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Whenever I told people I would be spending my summer studying in Seoul, South Korea, my words were met with shocked, confused faces, impressed expressions, and many questions of ‘Why South Korea?’ These reactions surprised me – I felt as if I had told them I was going to a different planet.
Sure, Seoul is no Amsterdam or Paris, destinations to which young European adults flock to in their thousands. The city (and country) certainly has a sense of the exotic, the unfamiliar, and of the extremely foreign, meaning it is often missed out on many travel itineraries. Being on the other side of the world doesn’t help, either, and the threat from North Korea is a real concern currently saturating through news stations and public opinion. So why South Korea indeed? Having spent six weeks in the beating heart of the capital, I could write you an essay on why I made this choice and why, given the opportunity, I would make it again. But for the moment, here are just six reasons to visit Seoul, from an insider’s perspective.
From grilled skewered squid, to poop-shaped choco bread, Seoul offers one of the largest selections of street foods in South Korea. Savoury, spicy, or sweet, there’s something for everyone at an affordable price (though beware, stalls in the same area will sell the same product, but at different prices. Hunt for bargains!). Part of the fun is watching the vendor cook the food right before your eyes!
Treasure Trove of Museums
Seoul is a city that keeps its history alive and relevant, with many free museums and galleries. A must-see is the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, which tells the incredibly touching stories of ‘Comfort Women’, women forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese occupational forces before and during WWII. Be warned: you may cry.
South Korea brought us the BB Cream and the cushion foundation, and their multiple-step skincare routine is gaining popularity worldwide for its visible results. Although some Korean skincare products are available for purchase online, shipping is expensive and the range can be limited. Buying skincare in Korea means discounts, a huge range of brands and deals, and freebies! The more you spend in a store, the more freebies you get.
Free Wi-Fi Everywhere
If you don’t have a Korean SIM for the duration of your trip (like me), it’s easy to survive relying solely on public Wi-Fi as free Wi-Fi spots are available in most tourist locations. Free Wi-Fi is also available in nearly all cafes and restaurants, and roads and underground stations have it too.
Cafes (but on another level)
Most of us have heard of cat cafes and dog cafes, but what about raccoon cafes? Meercat cafes? Sheep cafes? Seoul is the place to try weird and wonderful cafes, from the atmospheric to the simply strange (poop café anyone?). Most cafes will require you to pay an entrance fee, but many offer a free drink with your ticket!
Ever heard of K-Pop, the Korean music genre that’s hitting number one spots on Billboard and receiving millions of views on YouTube? Seoul is the heart of the music scene, and here you can immerse yourself in K-Pop through watching street performances, attending music shows, and listening to popular songs while relaxing in cafes or restaurants.
By Kseniya Shrimpton
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham