Slightly Overwhelmed in Seoul

After six months of hopping around East Asia, I’m finally feeling a bit out of my element here in Seoul. I can’t pinpoint the reason for this feeling — maybe it’s the exhaustion of moving so much and living out of a small suitcase, or maybe it’s just a natural cycle after six months. I don’t feel homesick, but I do miss a lot of the comforts of home (familiar bed, big kitchen, gym, food labels I can read). Whatever the reason, I’ll deal with it and stay in Korea for the next two months (whether I spend the entire time in Seoul is up for debate).

seoul welcome
Welcome to Korea

I didn’t feel much in the way of culture shock before because I always had something that felt familiar to ground me in each destination. In Tokyo, I recognized Kanji from years of studying Chinese — despite not understanding how to say anything, I could recognize meanings. In Vietnam, There was a lot of English and some shared culture with China. I don’t count Cambodia because that was vacation and I was only there for a week. And in Taiwan, everything felt familiar, though that can be attributed to the years spent in China.

foreign restaurant seoul
Can’t be any worse than America Style Restaurant in Reykjavik

Now, I’m utterly confused in Seoul. Of course, I’m not in a tourist neighborhood — I’ve only seen a few other foreigners walk by and some people here look surprised to see a foreigner in their midst. Just like I found in Tokyo, few people speak much English — fortunately, I found one when I arrived because I got lost and had no idea where my apartment for the next month was (I have to find that guy again because I definitely owe him a beer).

Must be the classiest restaurant in my neighborhood. I haven't eaten there yet, but I will
Must be the classiest restaurant in my neighborhood. I haven’t eaten there yet, but I will

The Korean alphabet certainly throws me off — I don’t recognize any of it. And as I’m attempting to learn a few words and phrases, I’m struggling with pronunciation (I didn’t think it could be so difficult to say “thank you”). Learning the language would be easier if there were a standard Romanized pronunciation guide like Pinyin for Mandarin. Also, for some reason, has no audio (or even a written pronunciation guide) for its Korean lessons. I’m still searching for a decent website to learn some basics while I’m here.

There is something interesting to see nearby
There is something interesting to see nearby

Unlike my time in Tokyo, I’m closer to busier areas of Seoul — for two months I lived in suburban Tokyo with what felt like plenty of open space, or at least few large buildings. In a city of more than 25 million, I’m near a lot of major shopping and diningĀ (fortunately, my apartment is rather quiet despite quite a bit of nightlife outside).

The walk along Cheonggyecheon is nice
The walk along Cheonggyecheon is nice

The subway here is rather crowded — much like Taipei and Tokyo. However, it’s not quite as organized as those two cities (I was a little disturbed by how quiet a packed rush hour train could be in Tokyo). When I switched from the airport express to the subway, I had to pay attention to the number of stops to my station because I couldn’t hear the announcements in the crowded train — and the announcements are in English and spoken more clearly than anything on the NYC subway. The subway map is a confusing web of lines — much like Tokyo — and it takes some getting used to; fortunately, there’s a helpful English-language app for that. The subway stations are also huge — the nearest entrance to my apartment is a long walk through turns and stairways to get to Line 2 (Line 6 is a bit closer).

elvis seoul
Elvis has seen better days

I’m still not sure why I feel overwhelmed in Seoul. It’s a major city like most others. It may be that I really didn’t want to leave Taipei and I’m just taking itĀ out on Seoul. The emotions of travel are sometimes inexplicable.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a travel destination or new living situation? How did you overcome that feeling?

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