Indiana University Overseas Study



I’m from Indianapolis, and anyone else who lives there already knows that there is virtually no public transportation system. I think there might be one IndyGo bus that comes within a 5-mile radius of my house in the suburbs, and even then I think it only stops there every two hours and you can only travel on one route.

I’ve been tempted to go home by taking the Bloomington Shuttle to the airport and then the IndyGo bus home, but according to Google maps it would take me markedly less time to bike from the airport to my home on the opposite side of the city than to take the bus there, so these plans ended up falling through. An IndyGo bus sighting in the suburbs is more rare than a Volkswagen Beetle sighting, and I’m often tempted to turn the game on its head and punch my unwitting passenger when I spot one while driving around town.

Going from a public transportation desert to the well-managed and comprehensive transportation system of Seoul has spoiled me. I’m worried that when I return home, it might turn me into one of those cranky world travelers who can’t stop talking about greener grasses. Within the city, there is a network of nine main subway lines that stretch from edge to edge, as well as an amount of buses that seems completely incomprehensible to me, plus a constant stream of taxis that are so cheap that I’m not sure how they can be profitable. The coolest thing about this is that you can swipe the same re-loadable transportation card to use any of these services. On top of that, if you transfer between a bus and the subway within 30 minutes, you won’t be charged again. It’s a really cool system and I’m still in awe of it.

There is some Seoul transportation etiquette that I thought I should share, though, because whenever I see a tourist committing one of these faux-pas I always feel really bad for them because they usually don’t notice how irritated people look.

1) On buses and the subway there are designated seats for who are elderly, pregnant, or disabled. On the subway they are those seats on the ends of each car, and on the bus they are the seats with the yellow or pink seatbacks. It’s all right to sit on those bus seats if the bus is mostly empty or there is no one who needs that seat, but don’t sit on the ones in the subway. You’ll know if you’re sitting in a disabled seat if people start shooting you dirty looks. Also, I advise you never to compete with a middle-aged woman for a seat. They are faster than you, they are stronger than you, and they are not afraid of anyone. Especially not you. If they push you out of their way and race in front of you to secure a seat, just let it happen.

2) People don’t have a lot of tolerance for noise on the subways, especially not from young people. Don’t be loud on a subway train because eventually someone will shush you, and if you’re me then you’ll feel horribly guilty and end up running to another car. Also, be careful of the noise level on your headphones. In my experience, people will just suck their teeth and act annoyed as a cue rather than saying anything to you.

3) When using a subway escalator, stay to the right side if you want to stand and let the people who want them go by you on the left. Like I said before, middle-aged women are not afraid to push you.

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