If you’ve ever flown into Incheon International Airport, taken those first few steps into the terminal, a jungle of high tech and exotic plants, hints of culture, history and adventure to come, you’ll know just how much Korea has to offer. But, if you’re reading this, you’re likely somebody who has yet to experience it. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many foreign travellers to return home prematurely, delay their trips or even cancel them altogether. If you are in this position due to Covid-19, please don’t feel dejected, Korea is still out there waiting for you!
Here are a few ways you can whet your appetite for when Covid-19 is finally over!!
Learning a new language is fun, challenging and a surefire way to make your trip abroad really special. When I started learning Korean I was definitely shy at the idea of learning a whole new alphabet, but just like riding a bike, its something all of us are capable of! There are plenty of online resources for learning Korean, including Naver Dictionary, 1:1 tutoring and Youtube Channels. My personal recommendation is ‘Talk to Me in Korean’, which offers free online courses as well as hardback textbooks, featuring a syllabus of natural Korean — you’ll be speaking like a native in no time! To keep the learning process light and entertaining, stick to learning Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and the language basics. The intricate characters of Hangul (한글) perfectly encapsulates the beauty you’ll witness once you reach Korea.
Knowing Hangul ahead of my first trip to Korea definitely made getting around way easier, not to mention gaining a head start on learning even more of the language. A lot of English words are used in Korean and so the usefulness of knowing Hangeul cannot be understated. For example, you can boss the famous Korean café scene on your first day!
“Americano, please” = “아메리카노아이스 주세요.” a-me-ri-ca-no chu-say-yo
Get a head start on some of Korea’s most popular sites using Virtual Reality! On Korea’s official tourism website, you’ll find Google Earth-style VR tours of everywhere from Namsan tower under the stars to the tropical island of Jeju. This is a fresh, innovative way of experiencing Korea from the comfort of your living room. The VR destinations feature tourist hotspots and lesser known gems; I’ve been exploring the Jeju mystic lava tubes that I haven’t yet had the chance to visit… Covid-19 isn’t over… of course now I can’t wait to go!
K Pop is more than just a music genre, its a unique package experience. From signature dance moves and stages, to TV shows, live videos and albums decorated with photos and gifts. K Pop artists offer their listeners a far more accessible entertainment avenue than whats gone before, as well an introduction to a new language and culture — which makes it the perfect accompaniment to learning Korean!
Much of the success of the world’s most popular K Pop group, BTS (pictured above at their Wembley concert 2019) can be attributed to their genre fluidity; producing Rock anthems, Ballads and Rap alongside their K Pop hits. Moreover, their home roots shine through in many of their tracks and videos, check out ‘Black Swan‘, ‘IDOL‘ and Agust D’s ‘Daechwita‘, all of which feature Korean traditional instruments and rhythms. The group were even awarded the Order of Cultural Merit signifying their contribution to promoting Korean culture around the world.
K Pop has been instrumental in the export of Korean culture to the Western world, as well as much of the import of foreign visitors to Korea! However, K Pop is only a snippet of what this incredible place has to offer. For example, Korean food, in this writer’s opinion is a highly underrated forum of new flavours with authentic dishes to suit meat eaters and veggies, spice lovers and those who like it mild. Some of my favourite dishes include soybean stew (된짱 찌개 / doen-jjang jji-gae), onion pancake (파전 / pa-jeon), spicy stir-fried chicken (닭갈비 / dak-gal-bi) and — most of all — cheesy grilled clams (조개구이 / jo-gae-gui), which I tried in Busan. Just see how satisfied I am in the photo below!
At university, I was lucky enough to live close by to a Korean food store, so I actually tried out a few Korean recipes myself before even setting foot on Korean soil! I recommend cooking Kimchi fried rice, not only is it absolutely delicious, but its healthy and easy-to-make — most recipes call for bacon, but I like to make it without so its vegetarian, skip the egg on top and its vegan!
Korea also has a rich and fascinating history, the development of the KTX bullet train is not the first time this place has been fast moving. In fact, in the past century alone, Korea has undergone periods of colonisation, the Korean war and exponential economic growth. On a more sombre note, the brutal hardships these people have undergone explain a lot about their incredible work ethic, a trait shared by college students and elderly market merchants alike.
I have intentionally put this suggestion last; if you’ve reached the end of this article, you should be well set up with ideas of what to fill your bucket list with! It’s time to talk it out with your heart and decide how you’re going to make your trip to Korea the trip of a lifetime. Do you want to harvest your own Jeju tangerines? See your favourite celebs? Go paragliding in Danyang? Feed gulls along the Han River? Bathe in Daegu Hot Springs?
Now it’s up to you! See you soon when Covid-19 is over!