Survival in Seoul

I know, the title of this post is a little ridiculous… I didn’t go crazy partying and survive in Seoul because I got so belligerently drunk that I couldn’t tell left from right… but I did get lost quite a few times and I was definitely surrounded by huge crowds of people and over stimulated by lights and shops and lots of things to see (which people who know me well know that sometimes that can make me feel slightly overwhelmed and anxious).

My apartment is still not fit to be filmed… so the debut will have to wait for another post… it’s coming though! Promise!

I will take a moment to tell you about my co-teacher… wish I had a picture of him. His name is Jin Woo (pronounced Jin-ooh) and he has been very amazing so far. He’s definitely a character and I enjoy spending time with him. He’s in his mid-30’s and is married to a very nice woman who is the co-teacher of one of my friends. They met while they were working in a school together and he said he “hooked her in,” haha. They are very sweet together. I think he’s a hopeless romantic inside because I noticed his license plate is 2008 and when I asked him why he said because that’s the year he met his wife. How much more adorable can you get?!

Jin Woo is the type of person that just emanates positivity and good energy at all times. He seems very satisfied and fulfilled with his life, he enjoys his job very much, he’s very respectful and considerate of other people. This makes him a great co-teacher to have and very pleasant to be around! Korea is big on manners regardless, but Jin Woo seems to really uphold it in a very genuine way. He has taught me a lot about traditional and modern customs, where to go shopping (online shopping is huge here), and just been a good source of information. There is also a lot of depth to him and I appreciate that. We have similar views on quite a few things which is interesting considering we come from very different places.

Another interesting fact, for those of you who didn’t know… apparently Koreans are very interested in Jewish people and Israelis. This is because Israel is a small nation, much like Korea, and they view Israeli/Jews (often used synonymously) as very smart and successful people and they strive to be like them in that sense. Koreans even study the Talmud and it is a common household book! Interesting, I know!

There are so many other interesting little facts that I have already learned in the last week and a half, I need to start writing them down immediately, because they slip away so easily as my brain gets filled with more and more new information. Speaking of Israeli/Jews, it’s interesting how all around the world being Israeli and Jewish is seen as the same thing, and that if you speak Hebrew and are Jewish you are also automatically very religious and people think I am Kosher, had a Bat-Mitzvah, know about the religion front to back and inside-out… I often find myself explaining the difference between culture, religion, identity of Israeli’s and Jews. Also, a lot of people think that Israel is just a land of extremely religious Kosher people. I would love to hear thoughts on this topic! Even though I’m not religious, I feel extremely connected to Israel and Israeli culture since my whole entire family is from there, and in fact besides my immediate family, they all still live there. I do however wish that I was more educated and knowledgeable about Judaism, it’s history, and Israel’s history so I can answer people’s questions more confidently and sound less ignorant. Just another thing to put on my “things to learn about” list…

Anyway… went on a little rant there…. back to Korea! Btw, thanks Gisela and Greg for your book, it’s been very useful! :)

So where to begin? My co-teacher took me shopping and to do errands like getting my ARC (Alien Registration Card) which I need to open a bank account and get a cellphone, etc… and he took me to e-mart (sort of like their version of Target), and lots of other errands. Apparently some co-teachers throw you to the wolves and don’t really help you with anything or take you anywhere, so I feel very lucky.

I also met the closest neighboring expats to my town and we all went out for dinner. They’re approximately 15 minutes away by bus, it’s three guys who all live in the same apartment building, all very nice fellas. Everyone else lives a 45 minutes bus ride or more from me (at least that I know of for now).

Friday night I went to go meet all these people that live 45 minutes or more away. I was very tired and was losing my will to go…. but I remembered what my dear friends from Coeur D’Alene told me (co-workers from  previous job) and I was like, “Maya! You must say YES! You must go!” And so I went… and it was fun! I took the bus with my neighbor Dana to Sokcho and then we parted ways and I went to this place called Brotherhood Bar. It’s sort of a foreigner bar…all the foreigners go there and the owner is this guy named Kenny who lived in the states from 5 years old to 10 years old and I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s my little brother’s friend from elementary school? Next time I’m there I will ask him where he’s from. We hung out at Brotherhood for a while, everyone was very friendly, we went to the beach and played with fireworks, then I crashed at my new friends’ place – married couple Samantha and Adam. They were very nice to let me stay there and I also got to play with their super cute new puppy!

