Our Student Yvonne Gives Insights Into Seoul, South Korea
My name’s Yvonne Bolhar and I am an Austrian student studying at Hankuk University in spring 2020. Yes, I am here in Seoul, despite the coronavirus and all the other thousand complications I had to face before coming here. In the following article, you’ll get insights into my Odyssey to Seoul and how it´s to live in a country affected by the coronavirus. Please, get some popcorn, sit down and enjoy the bumpy ride (it won’t be too bumpy, I promise)!
Regarding the virus: No, I won’t give you any data, describing what happened from the outbreak in China 2019 until now. I don’t want to bore you with what you can easily google or find in any newspaper… Also: Don’t ask me about the current states! I think South Korea is at around 8000 but frankly speaking, just between me and you, I have a huge problem with numbers! They make me scared! I don’t want to spend my time worrying about something that I can’t change. I have developed a great method to deal with my fear of numbers, I don’t pay attention to them! Please don’t misunderstand me: I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a smart thing! I find it quite naive to just travel somewhere without investigating and determining to which level you’re putting yourself at risk.
How safe is the destination?
When traveling one needs to consider how safe the destination will be. That’s probably why I signed up for “Global Future Studies” at Hankuk. The problem is that we look at the past and present, but we don’t take into consideration how the future might look like.
But before this gets to socio-scientific, I can tell you one thing: I am not psychic, no, but I kind of had a feeling that Korea had this under control. I also predicted that the virus would come to Europe and back then, people still laughed at me. Ladies and gentlemen: A virus doesn’t take hold in front of our manmade borders. It’s not like Corona came and said, “Oh here’s the Ural, until here and not further!”
Wear a face mask if you have flu-like symptoms
But when the corona outbreak in Europe happened, I was already on my way to Korea. The flights were one of the most horrible experiences of my life! Look, if you go on such a long trip, one out of two things will happen: you will either sleep or you won’t. Try to avoid the second, because it is going to kill you if you try to stay awake for fifty hours straight as I did. I knew that I would probably be nervous, so I tried to be well prepared and went one night ahead without sleep. So, when I took off at 11 am Austrian time, I had already gone 26 hours without a minute of sleep. I was expecting to be super tired, to immediately fall asleep on the airplane but I felt nervous, not because of the obvious reason that I had just said goodbye to Austria for the next 4 months, but because I had the flu when I went to Korea.
Imagine sitting in that airplane full of passengers and you need to cough or sneeze but you can’t because you don’t want to give people the wrong impression! Stressful, everyone, stressful! The main challenge was that I couldn’t breathe with the mask which I wore the whole flight.
Here is the thing: Some Asian cities have smog, so people protect themselves with masks. So, generally, yes, Asians don’t mind wearing masks because they are somehow used to it, it doesn’t bother them. It’s like us wearing gloves during the winter. If you ask someone from the Bahamas to put on gloves for the next 24h, this person would probably go crazy, simply because he/she is not used to it. So, in short, I was like someone from the Bahamas with gloves for the very first time: I felt suffocated and it was hot and sweaty.
The plot twist: 3 days in Seoul and I didn’t mind wearing a face mask anymore! I miss the mask when I’m not wearing it. It just doesn’t feel right. And frankly speaking, there are a lot of great advantages to wearing a mask. You can more or less skip your make-up routine, it’s amazing! Also, it somehow gives you a sense of social integration because Koreans tend to wear them even when there isn’t heavy smog. Why? It’s a trend, you could say, a fashion statement that has been introduced by mostly K-Pop idols who would wear masks as part of their airport fashion.
You might also be interested in: Asia Exchange’s Official Statement Regarding COVID-19
Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer
Now, besides wearing the masks, what other measures were taken to protect Korea against the virus: I have used more disinfection in the last 3 weeks than I have used in my entire life! You find them everywhere, in the entrance hall of our dormitory, in front of the elevators on every floor and we were given a cute, pink bottle of disinfection when we first arrived. Sometimes, people will directly ask you to disinfect your hands, sometimes there is some kind of poster that reminds you to do so (like I saw in bigger supermarkets).
They measured my temperature in Taipei twice, at Incheon airport twice and before we were able to move into the dormitory. It is a quick and uncomplicated procedure. The process is the following: A small device that looks like a mini bottle will shortly be held to your forehead. You then get a nod and can proceed. Now, for two days, we have a thermal camera in the entrance hall of the dormitory. It’s fascinating as you see yourself in different wobbling colors on a big flatscreen monitor.
Do not panic, follow instructions
Besides, there is not much we can do, right? We wash our hands, but we do go out. The government hasn’t restricted the public in that way but when we first arrived, it was obvious that Seoul was sensitive and cautious: The streets were nearly empty, and some shops had closed. I’ve heard a lot of things about the situation in Europe and Australia and I can confirm that Korea seems to have things under control. People were never panicking, hysterically buying off the whole supermarket or fighting over toilet paper. Of course, our semester had been postponed and even now, we are still just taking e-courses (until April). Still, I am staying! The days are getting warmer and cherry blossom is coming soon…
One of my lecturers compared handling a tough situation with driving a car in bad weather. Do you just give up on driving because you cannot see very far? Do you just stop the vehicle and wait for the bad weather to pass? No, you try harder, think of all the possibilities, unpleasant surprises that could arrive… a curve, a pothole, … and you drive carefully until you have reached your destination. I decided to be that driver: I prepared a road map of how this semester is going to be like, but bad weather came in between! I accepted that fact and I’ll continue driving. Behind the clouds of rain, there will be sunshine!
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This article was conducted by our exchange student Yvonne!