From cafés to kimbap (the Korean sushi roll) to streetwear and of course K-Pop, these elements pump life into the heart of Seoul, Korea. Upon my arrival, the city itself appeared so large and overwhelming. Every building follows a distinct color palette, sticking to shades of white, grey, and tan. It curates a sense of modernization and simplicity as you walk past towering apartment complexes and into small family-owned shops. As hot as the weather feels, sunny skies and the occasional raindrop compensates. The humidity is unforgiving, as I can wash my curly hair on a Wednesday and it’ll still be damp until Friday. I can assume that my hair will always be moisturized throughout the majority of my study here.
As for classes, I am studying Intellectual Heritage II at Ewha Woman’s University, the first women’s university in all of South Korea. Ewha Woman’s University is nestled among the dozens of K-Beauty shops in Ewhayeodae-gil. It seems that when you walk around the area there is more makeup and skincare than food, which is completely the opposite from the United States. Each store blares K-Pop, every song synchronizing with another as you make your way up the street. The floral scents from the stores leak into the street luring you to come inside. I have decided that I will be coming home with one too many moisturizers because of this.
With buildings sticking to a common color palette, it’s not difficult to get lost. But getting lost just may be the best thing about this experience. It feeds into the adventure of being abroad, an exploration of culture, and it leads you to find a 7-11 at every block that sells melon or tomato popsicles (so you obviously have to get one). If you follow the 7-11’s out of the alleyways, you’ll be sure to smell the floral perfume from the main street of Ewhayeodae-gil.
As you’re swirling around the streets, you’ll be sure to see one of the many cafes located in the Ewha area. Each offers beverages loaded with coffee, green tea, and boba (tapioca pearls). Behind glass countertops, there’s an array of pastries and rice cakes shaped like Ryan, the Kakao Talk mascot. Kakao Talk is a messaging and calling app; it’s similar to WhatsApp. Currently it is used by up to 93% of South Koreans. I can see why as well. From maps, to texting, to taxis, and even a streaming service, Ryan and his Kakao friends run Korea. Ryan the lion and his friends can be seen on makeup products, in the windows of convenience stores, and on digital-motion billboards located throughout the city to help ongoers navigate through Seoul.
As much as Seoul is a bustling city, there are still elements of nature. The city wall that protects Seoul is brimming with yellow tickweed flowers and chamomile. There are trees and potted houseplants on every corner and every store counter. On the topic of the environment, my experience in Seoul has been extremely eco-friendly. You are encouraged to bring reusable cups to coffee shops and many shops use ceramic dishware and glass cups instead of plastic. By Korean law, it is also illegal to throw out plastic cups in the café if they are used inside. However, I did notice that Korea does not have an abundance of trash cans like the United States. Despite this, Seoul is spotless.
So far, Seoul seems to be a center of environmental and technological progress. I am grateful for this opportunity and I am eager to experience every adventure that Korea (and Ryan) have in store for me and my peers !