What have I been doing this summer? I am currently spending a much-too-short month in Daegu, South Korea at Kyungpook National University’s Global Summer School with 27 other students from all over the world. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for ages and it hasn’t disappointed. Forgive me for taking so long to post here, I’ve been really enjoying my time here. I’ll spend a little time in this blog talking about Korean culture in general, and in the next post I’ll try to talk more specifically about the Global Summer School and my class.
I should preface this blog post by telling you something: I’m not a complete newbie to Korean culture. I’ve been listening to Korean pop music for several years now, and I have been sucked into the world of Korean dramas. Neither of these things has been particularly beneficial to my time management, but they have been a part of my life all the same. Of course, consuming the pop culture of a country by way of a computer screen does not give anything close to the complete picture of a culture. I am not claiming that I am an expert in Korean culture, but I did come to Korea with quite a few expectations. Some of these expectations were justified, and some of them were not.
There’s so much to say I don’t really know where to start, but the foodie in me is demanding that I tell you that Korean food is, as expected, delicious. I can’t tell you how many times my mouth has watered looking at the food on the screen in Korean dramas, and now I finally get to eat that food myself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s traditional Korean dishes, or the Korean take on other types of cuisine like Chinese food or pizza—it’s all good. I’ll be honest: Kyungpook’s cafeteria is a little disappointing, but I’m also being honest when I say that I’ve never eaten at a cafeteria that wasn’t at least a little disappointing. Cafeteria food aside, Korea has been a culinary adventure that hasn’t hurt my pocket too much, as many restaurants are quite cheap compared to the U.S. Last night I only paid 3,000 won (a little less than $3) after splitting a meal with 4 other girls, but I was completely full. I could go on and on about the food, but I won’t waste your time, so I’ll just put a few pictures below. (Bear with me and just be glad I haven’t spammed Instagram or Facebook with these photos.)
There are countless things I could talk about, but I’d like to focus a little more closely on one particular topic: Korean fashion. I am interested in fashion in general and I have found it very interesting to see what people my age are wearing here and compare it to the U.S. and Oklahoma.
First of all, students at KNU dress much better than OU students. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the case on the whole. It’s the cold, hard truth. I’ll admit that that I myself have often become victim to the ease of rolling out of bed and pulling on athletic shorts or leggings and a big t-shirt to go to class. For some girls at OU this is a uniform, and the guys don’t dress much better. Korean students, however, tend to dress much nicer and look more put together. Dressy casual seems to be the norm here.
However, there is a catch. I can’t remember who said it, but someone in the program described it perfectly when they said “Korean students dress well, but they all look like they bought their clothes at the same store.” I saw countless variations on the same few outfits everyday. When there’s a trend in Korea, it is a trend: Waiting at a crosswalk around school on any given day, it felt like half of the girls were wearing white strappy sandals, and every other person was wearing a horizontal striped shirt. I saw a dress I liked in 3 different stores downtown, and gave up and bought it at the third store. Here’s a Korean college student dress code:
Boys: If you are feeling fancy, wear a button down shirt. Don’t be afraid to go for an interesting pattern or color because it won’t be construed as effeminate as it might be in the U.S. A polo shirt is also fine, or a t-shirt with a graphic design or some nonsensical English or STRIPES (!!). Accompany this with slim cut jeans, slacks, or shorts. Don’t worry about showing too much thigh here, because shorter shorts on men are not seen as effeminate in Korea. If you’re feeling lazy, wearing athletic clothes is fine. You will still look cool as long as all articles of clothing are either Nike or Adidas brand.
Girls: You have some more variety here, but certain types of clothing are more common. A cute blouse will do, or a t-shirt with some random English or STRIPES (!!). Pants can be slim cut or more of a boyfriend fit. One pieces, overalls, and loose summer dresses with short hemlines are also in style. Wearing skirts and dresses with heels for school is not considered overdressing. You should probably wear those same white strappy sandals that everyone else is wearing, but if you’re short you might opt for a higher heel.
These are tongue-in-cheek generalizations, and plenty of exceptions can be found. There are stores with more unique clothing, and I see people who have a more original style dotted about the streets. But trends seem to take a stronger hold in Korea than they do in the U.S., and people seem to feel less of a need to set themselves apart with their style. Perhaps this stems from the more collectivist ideologies of East Asia, where individualism does not reign supreme like it does in Western countries. In the U.S. people often feel the need to express their individuality in every aspect of their life, and worry about standing out and seeming different. I remember feeling annoyed in high school when I saw someone wearing a sweater I owned.
But is expressing your individuality that important? I have found myself wondering this while spending time in Korea. Although they may not be as immediately apparent, there are plenty of other ways to be different besides the clothes you put on your body. If you like the clothes you are wearing and think you look good, does it matter if the girl next to you is wearing the same thing? Just because you are wearing the same clothes as someone else doesn’t mean you are the same person. Many Koreans wear similar clothing, that’s true, but I’ve seen very few people my age here wearing something I thought was ugly or unfashionable.
I haven’t figured out exactly how I feel about this yet. To play the devil’s advocate, it is also true that the clothes you wear are one of the first things people notice about you, making it a great medium for expressing who you are. If you are wearing the same things as everyone else, what are you saying about yourself? Sorry, I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t provided answers. But these are some of the things I’ve been thinking about while in Korea, and this is just one tiny facet of Korean culture. Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot. See you later!