Surviving Your Trip to Korea, Part 1: Language

Friends and family, or even strangers I meet on the internet or international trips often have questions about the codes and behaviors they should adhere to in Korea. I’m going to do a series of helpful (well, I hope so) posts about how to prepare for your trip to Korea. So get ready to fulfill all those New Year’s Resolutions to hit Seoul in 2015!

First off, here are a couple very useful words and phrases to help you get by– especially if you want to adventure into the less touristy parts– which you totally should of course. Since there are three different “standards” of romanizing hangul, I decided to write it phonetically as I have been taught to pronounce it by Seoulites, based less on translating letter by letter and more sound set by sound set. I would never purposefully steer you wrong…

“an-yong-ha-say-yo,” 안녕하세요 — this is a basic, polite style of greeting. If you’re speaking to a child, or someone you are intimate with, you can shorten it to “An-yong”

“gam-sam-ni-da,” 감사합니다 — a polite thank you

“Shi-lay-ham-ni-da,” 실례합니다 is a formal way of saying “excuse me”– always err on the side of formal when speaking Korean, that’s my motto.

“jo-gi-yo,” 저기요 — the kind of excuse me you use to get someone’s attention, it can also mean “over there”– “yo-gi-yo” 여기요 means “here.” Both can be used to summon waiters and other kinds of assistance. “Yo-gi-yo” is what you tell a taxi driver to signal that you’d like to be let out.

“odi ay yo” 어디에 — where? This is really useful if you’re trying to navigate. Simply say the name of the place you’re looking for and then this phrase, such as: “hotel odi ay yo?” Where is the hotel?

“ju say yo,” 주세요 — give me please, useful in pretty much any circumstance from ordering food to asking for help

“ego,” 이것 — this or it. When asking for something you don’t know the name of, pointing and saying “ego ju say yo” is probably your best option

“mool”, 물 — water

“hwa-jang-shil,” 화장실 — toilet, restroom

“yahk,” 약 — medicine, if you see a sign with that word in Korean, it is a pharmacy– most pharmacists speak some English and some over the counter medications have the same name in Korea

“yong-o,” 영어 — English. If you want to ask if there is English available, the simplest way would probably be to ask: “yong-o i-soy-yo?” Or just give a nervous smile/blank stare when they speak Korean, they’ll get the message.

“oel-ma-yo,” 얼마요– how much? This is important for shopping and haggling. Just make sure you learn your money numbers (yes, Korean has two sets of numbers and they tell time by doing minutes in one set and hours in another… gives me a headache).

I highly recommend downloading a Korean alphabet chart and learning it– I learned to read Korean by using an alphabet chart and a subway map. The written language is very easy to and fast to learn. It was actually designed to be so simple that everyone in the country could be literate. But… more about that in the post I’ll do on basic Korean history you need to know about.

Any other basic Korean questions you have for your upcoming trip to the peninsula? If it’s beyond my level, I can ask one of my Korean 언니들 (big sisters) for advice.

As far as language guides, the Lonely Planet Korean phrase book has a great variety of words and phrases. That book got me through my first couple months in Korea– I used to carry it in my bag with me.


So Much Gratitude: The Liebster Award

The lovely Melissa at Intentional Expat has favored me with the Liebster Award!
I have had a crazy two weeks of moving (more on that later), so I am shamefully behind on posting and responding to this charming honor. Here, I will respond to Melissa’s tantalizing questions and nominate my own honorees.


1) Mountains or ocean?
I love both. I love to be near water, but I love places with lots of trees as well. Perhaps a compromise of a hilly woodland with a stream?
2) Which place can you travel to again and again?
“He who is tired of London is tired of life.”-Samuel Johnson. I haven’t been able to do a lot of repeat traveling yet, but I am very eager to return to England. I think Florence is another city I could return to again and again. And perhaps Tokyo. They are so vibrant and ever changing. Back in the US, they was a woodland path I used to walk that never was the same from one day to another. Ever season would dress it differently. To see the plants at different phases, the dragon flies, the fish, that is ever changing too. I appreciate the contrast of extremes.
3) If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend it?
Realistically, without unlimited resources, I would kiss a stranger, rob a convenience store, and drive to the ocean. Haha. Probably, I would collect the best things I have written and leave it in the care if a close friend. I would see people I love. I would send letters to make peace with people I haven’t seen in ages. I would drink lots of tea and eat delicious food.
4) What ONE word defines you?
5) Guilty (blog appropriate) pleasure?
The Korean dramas I watch under the guise of studying Korean. Here are some I recommend: Sunkyunkwan Scandal, Flower Boy next Door, My Girl, Brain. I am currently watching It’s Okay, It’s Love- which is really interesting in the way it challenges social stigmas about mental illness in Korea.
6) Favorite quote?
I have a couple…bear with me.
“Not all who wander are lost.” JRR Tolkien
“It’s a most distressing affliction to have a sentimental heart and a skeptical mind.” — Naguib Mahfouz
“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.” –Tom Stoppard
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” –Henry David Thoreau
7) If there was no risk of failure, what one thing would you try?
Ha, what wouldn’t I try? A short list: neurosurgery, learning Chinese, hiking all of the Appalachian, going to Oxford for my MA, self-publishing a best seller, and various kinds of human relationships that have proven a bit elusive to me previously, learning the violin.
8) Who is your role model?
Jane Austen for her wit and independence, Henry David Thoreau for his principals, Apostle Paul for his courage and zeal, Josephine Baker for doing…pretty much everything.
9) What picture that you’ve taken makes you want to grab your suitcase, pack your bags and hit the road right now?
Mmm… Maybe this picture of Busan. But maybe that’s only because I really want to go to Busan since it’s a quick and inexpensive weekend trip from Seoul. I always seem to end up there in the off season. And even though it’s still Korea, its vibe is so differnt from Seoul that it feels like a nice break. Even if I have a little trouble understanding the unfamiliar dialect of a still somewhat mysterious language.


10) What brings you joy?
Simple things. Hot tea and thick novels on rainy days. Noraebangs full of friends singing like dorks. Wooly sweaters. Leather gloves. Sushi. Future plans that give me something to look forward too. Having things finished ahead of schedule. New ideas for stories. Wine. Hummus. My French press coffee maker. People who like to talk about books and poetry, art, travel, and wine with me. Lavender incense. Knee socks.

Okay, thanks for bearing with that trip down the rabbit hole. Analyze away Melissa 😉 Here are my questions for my nominees:

1. Tell me a short story (100 words or less) about something weird that happened to you away from home.
2. What are you reading right now?
3. What subject makes you totally geek-out whenever it’s introduced?
4. Favorite season?
5. Five favorite objects in your possession?
6. What did you want to grow up to be as a child?
7. Best year of your life so far?
8. Do you have a ten year plan or are you more spontaneous?
9. Which family member are you closest to?
10. What is your libation of choice? Wine, beer, fruity umbrella drink?

And my nominees are….

Don’t forget to link back guys! I look forward to your answers.