If you ever dreamed about seeing the future, just make friends with someone living on the other side of the globe. It’s 7:00 a.m. at Mount Mary when I send a Skype call to Mary Wallace, 10:00 p.m. her time.
Wallace, in her third year at Mount Mary studying math and minoring in chemistry, is spending the semester studying at Konkuk University in Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
Seoul, as she describes it, is a city of many cities, divided into 10 to 20 different regions she estimates with a total population near 10 million.
Her desire to study in Korea sprung from a high school friendship with a Korean exchange student.
“She started by showing me where she was from…A year or two later I started watching Korean shows, discovered I really liked their language, and wanted to come to Korea to be able to learn some Korean. Once I did some research on Korea I found out that they have one of the fastest growing economies so they’re very into electronics, technology, and new inventions. I want to be a chemical engineer and to be able to take engineering classes in one of the rising countries in that industry.”
Wallace’s class load is impressive, bearing courses on…
- system dynamics
- american novel
- introduction to British literature
- the Korean legal system
- Korean language class
I don’t even have to prompt her to discuss food. “Food! The food is sooo spicy!” Wallace explains.
“Kimchi is one of the famous things to eat here. Everyone said ‘oh you’ll get used to it’, but I haven’t got used to it. I can’t. I hate kimchi. ugh. It’s god awful. I don’t think I’ve ever tried something so different.”
Her dislike for the university’s cafeteria food is evident immediately. But she explains that there are so many places to eat, about 30 restaurants right outside the university.
“Food is so different. But they have so many more foods here. If you find something you don’t like there is always a 1000 more places to go and try…You can find something you like no matter what.”
Wallace admits to missing cooking and baking, as it is normal for Koreans to eat out every meal of the day.
“It’s cheaper to actually go out to eat than to stay in and cook yourself food. Fruits and vegetables are expensive and it’s cheaper to go out. You can get a meal for 3000 Wons which is less than three dollars.”
Wallace laughs as she tells me she’s recently joined badminton club and she’s the only native English speaker in it. In fact, she’s in hot commodity. A Korean boy has already claimed her as a partner in the upcoming tournament.
“My partner doesn’t speak any English, so the only way we can communicate is texting so he is able to google translate it. He wanted to be my partner like two weeks ago. Some guy came up to me point at him and saying this kid wants to be your partner for the competition. I was like, ‘really’?”
Aside from the heavy homework loads and outlandish hobbies, Wallace seems to be enjoying the city.
For fun, she visits one of the many markets the city offers for a taste of traditional clothing, music, food, and trinkets.
“Lately there’s been a lot of holidays and festivals where you can go and do arts and crafts, dress up, and take pictures with people wearing traditional Korean clothing.”
She describes to me a fish market at which she sampled live octopus(really weird), fresh crab (very good), and raw fish (not a fan).
Before long, we are revisiting the topic of food, as it seems much of the culture seems to revolve around.
“Eating here is so much different. You don’t really ever eat alone. It’s something you don’t do. If you’re going to eat alone then you eat alone in your room. You don’t go out to eat alone. everything is designed for you to go and eat with other people.Some restaurants won’t serve you unless you buy two servings.”
“Delivery for food here is free. Everyone orders delivery food. The delivery people drive scooters and they do not abide by any laws or rules. If they’re driving in the street and they see that they’re going to have to stop at the crosswalk, they decide to become a pedestrian so they drive their scooter on the crosswalk. They speed so fast. It’s crazy.”
It took Wallace about a month and a half to settle in to her life in South Korea, where she’s been living since the beginning of August. Her program with International Studies Abroad (ISA) will conclude mid December. Wallace hopes to extend her stay through January, curious about Korean Christmas life.