The following day I explored Sokcho a bit and then spent a long time staring at things in e-mart. I like to just look and observe and take it all in. I wasn’t with my co-teacher this time so I just took my sweet time. I am not sure why it is written everywhere that it is easy to live cheaply in Korea, so far things are freakin’ expensive! I am glad I bought those $6 costco towels and stuffed them into my suitcase because they are $20 here! Vegetables, and especially fruit, are ridiculously expensive here! It’s not uncommon to see one apple being sold for $5. I am a little bummed about this because I love fruit very much and a variety of vegetables… but I will learn to survive. I am mostly sad about the dark chocolate. No good dark chocolate anywhere….online you can find it for $15 + for not that much. If anyone wants to send me something I request delicious dark chocolate and dark chocolate brownie mixes! (Travis, I really wish we had made that brownie mix now…)

On my way back home from Sokcho I got lost for the first time. I had my town name written in Korean on a piece of paper and showed it to the people at the bus stop and they were all saying “yes, yes, this bus goes to Geojin” except they said it more gesturally than verbally in English… anyway apparently there is Geojin (pronounced Go-gin) and then there is Gajin (Gah-gin)… the difference is slight in Korean and they are in the same county…. basically something got lost in translation and the bus driver was motioning for me to get off in Gajin, but I could tell it was not where I needed to be so I was telling him “No, no” and then I showed him my Korean ‘Geojin’ and he was like “oooh, Geojin” and I was like, wtf have I been saying?

Still I had to get off in this other town called Gansang (neighboring city where the 3 guys live) so luckily it struck a bell and I knew I was close… the driver paired me up with this old friendly lady whose hat kept blowing away and I kept handing it back to her and we got on the bus to Geojin together…. except I’ve barely walked around in Geojin yet so I had new clue where to get off. I walked up and down the two main “downtown” streets my 2nd night in Korea… I was extremely jet-lagged and it was dark and I thought the was the entirety of our town, but apparently, there is more! So the old woman got off and I just stayed on the bus and the bus driver looked at me strangely and told me to get off as well (he actually turned the entire bus around and took me back to my stop – how nice!). However, I still had no freakin’ clue where I was and I wasn’t even sure if I was in Geojin at all because nothing looked familiar so I just aimlessly walked around for a bit, heading away from the beach and towards a street with no buildings (my apartment is sort of in the middle of a field)… finally I saw a familiar tall building (one of the few tall building in Geojin) – it’s apartments that say “New Village” on them and I walked towards them and soon my apartment appeared before me, and it was like the clouds had parted, the sun was shining and I heard a spiritual “aaaaah” and I felt like this was truly my home and I was very relieved to see it. I was proud of myself for keeping calm the whole time and finding it on my own!

Sunday morning I headed to Seoul to meet my friend Robin. This is when I got lost the second time. :)

Took the Express Bus from Geojin to Dong Seoul Terminal and then had no clue how to get to our guesthouse in Itaewon from there. Itaewon is the little expat community area in Seoul… I thought I saw most of it and decided I wasn’t all that fond of it, but when I came back and talked to my neighbors it turns out I pretty just saw one little corner of it. When I was trying to find which subway to take I was asking around and that’s when I made my first random Korean friend! His name is Kwon and he was extremely helpful.


Here he is talking to someone that works at the Guesthouse and getting directions. He let me borrow his phone to call the Tourist Hotline in Korea (1330) and they texted him the address and phone number and then walked me all the way to the front door even though he was meeting a friend. For those of you with dirty minds, no he was not expecting anything in return, just a genuinely nice guy. I told him I’d let him know next time I’m in Seoul and I owe him a beer. He spoke very little English, yet we managed to have full conversations. I am consistently amazed at how much you can communicate with people with huge language barriers in place. It’s really fun for me to see how that plays out and what does/doesn’t come across. Sometimes I feel more connected talking to people this way than I do talking to strangers who speak English. For some reason there is a lot of laughter that comes out when I try and communicate through huge language barriers… perhaps because you are using more non-verbal methods, and over exaggerating your gestures to get your point across? I don’t know… but there is just something about it.

Finally arrived and met up with Robin at Pop @ Itaewon Guesthouse!


She is very sweet and we got along well throughout our weekend. We went to Myeongdong, which is basically a huge shopping district that’s open till very late… and I thought LA had a night life… psh. After a while it was sort of the same shops over and over again. They are especially huge on face and body products and every few shops was a beauty store with girls trying to lure you in to buy something. Their views on beauty and looks is very interesting here, but that is for another post.

Maya Store

Store near our Guesthouse in Itaewon :)

Just standing in the middle of some alleyway in Myeongdong…. there are tons and tons of alleyways and nooks and crannies filled with shops…. interesting layout Korea.

Bibimbap for dinner – basically vegetables with rice – it was good.

The following morning we went to Chungdeokgung Palace and took a tour of “The Secret Garden.” It was very pretty.




