Your Culture is our Culture

Understanding My Ethnicity

As many people know, my parents are from South Korea. I was born and raised here in the U.S., living most of my life in Hershey, PA, which is not the most culturally diverse town. In 2013 right after I graduated high school, my family and I traveled to Seoul, South Korea for about a month. We stayed with family and traveled all around, experiencing the culture while seeing where my parents grew up.

Being able to immerse myself into the culture helped me to identify with my ethnicity. Initially we were in Seoul, where we stayed with my mom’s parents and siblings. We got to walk around and see the neighborhood my mom grew up in. It was great seeing the pharmacy that my grandfather worked in for 45 years and watching my mom reconnect with vendors who watched her grow up. These vendors worked in a market that sold everything from shoes to traditional Korean street food. Outdoor markets like this are found all over cities in Korea, usually crammed full of people getting lunch during their break, running errands, or tourists wanting to get the most genuine tastes of Korea. You can get everything from Bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables, meat, and usually a red pepper sauce) to Bin-Deh-Dduk (a kind of pancake with vegetables). Material-wise, there are shoes, toys, kitchen supplies, and other objects all made in Korea. It was fun to explore these markets in each city, meeting local business owners and trying different takes on various foods.

The food, as it always is, was definitely one of my favorite parts. I grew up eating Korean food that my mom made or at restaurants in Philadelphia or Baltimore, but having it in the country that it came from was awesome. I had huge bowls of Jjam-Ppong (a Chinese twist of a spicy noodle soup full of seafood), sizzling Soondooboo (a spicy stew made with tofu and usually some sort of vegetable or meat, served in a stone bowl with a freshly cracked egg), and even a 30-course meal that gave a taste of just about everything. A popular dessert is Bingsu, which consists of shaved ice with any toppings. Common toppings include sweetened condensed milk, fruits, jelly, or sweet red beans. An odd snack that my parents explained eating back in the day when they struggled were roasted silk worms. I refused to try them, but when little options are left, I might understand how it would be a good crunchy treat.

Another interesting aspect to the cities and culture is the popularity of plastic surgery throughout Korea. It was a bit of an eye-opener riding the pristine subways and seeing 16-year-old girls walk in with noses taped and masks covering the nose jobs that were given as a birthday present. With plastic surgery facilities on every block, it’s no wonder that it’s easy to access. Easy access seems to be a common theme throughout the country. Food delivery is quick with the scooters that deliverers drive, bringing everything from noodles to Bulgogi burgers from McDonald’s to your door. The public transportation system is also great. Clean and efficient subway systems made it easy to get around.

Wandering away from cities, we got to hike mountains in various locations as well as stay at Jejudo, a popular getaway island south of the main peninsula. Jejudo is a common honeymoon spot for Korean couples, so we saw a lot of young couples at restaurants and museums there. That was another interesting aspect of the culture, the way that public affection was displayed. Overall, the Korean culture is more conservative, so the most that would be seen is a couple holding hands while walking down the street usually wearing some sort of matching outfit. It was astounding how many couples were wearing the same shirt or had color coordinated outfits. Furthermore, the dress code in cities seemed to be semi-formal attire everywhere. As I walked through stores in my running shorts, t-shirt and sneakers, girls were walking around dresses and heels, possibly carrying around umbrellas to protect their skin from the UV rays.

It was such a great opportunity to experience the culture in the country that I now understand more about, and I am looking forward to when I will be able to return. I highly recommend that everyone immerse themselves in a different culture, as it is an eye-opening and extremely beneficial experience all around.

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