A Slovenian in South Korea
Špela Koželj is a young Slovenian living and studying in South Korea. She is currently located in Gwangju, a town in the South part of the country, which is around six hours away from PyeongChang, place where the Winter Olympic Games (2018) will take place. She is one of the 40* Slovenians living in South Korea.
According to Špela, who was interviewed by BIG BERRY, living in South Korean has been very enriching, once she has had so many opportunities to experience the South Korean culture, traditions, and cuisine. During the interview, she tells a lot of details about this great life opportunity to live in Asia. We can’t wait to meet Špela in South Korea, where BIG BERRY team will be a part of the Winter Olympic Games, as a partner the Slovenia House.
Enjoy the reading!
What do you do in South Korea?
I am a undergraduate student of International Business, completing my last year of Bachelors degree in Gwangju, South Korea. I also do a lot of outside-school activities, such as marketing projects, language teaching and learning, volunteering and always exploring South Korea and other Asian countries.
For how long have you been living in South Korea?
I have moved to Korea in the end of August, but I have traveled from the end of December to February around Asia. In March I will complete my second semester.
When did you decide to move there?
I decided to move there in March last year when I chose South Korea as the country of my student exchange.
What differs South Korean culture from Slovenian? Can you give us some examples?
I think it would be faster if I tell you the mutual things, because it differs in so many different ways! I must say that Slovenians are really Western in terms of behaviour and way of life, whereas Koreans are quite Eastern, with some traditions and customs taken from the U.S. However, the biggest differences would be: Slovenians are much more open and talkative, Koreans are quite shy and the hide their smile behind their hands. They bow when saying thank you and when greeting people. They even bow when giving or paying the receipt in a restaurant. I bow as well since it feels disrespectful not too. Another thing that is really different is PDA (public display of affection – yes this it how they call it!) Even young Koreans are still really traditional and do not hug, kiss or show any kind of affection in public. They might hold hands though. There are also bigger differences between showing respect to older people. In Slovenia, you have to show respect older people, which are quite older, when in Korea, you have to show respect even to those which are one or two years older than you.
Can you tell us what calls your attention the most in South Korean culture?
It is the traditional Eastern behavior which attracts me the most. I am very grateful to have the chance to experience it, not only by traveling, but with actual living there. I like their traditional houses, holidays, family values, hanbok (traditional clothes) and the customs which are still present in 2018. They have kept much more traditions in comparison to Westworld.
What do people from South Korea do during vacation/leisure time?
As I discovered, not many Koreans travel abroad that much. However, more and more young people travel to U.S., Europe or other Asian countries. They all dream of Paris and Venice and cities like those. However, the most common thing to do on holidays is to gather with family and celebrate in a close circle of people.
Did you learn cooking South Korean dishes? Do you like it? Tell us something you’ve experienced regarding food.
I’ve learned how to prepare Bibimbap. I actually did not have many cooking opportunities, since I live in a dormitory where cooking is, unfortunately, forbidden. I do hope to get more chances to learn even more! I like Korean food and I would like to continue eating it on occasion when I come back home. However, it is not my favorite food, since they don’t really use spices and vegetables that suit my taste like the Southeast Asian cuisine does.
Is it easy to travel in South Korea? What about the public transport, does it work well?
It is really easy. There are very good buses that connect every city with another city. There are many different levels of quality. The best and of course the most expensive one provides WiFi and much more comfortable seats. A lot of cities have airports, which offer cheap flying from one point in a country to another.
How do you perceive the cost of living in South Korea?
It is quite similar to Slovenia, with some things being cheaper (like eating out) and some things being more expensive (like vegetables and fruits, which are for me almost unaffordable). I do not know the cost of housing because I live in a dormitory, however, I have heard that it is quite expensive. Overall, I do think that with modest living it is totally doable to live in SK, the prices are normal.
Are the professional opportunities good in South Korea?
Yes, I think they are quite good, but only for native English speakers. There are so many different positions offered to those, and so little that are accepting other nations. However, if you search good, anything is possible. I am planning to make some more connections in the second semester.
Can you add some important aspects of SK culture and lifestyle foreigners should not miss?
When meeting Korean person, it is important to get on their level, because they are much more restrained than Western nations. If you plan to stay there long, the best is to adopt South Korean values and traditions. It is also very recommendable to learn Korean, since they do not really excell at English, neither old generations, nor the young people. People would think that cultures like this have a very fast and a productive lifestyle, however, I must say that I noticed they are slower than us. Slower when completing tasks, or slower when getting ready in the morning, they take it easy. Of course their business models differ, otherwise they would not lead the most successful businesses in the world. The nation's culture is very important in the business life as well, therefore it is quite necessary for expats and other foreign partners to learn their attitudes and values. They hold on to their tradition somewhat hard, what is, in my opinion, a very good thing.
*This data was informed to BIG BERRY by the Embassy of South Korean in Europe and was last updated in 2016.