Entry two

My first 2 observations in Korea:

  1. People are wearing surgical masks in public…should I be concerned?


            Since this past May, there has been an outbreak of MERS in the Republic of Korea. MERS stands for “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome” and is a viral illness caused by the coronavirus (the virus associated with common cold symptoms). All cases of MERS have been traced to areas within the Arabian Peninsula. Unfortunately, a man brought the disease to Korea after days of traveling in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Throughout his hospital stay, he directly infected many others (mostly those within the same ward or with close proximity to him). Anyways, the totality of those infected by this illness remains at 186 with 36 deaths.

When the news about the outbreak unfolded, my heart dropped. I was almost certain my study abroad trip was going to be cancelled. The more and more I read about the illness, though, I felt more at ease. The media seemed to of exaggerated the situation into something bigger than it was (surprise, surprise). First, MERS does not spread easily between humans; the route of transmission is believed to be through respiratory secretions. Second, those who were affected more seriously by the illness already had a compromised immune system (steroid treatment, underlying disease, malnutrition, etc.). Therefore, they were more susceptible to complications caused by MERS! Next, the CDC did not suggest Americans change their travels plans to Korea because of MERS.

Although I felt confident about the situation, it was still a little bit of a scare arriving to the airport and seeing people wearing surgical masks—definitely not a sight I’m used to in the U.S. I’ve been hand washing and using sanitizer pretty frequently, which are key prevention tips. It’s been eight days since the last new case of the illness, and it appears that the public health officials have the outbreak under control.

  1. Bathrooms are weird (Viewer discretion is advised. I’m kind of open)

Boys, you aren’t the only ones that use urinals. Well, sort of. As you can see in the picture, the toilet is like a urinal built into the ground. I don’t mean to go into detail, but the women literally have to “pop a squat!” Props to the elderly, because it isn’t the most physically enabling way to relieve yourself.


Next, some restrooms contain stalls that don’t have toilet paper! I found that out the hard way. There’s like this huge, community toilet paper roll next to the sink that you have to wait your turn to grab before entering the stall. I found it a little awkward? I would like to grab my toilet paper in peace behind closed doors. It just doesn’t seem like the most chronological way to use the restroom. Like how do you know how much you’re going to need?!

Also more on the toilet paper topic, many times there are garbage cans next to toilets to dispose of the toilet paper. As you can imagine, things can get pretty gross. I guess the sewage system in Korea is not equipped for large wads of paper and can get clogged fairly easily.

Last, I barely see soap dispensers. Instead, you will find one bar of soap on a stick that everyone feels up before washing his or her hands. Like that makes sense? “Before washing your hands, people, please share your germs amongst one another.” Instead, I just whip out my hand sanitizer to do the job. Good thing for the MERS scare or I wouldn’t be carrying so many bottles in my purse already.


These were my 2 initial culture shocks …and there’s many more to come (hopefully not as strange ones). Stay tuned!

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