Hi again, and once more I apologise for the elongated hiatus since my last post. I’ve had this update written down in a notebook for a while, I’ve just been a bad combination of busy and lazy lately, but finally, here it is. Also, I apologise but this update has no pictures as I didn’t take any over the period this takes place. If it’s any consolation, this will be a long post, and in more detail than I’ve gone to before.

Part One: Christmas.

Christmas is one of, if not my favourite time of the year. I come from a big family and Christmastime is one of the few times of the year I can be around all the people I love. Plus, our Christmas dinners are unrivalled, and I for one do not need an excuse to eat my fill and then some.

Bearing this in mind, Christmas 2017 was a difficult time for me. It was the first time I’d ever spent the festive period alone, and what’s more, I spent it in a time of upheaval and transition, moving between different accommodations that almost explicitly sought to stress me out. Not only that, but being in South Korea means that I live on a time zone almost the exact opposite of GMT, meaning communication with home -as it has been for the entirety of this exchange- was difficult, limited, and frustrating at its best. Besides one highly emotionally charged facetime past midnight (boxing day) my time, I endured the day without the support system I’ve grown accustomed to. Needless to say, it was an Incredibly trying time that still serves as a sore spot in my memory. I don’t mean to drone on about it, but when I was back in England and still preparing for this year abroad, I was adamant that I wouldn’t be affected as much as I was in reality, and I wish I had given more thought to the emotional stress that definitely does come in to play with being so isolated, especially on the other side of the actual globe, and especially during times like the holidays, which I’m used to spending a certain way. It’s been a lot harder these past few months than I have been expecting.

Nevertheless, I didn’t spend (too much of) my time on Christmas lamenting my decision to study abroad, and did the only thing I could in such a time: made the best of it.

On December 23rd, I moved from my original accommodation (Twincity Namsan) to a temporary flat with two other girls from Southampton I’ve made friends with. The apartment we were supposed to stay in (the one I currently type from the comfort of) was one that friends we made during last semester lived in at the time. However, since the temperature at night in the winter can dip well below -10, water pipes froze and burst just before we were scheduled to move in, rendering the place unlivable. So, when the day came, we were shoved into a smaller (but equally very nice) home just a five-minute’s steep uphill walk away. Splendid.

We finally moved in to this place on 2nd of January, but that meant when Christmas day rolled around, we were still living out of suitcases and boxes, which was a far cry from traditional Christmas comfort.

The 23rd was hectic “settling in” was a matter of speed, as the two girls I live with celebrate with their families at home on Christmas eve, which meant a) a compromise on my behalf, and b) lots of things happening all at once. Between trying to make the place decently hospitable, preparing our meal plan for the following day, gift shopping, and everything else, there was barely time to think. The local area, like all areas surrounding universities in Seoul, is very cute. There are lots of shops selling essentially everything, and when it was my turn to goodie grab, I went to town compiling stocking-like ‘goodie bags’ for the other two, which I later stashed away in my room for the 25th.

The 24th is when most of the Christmas stuff went down, with the day kicking off with a struggle. We had invited a friend over later in the day (also from So’ton), so we were cooking our ‘feast’ for four over the course of the entire day. We had very limited food and ingredients, a single induction burner to cook on, and a teeny fridge (we’re talking bedroom mini fridge!) to store all the prepared food in. After all that, I had to nip to the shops as well, since it transpired we had no cutlery, and the best I could do with limited time were the colourful plastic sort you’d give a two-year-old with a fondness for pushing their spaghetti on the floor.

I can’t remember each of the courses we ate, but I do remember the first. It was a pumpkin soup that actually tasted amazing, but all four of us agreed (in good humour) looked a like the sort of prison food a downtrodden character in the saddest Dickensian story would eat, which was primarily down to the fact that it was served in deep, industrial looking white plastic bowls that I also scavenged in the local shops. But honestly, it really did taste good.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the best meal any of us had eaten, nor was it the worst, and we were all grateful for each other’s company. Beyond the cooking, the eating, and their drinking, we spent the rest of our time playing cards, games, and making fools of ourselves in charades. All in all, we all had a laugh, and the day definitely could have gone worse, and I still have family and traditions waiting for me back home, so for that I am grateful.

As for the 25th, it was a pretty quiet day in which I was left to my own devices until the evening, wherein the three of us went to the cinema and watched The Greatest Showman.

Part 2: New Years.

Again, it was a difficult time for each of us, especially for one of the others who explained that New Years for them is what Christmas is for me.

Here’s a fun fact we didn’t entirely understand until we witnessed it: New Years is not celebrated here. Pretty much at all. Unless you head down to Itaewon to celebrate with other westerners and young Koreans immersed in western culture, you’ll be pretty hard pressed to find a New Years Celebration.

This is to do with the way Korean calculate their age. I’m not entirely sure about how it’s worked out, so I apologise for any erroneous information. As I understand it, at birth, all Koreans are born at age 1, and each solar year (New Years Day), everybody gains another year.

That much I know to be true, but I get a little confused considering the lunar new year is celebrated here as well, but I’ve been told that ages are done by the solar year. It depends a little on what month you’re born, but before you’re a solar year old, you could officially be 2 years old in Korea. (I actually tried to work out mine, and apparently, I’m 24!) In any case, New Years is not a common celebration over here, as firstly, everybody gets an official year older, and secondly, the lunar new year is the annual celebration of choice.

In our local area, there are two bars. We ended up at the closest one, which is called Lobo’s, with only four other people including the bartender. It was the most surreal experience when I think about how almost every pub, club, and bar in London is filled to brim at this time. But hey, our drinks came quickly and we found seats.

At one point, one of my dear aunties tried to facetime me as the hour drew nearer, but the six guests weren’t few enough to deter the barkeep into turning the music down a notch, plus it being dark meant all that could be seen was a pitch black screen. It was lovely to see and hear her, even if she couldn’t see and hear me, but it being pretty one sided meant the call was very short lived.

At one point, concerned maybe we had simply encountered a stroke of bad luck, the three of us headed to the second bar near us named “Planet Tatuine” after Planet Tattooine from Star Wars. When we got there, there were again, few people scattered about and sipping quietly on their drinks, but the bartender told us as we crossed the threshold that the bar would be closing at 11:30, much to our incredulity. So, we headed back to Lobos and waited for the most anticlimactic stroke of midnight any 1st of January ever witnessed.

But again, it was a fun an emotional experience, and the three of us toasted the new year with the free drinks the bartender gave us (that tasted like cough syrup) and had our own celebration.

As for resolutions, I didn’t make one, but you never really need a big momentous event to start self-improvement. Hopefully, this year will be a good one for me, and I’m doing all I can to make it so.

The One Where I Learn To Do Holidays Differently

Serena Messam


Serena is studying BA Film and English at the university, and spending her third year abroad in Seoul, South Korea. When she isn't hard at work, she enjoys reading, writing, filmmaking, and photography.


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