First impressions

It’s been 3ish days in Korea now and this is what I’ve learned.

MERS: Not as serious as the news makes it out to be. Hardly anyone wears a face mask and public areas are still just as crowded.

Korean people: Everyone is stick skinny and super stylish here. Talking with a Korean girl today, she said that among women in Korea, body image is a huge problem. Girls skip meals, drink “diet” teas, and exercise compulsively. She said all of the K-Pop stars are super skinny and that’s part of the cause for this self-esteem issue. When I went to the mall, half of the shops were dedicated to beauty products. Considering this is already a physically active city (hilly streets, public transport, majority of people walking), adding more exercise is amazing.

Food: THE BEST! Food is cheaper here – with nice meals costing $10-$20 and fast food/lunches being around $2-$8. Everything is fresh and healthy. Last night we got bento boxes from a fast food place and for less than $4 each, we got a healthy portion of freshly stir fried meat, rice, kimchi, and vegetables. They don’t eat fried or processed food here and McD’s are few and far between. Even the cafeteria food is made up fresh when you go through the line instead of frozen and reheated. Korean meals consist of a main dish (usually barbecued meat or noodle soup) with rice that’s meant to be shared at your table and 4-6 side dishes of vegetables. Portion sizes are smaller, but the variety you get makes up for it and you really can’t finish a whole meal. People take their time to cook their meals and eat in order – so you have more time to enjoy it. Since I don’t speak Korean, my ordering skills have been blindly pointing to pictures or words and being pleasantly surprised.

Soju: Soju is a distilled, rice alcohol that tastes like a light vodka. It mixes with everything or tastes pretty good solo. Here they make it in a variety of flavors – I recommend orange. When mixed with beer, it becomes somaek which surprisingly tastes good too. Korea has no open container laws and while I haven’t seen anyone except us drinking in the streets, I’m sure it’s a thing.

Class: My morning class is health equity and the Singaporean pharmacy students I happened to befriend make it endurable. Half of the summer students here are from Singapore surprisingly, followed by other Asian countries. The US and European students are outnumbered immensely. My favorite part of class was when the professor asked us to list 5 things that impact health and one of the Singaporeans turned around and said, “Alright guys, so the usual – socioeconomic status, lifestyle, blah, blah.” I’m glad students from every country feel the same way about basic public health class.

**Fact: In the US, white people account for the most people in poverty actually.**

My afternoon class is adulthood and aging – which is turning out to be really interesting. The most powerful thing the professor talked about the first day was how people in the US treat the elderly like ghosts. It’s a burden to take care of grandparents or even visit and talk to them. They are shunned from society and left to live their own lives instead of being a part of their families, and no one really asks about their life experiences despite how much wisdom they have. It shocked the students from Belgium, Singapore, and Korea when I told them that a lot of American grandchildren don’t really know or want to know about their grandparents – how often do you even see or call yours?

**We’re learning about how people in Okinawa, Japan are living into their 100’s and the 5 key elements to longevity (AKA champuru) are:

  1. Relaxed attitude
  2. Close social network
  3. Healthy diet
  4. Physical fitness
  5. Religion and spirituality

How well are you doing incorporating those elements into your own life?**

Nightlife: We haven’t had our first weekend yet to hit the clubs, but went to a karaoke bar last night. First off, it is so much cooler! You get your own lounge for however many hours you pay for and there’s unlimited songs to choose from. The lounge has disco lights, leather seats, tambourines, mics, and crappy Korean music videos in the background, which obviously makes for a great time.

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