The months in Korea were certainly some of the best in my life. In between a vivid nightlife, extraordinary food, deep conversations, a great number of wonderful friends from different cultures, a very special football club and the exchange life itself – this is what shaped me most within the last few months.
1. Korea Showed Me Asia’s Creative Face
Without any disrespect for other places, whereas HK is famous for economy and Japan is famous for craziness – Korea is the creative hub of Asia. All the cute artsy places, exhibitions and detailsone can detect everyday in Seoul are just beautiful. Especially in Insa-dong, Hongdae and Hyewha I always felt surrounded by creativity and plenty of stunning ideas. Koreans have a certain sense for these details and a particular atmosphere. Almost all restaurants, cafes and bars are cozy and tastefully decorated. I really love this fact about Korea. Seoul is just a lovely place.
I’ve never been somebody who ate much besides the three regular meals every day. But as I mentioned before Koreans are massive consumers. And as Koreans seem to constantly snack, I had to adapt my behavior. No joke, it feels like Koreans are always eating something. Chips and popcorn, finger food, sweets, nuts and a lot of other things I do not even really know the name of. Personal favorites after my time where definitely Honey Mustard Pretzels (not distinctively Korean I know) and snow flake ice. The snow flake ice is by the way representing what we all have been dreaming of during ski trips as children. Snow that has a beautiful taste – with exactly the same texture as real snow and flavors like Oreo, Strawberry or Mango it is a one of a kind sweet snack.
My biggest dream in life came through. Since I can think I wanted to play for the German football national team. And in Korea I eventually made it. Well, it was „just“ the “German National Team of Korea” – but who cares? I was wearing the German jersey, sporting the 15 and making great friends on a and off the pitch. Who needs Özil, Kroos and Müller if you can play with Hunni, Jens and Dennis? Thanks to all the players and especially the management of FC Dogil – I will be back!
4. Korea Made Me Treasure My Health
As you might remember, I got a pretty serious eye infection at the beginning of my exchange semester. I have to admit that at that point I realized that I took to many things for granted. Health is the most important thing after all. We usually always strive for more and bigger things and forget to be grateful for all the things we already have and that are given. Luckily everything went smooth for me. I was able to realize once again how lucky I was to spend time in this beautiful country.
We all like to stress out how stressed we are sometimes (sorry for the pun). I do that too. Since I have lived in Korea I am not sure if I will ever dare to say I am „stressed“ again. It would be really offensive for every Korea person to set my stress on the same level with what stress means in Korea – plus, Koreans do not even complain about it. Working usually 50h, forgetting to sleep, being pressured into being always the best, having to compete every single day, not being allowed to fail and being asked by the society to constantly succeed – this kind of pressure is what we don’t even know in Western areas of the world. I wrote already about the differences in education, and I can just mention it again: The pressure students experience here is insane. And honestly speaking, I do not believe this is the right way. I hope sincerely for Korea and the lovely Korean people that the system will change sooner or later and that reforms may come up. For now, big respect for your diligence, Koreans.
The history of Korea is crazy and I really recommend everybody to try to get a little insight. When visiting Korea nobody can believe that just about 30 years ago this was one of the poorest countries in the whole world. What the country and especially its people have achieved in just a small amount of time is insane. The technology is super modern, the organization of such a megapolis is stunning, nightlife is world class, the people are getting more liberal and open-minded and financial stability is given more and more. Nonetheless with rapid development some things fall by the wayside. It is notable that the gap between the young and the old is nowadays so big that most understanding for each other totally diminished. Or the mentioned education system. Also the economy can be seen in a critical way. The big chaebol (family companies) like Hyundai or Samsung are ruling everything, have way too much power and thus leave no chances for small firms or start-ups. Korea has achieved big things recently but it is still in total transition. It will take some time until this country’s system is totally evolved – let’s hope the best!
Whereas I would never dare to call one country better than the other, it is always interesting to compare in which ways which countries seem to be more or less evolved. Whereas the diligence and creativity is outstanding in Korea, Scandinavian countries for example might have better ideas regarding education. Working culture is probably more fair back home in middle Europe. These are just subjective conclusion from long, deep conversations but the point is that exchanging and talking about the cultures helps immensely to widen one horizon. In between Tacos and Tequila, Baguette and Red Wine, Burgers and Coke, Ramen and Sake, Bread and Beer and especially Kimchi and Soju one just learns to embrace all the different cultures. It is so beautiful to be able to take advantage of so many cultures and to get enriched through every single one. Whereas certainly no single culture is the best, combined they are. This also emphasizes another important fact:
Nothing more beautiful than exchanging culture. I had the pleasure to do this again while living in Seoul and I do not want to miss a single conversation, discussion, argument, drink, dinner or night out with all the people I met from different cultures. I learned a lot and I hope I was also able to give something to people by sharing my thoughts. In nowadays society I believe this to be one of the most important things to have a happy life. Exchanging, questioning, evolving. When I see what happens nowadays in my home country and whole Europe, with how much hate people attack other cultures just out of pure ignorance and inexperience with „the foreign“, I just want to strongly advise everyone to get in touch with other cultures to be less narrow-minded and understand each other.
Of course there are several problems when different cultures clash together and we have to face the fact that some people misbehave. But there are assholes everywhere – in Germany, in Korea and also within refugees. It depends on both sides to open up. Don’t be an asshole and meet people halfway – embrace shared culture. I do not intend to go too much into the complex refugee debate right now, I just really want to stress out that there is nothing more beautiful than opening up. Sharing, experiencing together and learning from one another. I believe it made me a better person, and I encourage everyone of you to go abroad as much as possible and widen your horizon. At this point I want to emphasize that if any of you has questions or thoughts about going to Asia or about Asia Exchange, please feel free to contact me directly! (Btw, in case you decide to do an exchange with AE you would do me a huge favor if you could mention my name as a reference.)
Ironically in the country that is one of the most homogenous, I came to realize that we all don’t differ that much after all. It came at the very serious point of the Paris Attacks. Somehow this incident really changed the whole mood at the university for a few days. I do not want to say that these attacks are more horrible than any other terroristic events like Beirut or in Russia, but the implications it had were certainly different. Somehow they were kind of worrying all of us equally. It was a moment where we had no choice but to stand together. What followed were a lot of serious and enriching discussions and conversations. And even though our backgrounds were so different, our cultures sometimes so far away from each other, I can say that after all, the Mexicans, the US-Americans, the Azerbaijanis, the Kongolese, the Koreans and the Germans, and all the other nations, we are all kind of the same. There are disputes, there are misunderstandings, there are certain histories. But what we want these days is a happy, fulfilled life surrounded by beautiful people. And the globalized world gives us a wonderful opportunity to do so. All in all, I am so grateful to be part of this marvelous international generation. And despite a lot of negative factors I look forward to a bright future with this one of a kind generation.
If you know me, you know that Korea was not a random choice. Since my time in Hong Kong, I was a huge fan of East Asian culture and society. Being in Korea, I realized that this passion was not short-term but that I really feel like this part of the world is supposed to be my future home – at least as long as I am still young. My way will lead me to Amsterdam now, but I am quite determined that as soon as possible, I will return to Asia long term. I will take any chance to make this dream come true. If you have any hints or recommendations for me – I would be happy to hear from you.
Thank you for following me within the last months, I appreciate any attention you gave me. It is unbelievable how lucky I am to make so many precious experiences. At this point I should definitely say thank you especially to my family that enabled me to do so.
Guys, do me a favor and try not to be assholes in the next year, open up and be kind. We are all just people with the intention for a happy life, so let’s have it together. All the best to everyone for 2016!