SEOUL: What I’ll miss

I leave Korea in 2 days. This past week has been my craziest yet, between final exams, packing, moving out of my dorm and into a guest house across town, and squeezing in last-minute shopping. Also, my best friend in the whole wide wonderful world just arrived in Korea to start her own study abroad experience this summer, so we got the awesome and still surreal opportunity to troll around abroad together. All of this put together has been exhausting, but completely worth it.

Living at hyper-speed has also made me realize how much is here that isn’t in America, how many things I’m going to miss so dearly even though I am generally an unsentimental person. I mean, just yesterday someone told me I give hugs like Voldemort. But the part of me that is susceptible to getting gushy about people and places is definitely getting gushy about Seoul right about now. Here are the things I’ll hate to leave.

The ice cream

Alright, America has ice cream too. But not this much, this cheap, and this readily-available. Almost every convenience store has their own soft-serve machine where you can get an ice cream cone for under a dollar. Some restaurants and coffee shops offer it, too. You can get skinny 2-foot-tall variations at different street carts, and a gummy Turkish variety in Hongdae. And every grocery store sells my personal favorite– the prepackaged soft-serve cone. It’s possible, I promise. It comes in this little protective plastic shell. You pop it open, and voila! A pristine dollop of soft-serve ice cream sitting in a cake cone. Reach for the stars, my friends.

The subway

I leave in 48 hours, and I finally have a rudimentary understanding of the colorful messy spiderweb that is the Seoul subway system. And I appreciate the heck out of it. The relative ease with which I can travel from Yeokgok– which is on the verge of sort of being in the boondocks– across Seoul all the way to Gangnam is a miracle. The endless stairs and stares that accompany any subway commute can be a nuisance, of course, and transferring lines is probably my new least favorite activity ever. But I would readily give up my first-born, or at least some of my valuable electronics, for more subways in America. I’ll miss you, generic female automated subway announcer voice. You too, little green plastic holdy-handles.

The cheap/shiny

This one is sort of hard to explain without sounding shallow. I don’t even care. I’ve loved useless trinkets and pretty things my entire life, but Korea took it to a whole new level. From 1-dollar notebooks that are so cute it hurts to the jewelry for sale on rugs at the subway stations, I’ve never been this surrounded by such inexpensive, enticing bundles of happiness. A fulfilling retail therapy session during a stressful week has never cost me more than $10. I’m surprised I could even fit all my various and sundry loot back into my two suitcases. Coming to Seoul has led me to further embrace my pre-existing materialism. Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness has clearly never been shopping in Hongdae or Myeongdong.

Being a novelty

I’ve mentioned before how this one is sort of a double-edged sword. Being so obviously foreign definitely has its cons, and it will be nice to not have that label following me around anymore when I’m in Texas. But on the other hand… when else have tiny children ran up to me to introduce themselves in extremely polite, concise English? When else have I been given discounts, made friends, or gotten extra chicken nugget samples at the supermarket based largely on the fact that I am, in fact, “not from here”? Besides that, I love being asked about America, which is what normally ensues when Korean people talk to me. With this in mind, being “normal” again will suck.

Hakyo Kanungil Ddeokbokki

My apologies for this unsightly attempt at romanization of a Korean restaurant name and dish, but this place deserves its own item in my listicle. The name literally translates to “the way to school,” and is a campus favorite that’s wonderfully filling and delicious. You get a giant plate of ddeokbokki (chewy tubular rice cakes that are a lot more appetizing than they sound) with fish cakes on the bottom (also more appetizing in real life), topped with cheese and the all-powerful sweet-and-spicy ddeokbokki sauce. Then you order a cup of sesame-seaweed rice afterward to help mop up all the leftover sauce. It’s 9 a.m. and my mouth is watering writing this. It’s a beautiful thing and comes out to about $3. I haven’t been able to find any comparison to it yet in Korea, so I doubt I’ll find a worthy substitute in the U.S.

The strangers

I can’t even count of the number of times I would have been lost, in danger, or otherwise at a serious disadvantage had it not been for the selfless help of complete strangers. Random people on the street or the subway, who owe me nothing, who are probably in a rush, and with whom I barely share a language. I know you can find nice people everywhere, but nice Koreans are the nicest of the nice, I like to think. So thank you, Busan women who gave us directions even though I could barely understand their Southern accent! Thanks, random guy who helped me find an elevator at the Bucheon station when I was lugging a giant suitcase! And a big shout-out to the old couple on the subway to Hyehwa, who remind me exactly of a Korean version of my grandparents, who were just delightful in general and liked to point and laugh at other old people. You rock, don’t change.

I could easily make this list five times as long, but I’ll stop here. I send my warmest Voldemort hugs to this country, and know that I’ll be back as soon as I get the chance. As soon as I stop being broke from all the cheap and shiny.