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Get to Love the UnknownBy Melania Lotti, a Senior in the Department of International Studies
Hong Ji-wan  |  ibooklang95@hanyang.ac.kr
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[325호] 승인 2015.03.02  
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

South Korea is considered a very exotic place for Italians. So far away geographically and culturally, my friends and family back home were curious and at the same time worried about my decision to study here. I am sure they were secretly asking themselves how I would survive five months in Seoul, almost 9,000 kilometers away, while not speaking or understanding a word of the local language. Not only did I survived, but it has been one of the most mind blowing experiences in my life. I landed in Seoul in September 2012, at the beginning of a sunny fall season. The reason that brought me here was a selective scholarship for an exchange program at Hanyang University(HYU). Since at that time I did not know how beautiful Korea is, my main ambition was to experience a different university system and to learn a lot. I was expecting high academic standards considering HYU’s national reputation. I studied at night in the library and followed many interesting courses at the International Studies Department with inspiring professors, but I also manage to discover and fall in love with a country I basically knew nothing about before.


The first days and weeks were hard. It always requires quite some mental and physical efforts to understand the new and unknown. When I arrived, I could not even read the canteen menu, or the signals in the streets. The situation got better after my Korean language “survival course.” Yet it is difficult to understand the local life while not mastering the local language, and you run the risk of feeling like an alien, also after you have earned your “alien card.” To overcome these hardships, I received the valuable help from the Hanyang International Volunteer Association(HIVA) volunteers, who offered their friendship to introduce the Korean culture and customs to international students. What I thought precious was also the time with other friends I met who made me feel at home and gave me unforgettable time. However, getting to love the unknown requires some openness within yourself. For a while, you should put aside the unlimited affection for the things and people you already love and get emotionally ready to make space for loving something completely new and different. The first try was not always a success. My first attempt to taste “Kimchi” found it as one of the most disgusting food I had ever had. Some weeks later, I could not live without it. It also took some patience to get why “Jeon” is called Korean pizza while it is made of eggs and no tomato and mozzarella on top and why Italian towels in the “Jjimjilbang” are called so when in Italy we have no similar towels.


Putting cultural misunderstandings aside, Seoul has been a fascinating city to live in, with its modern skyscrapers and its high tech metro transportation combined with the tangle of narrow old streets, temples and ancient palaces. I loved to enjoy tasty traditional dinners on the floor cooked by Ajoomma, and went shopping at 2 a.m. in fashionable and affordable shopping malls, all things that I cannot do in Italy. Doing unforgettable adventures through breath-taking national parks, Buddhist temples, fish markets, waterfalls and nights out singing at the top of my voice in Noraebangs, my Korean semester flew by fast. The blue sky started to become studded with red leaves, and then the snow started falling. Missing the flight back to Europe would have been my most wished present for that Christmas. Yet, beautiful stories must come to an end. It is my hope to visit Korea again, for pleasure or professional reasons. Meanwhile, I will miss the peaceful smile of the people, the Kimchi soup I used to eat in Wangsimni and the red leaves of the Bukhan Mountain national park.



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