Dark clouds in Korea

Today, dark clouds make up the sky above Seoul. The weather has been shit the last few days here. While we had almost 30 degrees this weekend. It almost feels like the weather in the Netherlands. Where are you sunshine?!
Two weeks ago I finally finished all my data collection. YES! Now the only job to be done for my thesis is writing, writing, writing. How exciting. Luckily, I planned some fun days around typing on my laptop. Kingsday is around the corner, and we plan to celebrate at Hangang Park. That place quickly turned into our favourite place in Seoul to drink some beers and chill.

Time to chill out and relax is needed after turning into a Korean workaholic. The working life here is quite stressful, with working from 9 to 9 at the university, early meetings and weekend meetups for translations. For some reason, you adapt to their way of working quite fast. Last weekend, I had an appointment with a friend we met at our hike in the DMZ. She was so sweet to help me with my translations since her English and Korean both is superb. But she is so freaking busy; she even worked on Saturday evening. I didn’t mind, because I usually don’t work on Saturdays, so one time is not a big problem. But for Korean students, Saturdays are normal to work on. Especially in the midterms. I was amazed by their work ethic, it is insane, and the motivation to reach for the best is admirable in some ways. It is not unusual to see people still studying or working when we are on our way to go out.
I knew the pressure on Korean students is high. I did my research on the topic because my thesis subject is similar. But seeing the pressure in real life is crazy. I am aware that it is normal to work your ass off here and as I said, in some ways it is admirable. But people work themselves to insanity here sometimes. It pains me to see that some fall under the pressure that is put on them. When I ask about how people deal with this pressure to perform here, the answer is simply: you work (literally keep working) through it, or you end it. This gave me goosebumps. I am aware of the sensitivity of this topic, but I still find it important to speak about it. The concept of a burn out is non-existent here, and depression or anxiety is a big taboo. It is getting better, and more and more people start to speak up against the pressure of society. However, the problem here is nowhere near solved.
I wanted to discuss this problem because I believe the pressure you feel from society is never something you should be controlled by. All people feel it, some more than others, but be aware that as long as you are happy with what you do and how you do it, you are doing things the right way. As one Korean student said beautifully in one of the interviews of my research: ‘The phrase that we hear often is “다잘되라고하는애기야”(This is all for your good). But this phrase is actually strange since, in reality, there are many paths to lead a good life.’

(I know wisdom doesn’t solve any issues. If you read this and you feel pressure or experience mental issues that affect your life, never be scared to reach out and talk about it to a close one or a professional.) ❤ 

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A weekend in Seoul and animals in Zoos

Time sure flies when you are having fun. I have been in Seoul for over a month now but it seems like a week. So much to see, so much to do, so much work to get done.

The past few weeks especially were filled with meetings, typing, revising and discussing our research and our plan of action. Our first data collection was last Friday and went super well, but left our brains as fried as Korean fried chicken. After a week of working from morning to evening every day, it was time for a good weekend. In the Netherlands, it was Easter weekend but in Korea they do not really celebrate Easter. However, we decided that we could (you can take the Dutch out of the Netherlands, but you cannot take the Nederlands out of the Dutch right?) take a full on Easter weekend. Unfortunately we could not take the Friday off but we chilled all day in Hangang Park on Saturday and went to the Seoul Zoo on Monday. Not to make you people back home jealous or anything, but it was 23 degrees on second Easter…..

Above you see a picture of me relaxing in Hangang Park. This park is located next to the Han river and one of the busiest places in Seoul on a sunny Saturday. We drank some beer, ate some Kimbab and sat in the sun for a few hours.

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On Monday, we decided to leave our work for one more day and went to the Seoul Zoo, located at the Seoul Grand Park. However, we had some discussion before we went to the Zoo, at the Zoo itself AND after we left the Zoo. Because we are very aware that animals should not be locked up in a cage, it made us doubt to pay for such cruelty.
I have to say that ever since I went to Kenya and did a few game drives in the nature there, I have not visited a Zoo. After seeing the natural habitat of such amazing animals and experiencing how animals should live, run, eat and be, it is hard to look at a zebra in a small meadow while it should be running around, or a lion in a cage that should be running behind the zebra (circle of life guys). I cannot express how grateful I am to have seen the actual wild life of Africa and thinking back about it giving me happy feelings. Honestly one of the most special experiences so far.

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We hoped they had the black and white panda (they didn’t) but this Red Panda was also really cute

However, unfortunately Zoos are still here and they will be for a long time. Most animals that you see luckily are born in captivity and do not know any better. Next to that, this Zoo also does research on the animals and this helps the wild life and helps us understand how to protect the animals better, especially more threatened species. A few years ago, this Zoo actually has dolphins but last year, they released the dolphins. The stated: dolphins should be happy, and not be held in captivity. I thought that was really good of them.

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They just renewed the cages for the tigers. The Zoo had about 12 Siberian tigers, and they looked gorgeous.

We really enjoyed our day at the Zoo a lot, the park was huge but walking in the sun was great after a week of a lot of smog and dust coming from China.

Doing business in Korea 101

Above you see the lovely view Robin and I had while we ran up the Namsan Mountain (more a hill according to Koreans but we say mountain to make it seem more impressive hehe). Just wanted to share that cause LOOK AT THAT VIEW. Now, continuing to the actual post.

After a few weeks in Korea and experiencing several official meetings, you pick up on some etiquettes. I’ve always noticed that every culture has its own way of doing business and business etiquettes. In Italy, everyone is always late and NO this is definitely not a myth or a stereotype. It seriously never even happened that a teacher was on time. The Dutch, for instance, are straight forward and get down to business straight away. This is not the case in pretty much every other culture. A Dutchie myself, I know now from experience that I need to slow down and always wait for the other person to initiate talking about the actual project.

