Exploring the globe: Seoul

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But have you?

Travelling is an incredible opportunity which I was able to experience at quite a young age. In terms of the benefits - which are massive - have you ever been to a place which is so unique, that it is ingrained in your mind?

Ultimately, how far does one have to go to become fascinated by a place, a language and a culture? Well, my first country and place was South Korea, specifically Seoul. I was lucky enough to call it home for over three years, through working, studying and ultimately relocating over there.

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So what is great about this place?

Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is a unique place filled with people and a vibe you will not find anywhere else. From being poorer than North Korea after WWII, South Korea has now become one of the most innovative countries in East Asia. It combines a wonderful mixture of old and new, to create an atmosphere and culture which you cannot find anywhere else.

South Korea has been increasing in popularity in recent years for a number of reasons. A large cultural export (which has been happening across Asia since the 1990s, before it became so popular these days) is the concept of the 'Korean Wave' (or 할류). Initially driven by a combination of Korean Dramas and K-Pop across East, South and Southeast Asia, it evolved into a global phenomenon, carried by the Internet and social media.

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Historical narratives

Seoul has a really interesting and dynamic history, as does the whole country. From having various Korean royal dynasties and empires to strong ties with the Chinese Empire to the eventual 35-year colonial occupation of the country by the Japanese from 1910.

South Korea has been divided from North Korea since 1945 at the 38th Parallel and was under the protection of the US. No peace treaty has ever been signed between the two Koreas, which has meant Seoul has had to be alert at all times.

South Korea eventually liberalised after having a military rule after the Korean War. Since 1987, the country has had a competitive electoral system and has become a fully developed nation due to a prospering economy. In terms of economic standing, South Korea can be compared to Western Europe, Japan, and the United States.

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so what about the food?

Other popular things which are coming out of the country include its individual cuisine. If you are a food fan or identify as 'a foodie' you need to get your butt to South Korea as soon as possible! Korean cuisine utilises spice and the process of fermentation a lot. 

One of the biggest staples is Kimchi (or 김치), which is the oldest and I would say the most essential dishes in the whole cuisine. Dinner is not considered complete without a side dish of kimchi. Made from a breadth of ingredients, there is thought to be over a hundred varieties of it. 

Another classic (and popular amongst Koreans and foreigners alike) is Bulgogi (불고기) which literally translates to 'fire meat'. Traditionally this dish is grilled, however pan cooking has become popular in recent years. You really must not forget the ssamjang (쌈장) or gochujang (고추장) when putting it all together! 

Other popular must-haves include gimbab (김밥), bibimbap (비빔밥), japchae (잡채) and ddukbokki (떡볶이). All of these are staples within Seoul and can be easily found everywhere. Both gimbab and ddukbokki can often be found on street stall vendors, so watch out for that fabulous tasty treat!

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What are other things great about Seoul?

Well for one, the creative scene is incredible here. If you are one for creative pursuits or have an interest in design, this is the place for you. The creative hub of Seoul is unlike anywhere else you might have been. There are multiple districts in Seoul which allow individuals to express themselves in a number of ways. 

The typical go-to district for the alternative scene is Hongdae (홍대) which has a reputation for its youthful and romantic ambience, underground culture, and freedom of self-expression. The district - home to the most famous art school in the country - houses a series of unique cafes, cosy galleries, accessory/fashion shops, live cafés/clubs and markets, which really does make it a fascinating place to walk around. Some of the best places to check out the ateliers’ street, Picasso’s Street, as well as Club Street - make sure to head to these places to fully experience the Hongdae area!

obsessed about beans at all?

That is certainly the reality in Seoul - where the cafe culture is something else. Each shop holds its own atmosphere and almost seems like a world away from where it is located. The atmosphere in most coffee shops in Seoul is simply exquisite. From hosting brilliant varieties of coffee to unusual food options (and treats you might not have experienced before) to attracting a diverse and great clientele.

One of my favourite things to do, and I guess I must have picked this up from my time in Seoul, is to head to a coffee shop and work/or people watch. Seoul is home to every cafe imaginable (and really, you name it!) - from cat cafes to Hello Kitty themed venues, to live 'farm' cafes - there is something for everyone.!

Nevertheless, quality coffee in South Korea has really taken off. You can really find great roasteries and cafes on almost every street corner nowadays. It is increasingly popular for South Koreans to choose alternative manual brews found in independent roasteries and coffee shops, rather than chain coffee shops.

Korea - and Seoul for that matter - is unlike any place you’ll have been to before. Home to a rich and distinct culture, language and people, is is a memorable place to explore and spend time in.

Jessica Gosling