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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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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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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What is different from South Korea

When I first came to Switzerland, the first place where I felt cultural differences with South Korea was a restaurant. While Korean restaurants pursue more efficiency and run fast, there are some more cultural practices in Switzerland. In Korea, most people find their seats on their own when they enter the restaurant (except in certain places), and once they choose a menu, they call a waiter with a loud voice or ring a bell on the table to call a waiter and to place an order. Likewise, if you have any requests during your meal, you can reach the waiter like you did when you ordered. Also, when you finish the food, you can go to the counter directly to check out without waiting for the waiter to bring your receipt. Therefore, when I came to Switzerland a few years ago, I was unfamiliar with Swiss restaurant practices and unintentionally acted in ways that could seem rude in Switzerland.

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The price we have to pay for a convenient life in Taiwan 

I come from Taiwan. Taiwan is well-known for its convenient life and 宵夜文化(culture of eating food at mid-night). For example, there are convenience stores that open 24/7 around each corner. Supermarkets also open every day. What’s more, there are Taiwanese night market, where you can find a lot of stand food until midnight. 

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Life in Berlin

Even though I had already been to Berlin twice before my adventure of the exchange semester, I was still able to discover and explore a lot about the culture. At first glance, the differences between Germany and Switzerland don’t seem to be that great. We have the same time, we wear the same clothes and have similar traditions. Are there any differences at all? Trust me, there are differences.

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Community is everything, especially while living abroad

At the time I am writing this blog, I have already accomplished an Erasmus abroad in Paris for six months and am currently doing my second in Italy. During these months, I have learned a lot about what it means to live in a community or family. Therefore, I want to write a blog about myself today, and also present to you methods on how to connect with people in a new city.

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