I have been sick for the past three and a half weeks and it has been horrible. I feel like this might be one of those dangers of studying in a foreign country where everyone is packed in the dorms at close quarters. I went from the flu to sinus and ear infection to a throat virus all without any sort of respite. I rarely ever get sick, but once my immune system is compromised apparently I get incredibly sick. I think I now understand why we got two separate medical lectures at the beginning of the semester.
It’s a bad habit, but I always forego going to the doctor at all costs. But by the end of all this, my throat was swollen to such as size that I couldn’t put off going to the doctor anymore. In the spur of the moment I decide to skip class and walk to the University hospital that is on the south side of campus. Korea is very accommodating to foreigners, and being one of the large hospitals in South Korea, it has a clinic specifically for internationals. Everything at the clinic is conducted in English, which was a complete godsend because I absolutely did not have the Korean vocabulary to explain my symptoms or answer questions.
I didn’t have an appointment, and my wait time was long enough to read half of Slaughterhouse-Five. I heard another patient complaining to a receptionist about the wait and how you never used to need an appointment in the international clinic, and she responded that there has been such an influx of foreigners into Seoul that they’ve had to hire a lot of new staff in recent years just to keep up. This sounds like a common story throughout the country – According to the Korea Times, the number of foreigners living in South Korea has surpassed 1 million, making up more than 2% of the Korean population. About 60% of those people live in the Seoul metropolitan area alone. For a country that has been so homogenous for so long, this is amazing.
When I opened my bank account out in the suburbs I was even able to go upstairs and conduct everything in English. The same goes for getting my visa status changed at the immigration office and for recharging my metro card. I get flagged down for events aimed at foreigners all the time, and sometimes feel like I get special treatment for just being an English-speaker. Occasionally I can get into things more easily because organizations and events want to seem diverse or popular with a wide audience. Even the government is in on it. Korea is determined to have stellar English education in all levels of schooling so that it can compete on the international stage. This has brought tons of Americans and Canadians into the country to teach English. The Korean government states that there are about 22,000 expatriate English teachers living in South Korea right now – and that’s just the ones working here legally.
Korea is trying hard to make itself a world leader in everything from electronics to pop music, so it sometimes seems like the whole country has been mobilized to try to get foreigners interested in Korean culture.