Then we went to what so far is my favorite area that I’ve been to… Insadong! Of course I would love it because this is the little arts and craftsy neighborhood. Handmade jewelry which I need to go back and buy once I get paid, handmade pottery, candles (which are also hard to come by and expensive in Korea), and lots of other fun stuff to look at. Since it was over the Chuseok holiday, Seoul was apparently “dead” while we were there…. looks real dead, huh?


You can buy these name tags (I think they’re called name tags) and then you write that you were there with a person, or make a wish, or write something nice and hang it up.

Artsy giraffe’s on the rooftop… how fitting that the sun was setting… I do love sunsets :)

My grandmother likes hens and my grandpa likes owls – Saba and Safta this is for you! Unique candles that reminded me of you <3

We stopped by a neat and ridiculously expensive tea shop and had some tea and chocolate there (no the expensive dark chocolate was not that great) but it was a nice escape from the crowds – and I’m a huge tea lover! We spent over 12 hours walking around that day so we were exhausted and went straight back to our Guesthouse after.

On Tuesday we just walked around a little in Hongdae, which is near Hongik University and has a great nightlife… but we went there first thing in the morning, so I guess our timing was off. Though honestly, we went there for the shopping, in which it was lacking. However, it did have one of those cutesy stores (oh my goodness, so many of them in Korea!) it just has lots of little trinkets and gadgets, some useful and some less so…

Really? How cute is this? May have to go back and buy it eventually…


On the other hand…. Really? How useless is this? For those who can’t read it, it says, “YKIKY smile maker stretches the muscles on the lips end and this could help you to have a brighter smile. Wear this product three times a day for just one minute.”

Another one of my favorite stores I discovered in Seoul was Artbox… another cutesy stores where I bought cutesy things like magnets and a tiny notebook and other tiny cutesy things.

On our way back to the subway we were looking for food and walked by some people who spoke English and looked like they knew where they were going and what they were doing so we asked them where was a good spot to eat and he took us to a place that he said everyone loves… and it was really good! One of my favorite Korean dishes so far – Jjimdak. It’s chicken simmered with sort of a soy-sacey/spicy flavor with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, cellophane noodles and then later they bring you sort of a crispy rice pancake thing to finish the sauce off.


And that was my weekend in Seoul!!! Then I got lost again on the way home… I learned that Dong Seoul Station is NOT the same as Seoul Station… Dong Seoul is actually a bus terminal that is in Gangbyeon Subway station… but I thought when I came to Seoul on the bus that I went to Seoul Station so that’s where I went to try and get home. I asked a nice feller to borrow his phone and called 1330 Tourist Hotline and they sounded very confused as to why I’m at Seoul Station and told me to go to the Express Bus Terminal…. so I took the Subway from Itaewon to Seoul Station to the Express Bus Terminal station… and when I arrived there I was told I need to go to Gangbyeon Station and from there I can catch a bus to my province. Because I live in middle of nowhere fisherman countryside town, even Koreans don’t know where the hell I am supposed to go… definitely almost had a minor breakdown at this point as it was getting late and I was tired from being in Seoul for 3 days and hungry and don’t have a cellphone and it was just a bit overwhelming. I paused a few times to take some deep breaths and the was like, well I better get a move on it or I won’t be getting anywhere! It was an interesting feeling to not even be able to call my mom or best friend to just vent and say “Ugh! I’m lost! This is annoying, ok talk to you later.” But I managed, I survived, I made it home in one piece.

And that’s my first weekend surviving in Seoul! The biggest disappointment I had the whole weekend was this beautiful piece of chocolate:


Which was labeled “Rose” – I thought it was going to be dark chocolate with a chocolate-y rose filling… but NO it was freakin’ white chocolate with some weird fruity thing inside. I will not be fooled again!

I know this was an incredibly long post. I hope those of you who made it through enjoyed it! :)

Please click the “follow” link as I will not be sending out an e-mail each time I make a post! Also, I am interested in YOUR lives as well… keep me updated on what’s going on with you! :)

Til next time!


About mshahar6

I'm 25 years old, graduated from UCSB with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Education and Applied Psychology. I was working as a Behavior Interventionist for the last 4 years and decided to do something completely out of my comfort zone and teach English in South Korea for a year! I thought it'd be fun to document my experience, travels, growth, and keep my friends and family in the loop with this blog. Who know where this adventure may lead me?
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3 Responses to Survival in Seoul

  1. Az Gor says:

    Poor Mayabrave… Brave Maya ..

  2. Monica says:

    Hi Maya,

    We missed you so much last night at Butterfly’s bachlorette party. We wanted to skype you but didn’t have your info. You were in our thoughts the whole night. The boys were swarming.


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