Challenges of Winter in Canada

About two months ago I arrived in Sault Ste. Marie. A small city on the shores of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada. The winter months here are pretty harsh. Very cold temperatures, strong winds and lots of snow. When I arrived it was -26°C cold. I had never seen winter like that before and therefore also never known how life is like under these conditions. It led to quite a few minor cultural “shocks” for me. Let me tell you about a few of them:

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On Ticket Drawing Machines and Conversations with Strangers

The Swiss and Swedish culture have a lot of similarities since we share a lot of cultural and religious values. So there wasn’t any crazy cultural practice that I encountered in Sweden that threw me off completely. But I’ve encountered a lot of small differences between the cultural practices here and at home that added up over time. 

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Being polite in Korea

During my childhood, I was taught to be polite in every daily situation. My mother would be extremely proud whenever my brother’s or my own behavior was praised by adults. When I was a young boy, I wanted to make my mother proud and therefore strived to be a well-mannered citizen. This self-evident principle is still valid today. 

However, here in South Korea, I recognized directly that the rules of etiquette are not just a little but completely different. After spending the mandatory seven days of self-isolation in Seoul, two weeks ago I was finally allowed to leave my quarantine hotel. Therefore, this short essay is a summary of my first impressions about Korean politeness gathered during that short time span. This essay should by no means to be understood as a guide, but merely describes my subjective perception.

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Lekker, itafile, weak performance

South Africa has eleven official languages. The most spoken ones are English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa. My roommates are English natives, the lectures at the university and most information is in English. As I graduated in English linguistics and literature in my Bachelor Minor, accomplished a C1 English certificate and lived in an English-speaking shared flat for a while in Switzerland, I was confident regarding the language challenges.

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Please, don’t do it by yourself – it’s a job for someone else.

This is not the way I learned it at home, neither in my private nor my professional life.

I was taught early to put clean sheets on my bed, to wash the dishes, to do grocery shopping, to cook, and other domestic tasks. Later, I learned to park a car in a narrow parking lot, fill the tank of a car, take care of my bike, to not leave my waste behind, and put it where it belongs, and countless other things of daily life. In my job, I was taught that economic efficiency is keeping personal costs as low as possible. Even though I do not agree with that approach, I know the concept. I was socialized to be independent, to behave respectfully towards people and objects alike. I was taught to behave as I wanted others to treat me.

In South Africa this is different.

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Korean Language 101

Hangul is the writing system of Korea, created and introduced by King Sejong the Great in 1443. Today, the 9th of October, is a national holiday that celebrates the first publication of the Hunminjeong’eum, the document introducing the language to the public. Hangul’s most important purpose was to reduce the illiteracy of the Koreans with a lower education. They struggled with the Chinese writing system, as the spoken Korean and Chinese were already very different, and the large number of characters didn’t help either. So the newly created alphabet consists of only 24 letters, benefiting everyone who wants to learn to read, including me.

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The differences

Life is like a box of chocolates, and you never know what you’re going to get. One year ago, I never thought that one day I would live and study in Bern, Switzerland.

Writing this blog, I recall the memory of the last couple of months and am trying to develop some interesting, shocking things that have become familiar to me. These memories may be forgotten over time, but they also remind me that there are still many aspects I have not yet gotten to discover.

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The limits of translation tools

The solution to all translation problems is “papago”. Despite an introductory course in Korean in Switzerland, I got into a bit of a rut when I arrived at Incheon Airport. I was surprised by the fact that people in South Korea don’t really know how to communicate in English. This is surprising because English is taught from the basic level and the Korean school system requires a high school diploma. The final exam includes a multiple-choice reading comprehension test, tricky even for native English speakers. And yet only Koreans with an international background can communicate in English. This was not a bad thing for me because it gives me the chance to immerse myself in new spheres of communication.

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