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Koreans prefer to first discuss the ‘koetjes en kalfjes’: small talk. About the weather, your journey to the meeting, your family etc. And most of the time, the first meeting does not even include much of getting concrete about the actual subject of the meeting. It is very important to first create a connection, your network. When you walk into the meeting room, you don’t shake hands. It is more formal to bow. Or nod your head and greet the other.

Next to that, if it is your first encounter, you have to exchange business cards. Personally, I don’t have one. If I need someone’s contacts, I will ask and put them into my phone straight away. The business card you have to take with two hands. Not one hand. Two hands. And a small nod will do.
It is all very respectful. As I mentioned in a previous post, they sometimes even take you out for lunch/dinner. So much more sophisticated than the Dutch manner haha.

I got some comments that people would like to see more topic-specific posts, about several different aspects of the culture and life here. So hereby a little inside of the business culture in South Korea.

Korean lines

Culture is one of the topics I can speak about for hours. I find it most interesting how people all over the world behave, feel, think. Perspectives can differ, and ideas and visions can be worlds apart.

South Korea has a culture that is not exactly similar to mine. Not only is it a different country, it is a different continent. I notice it in a lot of things around me. One specific thing that I love about Korean culture is their eating culture. Although I love kroketten more than I should, I have to say that our behaviour in meals is rather boring. Here, I love the fact that eating is used to connect with one another. From having the biggest lunch ever (I swear, so much food was ordered) with our professor and stakeholder of our research internship to having 3-hour brunch with a friend. Something I enjoy a lot. During eating the connect does not even happen (eating and talking at the same time is bad etiquettes pretty much everyone in the world I think), but after dinner, while everyone is full and satisfied with a good meal, the interesting conversations come. I guess Korea is not rather special in this way of eating, but I do love it about my time here.

Another thing that I realized was a difference in cultural behaviour is the line for a meal. In the Netherlands, if there is a line for a restaurant longer than 5 minutes you will leave and find somewhere else to eat. You could say that Koreans believe the length of the line equals the quality of the food. How crazy is that?
In my short time here, I have seen so many lines for restaurants and I cannot imagine this happening in the Netherlands. But it is almost normal for a decent restaurant apparently. Today we went from brunch in a very hipster cafe and I swear, we waited for at least a half hour to get a table. And we were not the only ones. I think at one point, the line circled around the cafe with a queue of hungry Koreans trying to go the Instagram worthy lunch place in Itaewon. I have to say, the food was pretty damn good, so I can confirm it does say something about the food’s quality indeed. It also photographed well (see below).

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These food lines obviously intrigue me; I am definitely a foodie and always search for the next best stop to have good breakfast/lunch/dinner/second dinner/snack etc. But there are also lines that are not even formed in front of a restaurant. I have seen them in front of shops (mainly openings of a store that probably already have 10 more in Seoul), in front of buildings that I have no idea what is in them, at stores (Line Friends always has a line where you can have a picture with a giant bear) and even when Koreans bike they form a clean line (this looks hilarious in the Netherlands I got to say. They literally bike behind each other one by one. Not very usual in the Dutch bike traffic.).

Lines are a thing here and it reminded me of an episode of Gilmore Girls. The main character Rory has to write an article about the phenomenon of forming lines in New York City. I have to say that I am not exactly sure if lines in NYC actually happen, but I found it funny that it does in the equally big city Seoul. Eventually, Rory does not write an article about lines in NYC I believe. Now I did.

 

Seoulmate

So. I am currently in Seoul, South freaking Korea. I still kind of cannot believe it. From the moment I knew for sure that I would spend 3 months in the capital of South Korea, which was around December, till the moment I left, it felt surreal that I would go.
I have to say, South Korea was definitely not my first choice of countries where I wanted to live. I have a very long bucket list of places I want to go (believe me, the list is endless) but this was not one of them. Certainly not one where I wanted to do my bachelor thesis. However, it was one of these things that just come on your path. It is not logical, but it makes sense to do it anyways. And boy, was it the right choice.

It has almost been a week since I arrived here and I have to say I have a crush on this amazing city. It is so alive, every moment of the day. There is never a moment that the streets are not crowded with people and full of life, but the city feels so relaxed and calm at the same time.
And the food. Oh wow. The food is something I cannot stop talking about. Koreans know how to eat well. The traditional food I have been able to taste so far is absolutely delicious. Super spicy, but it is worth it. Even though eating is difficult for me still; they use iron chopsticks instead of wooden ones here and IT IS HARD TO EAT WITH THOSE I TELL YOU.
And even if you are bored with the Korean fried chicken or ramen or bibimbap, they have so many other cuisines to pick from. You would think that they only have fantastic Korean food but noooo. Today we had Italian pizza for dinner (for some variation) and it was surprisingly good. And they have a Shake Shack here and the burgers are the best I have ever had. I’m gonna get so fat here.

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Korean fried chicken and beer is a common dish in South Korea
Bibimbap
Bibimbap is a Korean dish that is literally translated as ‘mixed rice’ and is basically rice with several vegetables such as seaweed, lettuce and kongnamul, egg and kimchi. This Bibimbap on the picture also had Bulgogi in it, which is a kind of meat.

The people are lovely. Super kind and friendly. Everyone makes you feel welcome, even though most Koreans don’t speak English much.
They have the weirdest things here, from shops only for coloured lenses to cat cafes (and racoon cafes wow) and lots of rules where to walk and where to stand wherever you are. Everything is structured and effective.Gin Robin and Sunny

So far I have been trying to do the tourist things as well, but just walking around and seeing things is already an adventure here. We did already visit a palace in the middle of the city and it was so impressive (see pictures below).

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안녕 (annyeong)! This means goodbye in Korean.