The sky outside the open window is a slight pink and a warm orange glow envelops the room. Over the valley, the sun is rising. The mountain has a scattering of snow at the top, leftover from the sudden snowfall a few days before. Morning commuters’ voices drift up from the street. Seoul has begun to wake.
I sit at my desk, responding to the morning greetings of my professor over zoom, and the four hours of class begin. There are just over ten students in the class; from China, Mongolia, Japan, Russia, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, and the US. Our common language is Korean so we almost exclusively speak in it, even over text.
As usual, we have two grammar points to cover today. One is the other way to say “you have to” and the grammatical structure to say “doing something on the way to somewhere else”. A friend once said that Korean has grammar where English has vocabulary. Today is in excellent support of her hypothesis. It’s really enjoyable learning how different languages flow and fit together.
I manage to make it to 1 pm and after class, walk alongside the main road, which is, even at this time, brimming with traffic. I walk toward Seoul National University (SNU) Entrance Station. Which, as evident from its name, is absolutely nowhere near SNU’s entrance.
Today, it takes me 25 minutes. On my right, there is an unassuming door on the side of a dark coloured building. I push it open and I’m greeted with warmth and the comforting smell of freshly ground coffee. There is a low murmur of everyday chatter and music is playing softly.
My friend texts me; she’s missed her bus. She won’t let me buy her a drink, even though it’s my turn to pay! Instead, I order the Korean classic, an iced americano, and begin the difficult task of selecting the perfect table.
I choose one next to a long window that overlooks the alleyway below. My seat is bathed in soft sunlight and, from here, I can see the main road. I watch a bright-green city bus brave the incline towards Seoul National University’s actual entrance.
My hastily handwritten to-do list stares at me from a little yellow notepad. The most important, marked with a crudely drawn star, is the review of the last three chapters. I have to complete some mini practice tests on reading, writing, etc. Today’s topics centre around the home, with vocabulary related to daily living and issues with appliances – “the fridge froze my vegetables” being a personal favourite and an unfortunate daily occurrence. It also includes bills, rent and other life stressors.
I give in and begin to work through my list when my friend, rather apologetically, appears in front of me. She’s buying, so I dare beyond the americano and try one of the new menu items. They seem a tad optimistic: a strawberry-themed menu; already vying for spring. I, too, would be hopeful for the season change if it hadn’t been minus 11 this morning.
I am shocked, as ever, that we are unproductive; it’s already 6 pm. We head into the cold and, a neon-lit street with restaurants and bars lining each side stretches out in front of us. Each building is adorned with brightly lit adverts for soju or beer and photos of their best-selling dishes.
A wooden door barely taller than me slides open. We enter a room built of dark oak, the walls swallowing light. Close to the entrance, a man in military uniform sits, hunched over a bowl, eating quietly. A woman sits on the other end of the same long table eating whilst on facetime with her friend. We’ll end our day here, chatting over two bowls of ramen, while Seoul gears down to sleep.
Lou Roberts is studying a BA in Korean and Economics and is currently doing her study abroad year at Seoul National University in Republic of Korea.