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Seoul searching: Age is just a number

23 March 2014 By Ellen Back, Columnist No Comments
Student abroad unwraps foreign drinking laws

As of yesterday, I have officially been living in Seoul for a month.

Time is really flying by! After joining the event-planning club at Yonsei, I feel as though I’ve become more immersed in the Korean culture.

Last week, I attended my first Membership Training (MT) event. An MT is a traditional outing in Korea where new and old members of a club or organization spend a weekend together eating, drinking, playing games and getting to know each other.

All 30 to 35 members of our club sat in a huge circle with chips, fruits, snacks and bottles of water and alcohol placed in the center. The new members were expected to shotgun a can of beer as we went around and introduced ourselves as part of an initiation. It wasn’t long before I discovered that drinking is a prominent aspect of the Korean culture.

At almost every occasion, people commonly share a bottle of Soju, an alcoholic beverage, during or after dinner as a means of social bonding. A popular Korean dish that my friends really enjoy is “Chee-meck,” a combination of chicken and beer. Although I may only be 20 years old, I am considered to be of legal drinking age here.

This concept was a little confusing to me at first but after some steady explanation I was able to comprehend the idea of the “plus two years” years rule.

In Korea, newborns are one year old. The day of their birth and age count is increased on Jan. 1 of every year, not on one’s birthday. So, since I was born in 1993, in Korean age, I am 22 years old.

Although most places don’t card individuals, occasionally waitresses ask customers what year they were born in just to verify.

The casual and sometimes excessive drinking culture of life in Korea was a big shock to me. Even when I went to visit my uncle yesterday, he casually ordered a pitcher of beer for us to enjoy with our Korean barbeque.

I suppose it’s somewhat of a privilege since my parents would never allow that back home. Overall, it’s been a very busy two weeks with club meetings, social gatherings, family visits, group projects and homework.

Tomorrow, my friends and I are going to Seoul fashion week in Dongdaemun, a shopping town that’s located about an hour away from Sinchon.

My good friend Reina knows a designer in the show so we were able to get free tickets.

Luckily, I’ll only be missing one class tomorrow and since I get three excused absences for the semester, I’m good to go! That just means I’ll have plenty to study on my own.


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