When I decided to apply for an exchange program with Yeungnam University, I was conscious that many things would be different for me in Korea. So as soon as I was told that my application had been approved, I decided to get ready for this big experience. I bought books about Korea, read blogs on the internet, and met friends of friends who had been to Korea. I even tried to learn a few words (but I didn't do too well). However when I first arrived in Korea, I realised that no matter how much I had read about Korea, there was nothing that fully expressed what it was like to live here for someone like me. Indeed when I arrived to Korea, I felt like a little child, I had to learn everything again, from expressing myself to eating and behaving.
Almost everything is different in Korea from France. There are actually so many differences that it is difficult to know which one to start with.
I believe that I should start with food and eating since it was one of my first and strongest cultural shocks. Actually before you eat, there is the issue of sitting down. For foreigners, difficulties sometimes start at this point. Indeed I was quite embarrassed the first time I was invited to sit on the floor to eat. Not to mention that I first had to take my shoes off.
The way people eat is also very different in the sense that in Korea everyone shares food. In France, each person orders a dish for himself, and most of the time there are no side dishes. It is very common to ask your friend or family member if they want to try some of your food, but everyone eats his own food and it is quite rare to have one dish for several people. Nevertheless I believe that sharing food is a wonderful thing because it creates good relationships between people and a more convivial atmosphere at the table.
Of course before you can share your food with others, you have to be able to eat and it is not always easy to do so when you have to use chopsticks. You can not imagine how much food I have dropped since I came to Korea. It actually took me two months to buy chopsticks to use while eating in the dormitories (before this I cheated by using a fork).
Concerning food, there is one last big difference that I believe I should mention. The difference in taste: Korean people enjoy (really) spicy food, whereas French people have a real taste for sweet things. Just think of famous Korean kimchi and the famous French pastry.
Korea and France are also very different in the way people behave. French people are more likely to express their opinions, feelings... whereas Korean people would rather keep those to themselves. Thus it may seem a bit strange for Korean people to see me jumping and running everywhere all the time or to see French students arguing about everything. Indeed, the sentence that I have been told the most since I arrived to Korea is "Take it easy".
Relationships between people are also quite different in both countries. When you meet someone for the first time in Korea, you are asked many questions that are unusual for foreigners. I was surprised when I was asked for my major, age, school degree, if I had a boyfriend.... In France, this kind of information comes out in the conversation in a more natural way. Nevertheless, in Korea, before you can have a conversation with someone, you need to know those things to talk to them in the proper way.
Furthermore, French people have a way of greeting each other that may seem strange to most Koreans. When French people are with friends, they often kiss on the chicks to say hi, thank you or good bye (even if men are more likely to shake hands). When you meet friends of friends for the first time, it is not unusual to shake hands or kiss especially among young people. Furthermore, age is not as important in France as it is in Korea. Of course we do not address elders, bosses, or professorsas we address our friends, but among friends, age really does not matter. I talk to my 28 year old friends the same way as I talk to my 18 year old friends. Actually the more I write, the more differences come to my mind. And it is indeed funny that sometimes you can find cultural differences in the most unexpected and little things.
Consider this scene for a second: a young woman, wearing an open neck shirt and a flower in her hair, smoking in the streets under the rain. For Korean people, so many things are wrong in this picture, whereas in France it would be rather common. Indeed it is very different to be a girl in France and in Korean. Both cultures present advantages and disadvantages. My point of view is that if French girls may have more freedom, Korean girls can freely act like a princess.
I can not say much about the differences between being a young Korean man or a young French man, but not having to go through a military service is certainly a big advantage for French boys.
The cultural differences written about today are only some of the many differences between our two countries. But as I have said earlier, there are so many that it would take months to write about all of them. I truly hope that I did not offend anyone. I do not believe that one way is better than another. Even if it is sometimes difficult, I believe that it is important to try to fit in the society in which you are living without losing the cultural identity that makes you who you are (I am a French girl living in Korea, who simply cannot eat kimchi but who is crazy about kimbap and bibimbap).
Furthermore, no matter how hard it might be, I am so glad that I have made the decision to come to Korea. Here people have a lot of patience and are very understanding. I thank them for that. It might sometimes be difficult to overcome cultural differences. But if you are willing to open your mind and if you make good friends, then nothing will prevent you from truly enjoying yourself and getting the most out of your experience. There is one more thing that I would like to say: if you get the chance to go abroad, do not hesitate for one second. Believe me, you will not regret.
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