1. The Gender Separation Among the Youth
When I visited a high school in Cheonan City, South Korea a few weeks ago, I was really surprised about how gender-separated the school was. After experiencing a few of their school festival activities (i.e. making bracelets, making a personalized mug, doing the photobooth) my group from the States and the Korean students hosting us went down to the cafeteria to eat lunch, which was Janchi-Guksu (a celebration noodle dish) and Kimchi. After getting my lunch, I wanted to go eat lunch with my only friend on the trip, Kai, but I was supposed to eat lunch with my host sister, Ji Yeon, and she wanted to eat lunch with her friends, which was at a completely different table far away from where my friend was. So during the whole lunch, the boys ate at one table and the girls ate at a separate table. This wouldn’t have been weird to me if the girls and the boys ate at separate tables next to each other, but the tables where we sat were significantly far away from each other. So as I looked around the cafeteria as other students filled the cafeteria to eat lunch I recognized the same amount of gender-separation; no boys and girls sat at the same table, or even the same side of the room matter of fact. This is completely different to what I am used to in the States where all friend groups are gender-mixed with at least one boy or girl in a group of all boys or girls. I wasn’t the only one who thought this. A few days later when the group from the States left our host families in Cheonan City and headed toward Seoul, I met up again with my friend Kai and we started talking about this. We both agreed on how weird we thought it was that the lunch tables were so gender-separated since he too wanted to eat with me at lunch that day and kept looking at me.
2. The Number of Flags on the Streets
This one isn’t as surprising to me, but it was something I definitely noticed while in South Korea. While I made my way down the streets of Cheonan City and Seoul, either in a car, bus or on foot, I noticed a lot of South Korean flags. And by a lot, I mean A LOT. Every 30 feet or so there would be two flags tied to a post, and then, on the city hall building, there was a 100-foot flag. I thought the States was obsessed with their flag, as the American flag is on everything, but I have never seen a flag posted in such a large quantity as you walk down the street.
3. Views About Sex
After seeing a cute little condom shop called Condomania in Harajuku with a cartoon condom holding a sign saying: “BE SAFE” and not able to go in because they moved locations, I decided to research if Seoul had a store near the hostel my group was staying at. There was one kind of close by, but it was just a little too far that I couldn’t get to it unless I paid for public transit, and I didn’t have the money for that. But in the midst of my research, I found information about the laws with buying condoms, and anything related to sex, in South Korea. Anyone under the age of 19 couldn’t buy sex toys, which makes sense, but what surprised me the most was that the majority of condoms are illegal for anyone under 19 to buy; the only condoms they’re able to buy is the most basic ones. Something I did notice while buying my meals in convenience stores was the lack of condoms being sold in the stores; there were no condoms to be found in the convenience stores. This was quite a surprise for me because every convenience store in the USA always sells condoms, even grocery stores do too. Then, because of this new knowledge, I wanted to know if South Korea had any non-profits like Planned Parenthood where teens, or anyone, could go to for help and guess what I found? Pretty much nothing. I found one small non-profit that was creating vending machines geared toward teens with condoms that they can get, but this was one of the only companies that were doing something like this. Sex is a very taboo topic in South Korea, which it is among every country, but even so, there is usually a way for teens to get condoms even in the most conservative parts of America. I started to learn more about the lack of sex education in South Korea through the site www.thedissolve.kr, where, in an article, talked about how most South Koreans teens don’t use condoms because of the lack of sex education they receive, or they are too embarrassed to get one. This is resulting in a lot of questions about using plastic wrap instead of a condom and an increase in unwanted pregnancies among girls under 19 (Click here for the article about the condom machines in South Korea).