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Quarantining in Seoul, South Korea

This semester, I seized an opportunity so I could make the best out of an otherwise disappointing situation. After receiving the news about our entirely remote semester, I decided to spend the semester with my family in Seoul, South Korea. 

Seoul is like a second home to me; I visit my family in Korea every summer. However, I’ve never truly taken the time to explore this amazing city. Every year, I drive up and down the same streets, go to the same places, and see the same people. Of course, I’m grateful for these experiences and cherish the memories I’ve made. However, as I grow older, I increasingly want to see more of the extraordinary place I call my second home — this semester seemed like the perfect time to do it. 

After landing in Korea, I immediately went into a government mandated quarantine period of fourteen days. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced; I found it difficult to live completely physically isolated, even if it was only for two weeks. I was still adjusting to the thirteen hour time difference while trying to balance schoolwork and classes, and I was up at ridiculous hours of the night, which only made me more aware of my solitude. I was constantly calling my friends and family in my free time and people-watching while longing to be outside. In fact, I kept all the windows open during the day to get as much fresh air as possible. The apartment I was staying in felt simultaneously so spacious but so empty, and the only remedy to the symptoms of isolation was the hope of freedom on the fourteenth day. I spent an entire fourteen days in solitude for my own safety, but more importantly for the health and safety of the community. 

I am now finally free from quarantine and living life in the city — the life I dreamed of for months and romanticized every second of quarantine. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time and seizing every opportunity to explore more of Seoul. 

I’ve been trying new cafes almost every other day, each time trying a unique or different beverage. Starbucks in South Korea is very different from the ones in the United States. Here, there’s a wide variety of both drinks and food items; my favorite is the chocolate cloud cake. 

Everywhere you go in Seoul, everything is convenient and modernized; the technology here is unparalleled. You can order anything and everything to your home, from food to groceries to other services, which is especially great right now. 

Finally, the autumn weather here is so beautiful. I live near several hiking trails and parks, and I try to go out and enjoy the colorful scenery every once in a while. I am so thankful for this opportunity and aware of how lucky my situation ended up. I’ve been here for a month now, and I’ve learned so much about the city. 

All of the official protocols and procedures in Seoul are more efficient than any American efforts I’ve seen thus far. It was shocking to see the preventative measures Seoul has implemented everywhere, from public transportation to small cafes, and how everyone was willing to follow safety measures without complaint. Everywhere you go, there’s a system that requires you to scan a QR code in order to enter the building; if you don’t have a QR code, you must write down your name, address, phone number, and current temperature. This helps with contact tracing.

It’s interesting to see and experience firsthand two very different responses to this global crisis. I hope to bring all that I’ve learned from my time in Korea back home to protect my health and the health of everyone around me. 

Minjee Cho

U Penn '23

Minjee is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania studying biology. She is from Malvern, Pennsylvania and loves running, cooking, and makeup. She is also very passionate about journalism and women's empowerment.
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