This morning when I got dressed for the first day of class I curled my hair, put on a leather jacket, and strapped a face mask around my ears: not as a fashion statement, but because a notification on my phone had warned me of dangerous pollution levels. Low levels of pollution are accompanied by a picture of a man wearing no mask, moderate= normal mask, high= normal mask, extra high, which my phone was showing, had a picture of a man wearing a mask looking like it was fit to withstand a WWI mustard gas attack. This would have come as a shock to myself one week prior, but as I stood in front of the mirror wearing my mask, I felt perfectly normal. It is crazy how quickly one can assimilate to a culture.
Despite the air pollution, which I hardly notice, Seoul and my campus are absolutely beautiful. It is not an overly manicured beauty like much of Europe; there are telephone wires, concrete buildings, and ma and pa restaurants mixed in with the high tech glitz and glamour. Because the city is so densely populated, everything is built upwards. This means walking down the street you see layers and layers of flashy signs trying to catch your attention to let you know that they are on the second or third floor of the building. I personally like sitting in second floor cafes because the have the perfect vantage point to spy on Koreans strolling below.
The Koreans are very quiet and elegant people. They wear tailored outfits with long dress coats and the women always make an effort with their hair and makeup. The streets and subways are fairly quiet; if a group of westerners are chatting nearby, their voices cut clearly through the air. The only exception to this calm is when there are drinks involved. Koreans LOVE to drink. I asked a Korean girl who was practicing her English what she liked to do for fun and she replied, “soju every day!!!” Soju is the most popular drink in Korea. It tastes like a subtle vodka and comes in different flavors. Usually, people drink it with their meals and often use it to play drinking games with their friends.
There are still some things I am adjusting to. I have the handy Google Translate app on my phone where I can take a picture of text and it translates it for me, but it only picks up about 60% of the words and some of the translations make absolutely no sense. This means I have to guess things like how long to microwave my mini corn pizza for (idk what it is with koreans and corn) and how much data I have left on my phone plan. I also have picked up a bad head cold since my immune system has to adjust to the new germs and bacteria. These are all in all small troubles, though, and to be expected when traveling to somewhere so far away. I am excited to see what my classes are like and to meet new people this week!