Traveling to South Korea: A First-Person Experience


Andrew Stoa

Inside view standing on the model of Seoul.

Over Thanksgiving break, my family and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel across the world to South Korea. Having been adopted from South Korea when I was a baby, this trip was one of the biggest moments of my life. The entire trip was 9 days and we did various unbelievable activities.

While in South Korea, the cultural differences are very apparent. One of the first things that we noticed even getting off our 15 our flight was that Covid 19 still plays a much more active role in society. Masks are everywhere and you are required to wear them in enclosed areas. The adjustment to masks wasn’t that hard as my old habits from early 2020 Covid returned. On all of our tours and in taxis, we wore masks and only took them off outside.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was the food that we were able to eat. We went on a food tour where we had ten different authentic Korean foods. The most unique food that we ate was a seafood pancake. It consisted of shrimp, squid, and fish. It was not my type of food and the taste was very different from what I was used to, but I am happy that I tried it. We had one of the best Korean barbecues that I have ever been a part of. They cooked the Korean short rib right in front of us on a little table stove and we were able to eat the delicious food. Another amazing eating experience was the Myeongdong street food where there was very high quality but cheap street food. We had Korean beef called bulgogi which was one of the best foods we had on our entire trip.

One of the coolest food parts of the entire trip was experiencing the 7-Elevens. Unlike America’s convenience stores, the 7-Elevens serve fresh, ready to eat food. They have microwaves in the store where you can microwave whatever you buy. You can buy any ramen of your choice, and they will make it for you, and in a matter of minutes, it’s ready to eat. There is a 7-Eleven located on almost every block much like cafes. South Korea is known for their cafes because they are everywhere. When the elderly retire, so many of them open cafes because it is such a successful business and is the easiest to open. As a part of South Korean culture, the most common date spot for couples are cafes.

We also went on many informational tours of the country where we learned many interesting parts of Korean culture. One of the coolest parts of one of the entire tours was going into a black room that had a floor model of Seoul. We were standing on little models of the city each handmade which took many many hours of work. It was an unreal experience to truly understand how large the city really is.

We learned about how different the culture and laws are from ours. When all Korean young men reach the age of 18, they serve mandatory military service for the country for 18 months. The service must be completed before the age of 28 but there are some expectations for this. One of the exceptions to this service is Son Heung-min because he is regarded as one of the greatest soccer players in the world. He got his service length changed to only three weeks of service rather than the 18 months. Another recent exception were the members of BTS. South Korea passed a bill in 2020 to postpone their service until the age of 30. They do these exceptions because BTS and Son Heung-min bring an abundance of money and recognition to the country.

After we spent seven days in Seoul, we took a two hour bullet train ride to Busan. These two cities in Korea are completely different in many ways. They can be compared to New York and San Diego while Seoul is much like New York and Busan is more like San Diego. Seoul is very crowded and busy while Busan is a more beach side city. Busan has a famous fish market called Jagalchi Market where we were able to pick our own fish and in 20 minutes, it was cooked and ready to eat. The city is less crowded and more spread out. You can overlook the Busan Harbor and look into the Sea of Japan. There is still to this day a debate between Korea and Japan about the name of that sea. Korea calls it the East Sea while Japan and much of the world call it the Sea of Japan. We walked along the beach and there was an amazing light show along the shore.

The biggest difficulty that we faced while in Korea was handling the language barrier. We adjusted as time passed, but we really struggled in the beginning. We had to choose which restaurant we went to based on the amount of English they use. We had to examine the menus carefully to see if they had English subtitles or at least pictures of each menu item. When we ordered, we would point to the dish of our choice on the menu or type it into a translator. My brother has a shellfish allergy and Korea is known for its seafood so we had to be very careful. We needed to know what every fish had and we had to check everywhere we went. Thankfully, we had no problems, but there were some close calls.

This trip was one of the best moments of my entire life. I learned so much about my own culture and was incredibly sad when we had to go home. Getting the opportunity was something I will forever be grateful for and will remember forever.