korean cuisine can be summarized in just a single word – kimchi. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Korean cuisine involves a large number of other dishes which are a bit spicy for some but nonetheless very interesting and delicious. For people new to Korea, it is an experience that most of them would cherish but for people who wish to stay for an extended period, things cease to be exotic after sometime. Making Korean food a part of one’s daily life can be a difficult task. The World Line in the Dormitory cafeteria is a welcome effort in easing the transition.
But of all the problems, the most appalling is the invisible curtain that separates Koreans and foreigners. Koreans often stare at foreigners with wide-eyed wonder but any effort to strike up a conversation is almost always thwarted by – what many people describe as a mild panic! It is interesting to note that Koreans form the largest active student group in the USA (according to the data published by the US government in July 2008), comfortably ahead of India and China. At the same time a large number of Koreans travel abroad - either for work or tourism. The number stands at more than 12 million. Among the Korean tourists travelling overseas, it was found that the most important reasons for travel included – places of interest, adventure and the urge to explore something different. However, a thing like the language barrier doesn’t even feature in the top 10 reasons. These findings and the reality encountered in Korea is almost paradoxical.
In the end, I have just one request to the Korean reader. A foreigner living in Korea is having a hard time getting used to a new country, often lonely and very eager to know you. If you are inquisitive about a foreigner, go ahead and strike a conversation – don’t be daunted by any barrier (of the mind or the language). Very often, lasting and fruitful friendships start out of chance encounters. Go forward and break the ice - you will not regret it!
written by : Subhojit Chakladar