I chose to study abroad in Korea mostly from a place of curiosity. I had heard from a friend that Seoul was an exciting, vibrant city with a lot to do, and I wanted to try living somewhere that I knew would have a very different culture than what I was used to. This summer, I started to get a little nervous when I realized that I was completely clueless about everything Korean—I didn’t know the language, I had never really watched any Korean media (besides Squid Game), and I didn’t know anything about K-pop. I feared that I would have a very difficult time adjusting to life in Seoul. So I decided to go on a Korean culture deep dive.
I started by learning Hangul, the written form of the Korean language, on Duolingo. It was surprisingly pretty easy to learn, and, within two weeks, I had memorized almost all of the characters! I’ve now started to learn some basic phrases, like 밥 먹었어요?, pronounced bad meogeosseoyo, which means “Have you eaten?” In Korea, “have you eaten?” is a greeting that is seen as the equivalent of “how are you?” in English! Another phrase I’ve learned how to say is “Can you help me please?”—도와 줄수있으세요 (dowa julsu isseuseyo?)—because I know I will get lost on the subway at least once.
I’ve also gotten into K-dramas lately. The first one I watched was Extraordinary Attorney Woo because I’m a sucker for legal dramas. I thoroughly enjoyed, and I might have cried just a little during some really touching scenes. I’m now watching Crash Landing on You, and actually really interesting because, apparently, it’s pretty accurate to life in North Korea! Overall, I’ve found that K-dramas are extremely entertaining, but they are definitely going to give me some unrealistic expectations of romantic relationships. If only I could lock eyes with a beautiful stranger under a cherry blossom tree in real life!
Next, I tried to learn a K-pop dance and I started with the classic, BANG BANG BANG by BigBang. I am a terrible dancer, so honestly it was a little hard to catch on it at first, but the step-by-step tutorials were really helpful and I started to get the hang of it.
Then, I started watching some videos about the history of K-pop. I learned about Seo Taiji and Boys, a 90s pop-rock band that revolutionized Korean music and led to the rise of K-pop as we know it today. While Seo Taiji and Boys was originally looked down upon by adults, especially by the older generations, their style became widespread across the Korean music industry. Then, when a financial crisis hit Korea in 1997, the government decided that music would be their next new global export. They sponsored production companies, such as JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment, who turned Seo Taiji and Boys into a formula. These companies carefully assembled bands, known as idol groups, whose members each took on specific roles. Within a decade, K-pop had spread around the world and gained a large international following. Today, K-pop is known for its distinct, catchy sound that includes lots of genre mixing and experimentalism and its music videos where idols perform highly choreographed dances.
Now, I feel a lot more prepared and even more excited for my time in Korea! It can be easy to feel like the lead up to a semester abroad is all stressful logistics, but I think it can also be a fun, enjoyable experience learning about a new culture, which, in my experience, helps to calm the nerves. Of course, buying plane tickets, applying for a visa, and preparing finances were also necessary preparations for my trip. I’m glad, though, that I was able to strike a balance between the hectic planning process and researching Korean culture. I feel like I now have a fresh perspective that I’m sure will enhance my overall study abroad experience. I can’t wait to learn more about Korea when I land in Seoul in just over a month!
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My name is Sarah and I'm a student at Rice University. I'm a double major in history and anthropology, and I love to read and write. My favorite hobbies are walking around cities and trying new coffee shops!