5 Ways Seoul Reminds Me of Iqaluit


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Annyeonghaseyo! That means “hello” in Korean, and it’s a phrase I used often during my recent weeklong stay in Seoul. No doubt you can imagine all the ways that Seoul, with its population of 9.8 million people, is very different from Iqaluit, population 7000. Seoul is a bustling, modern Asian metropolis where people will soon use solar power to charge their LTE smartphones and toilets are computerized. Iqaluit is a remote subarctic town that recently joined the 3G network and houses a number of excellent and avid hunters. On the surface, the two places seem irrevocably different, and yet, during my time in the Korean capital, I found myself saying, “That’s just like in Nunavut!” Here are five ways that Seoul, South Korea reminds me of Iqaluit, Nunavut.

1) Respect for Elders

Both Inuit and Korean cultures reserve a special place for Elders, members of society who have designated special status due to their age, community influence, and social status. Elders of both backgrounds are shown this respect through various customs and rules. In Seoul, there are “Elders Only” seats on trains, and young Koreans always accept gifts from Elders with both hands.

2) Transient Worker Population

Seoul and Iqaluit offer a variety of short-term or contract job opportunities that appeal to recent graduates or people looking for a life change. Often, these contracts can last less than six months, meaning there is a bit of a revolving door of ex-pats (in Seoul) or Southerners (in Iqaluit). In South Korea, the non-committal often teach English; in Iqaluit, they come for government work. That being said, for every dozen or so transient workers, there are always a few…

3) Permanent Transplants

“I know people who planned to come for a month and stayed for three years.”

Whether you’re at the Legion in Iqaluit or a bar in Seoul, you will hear some variation of the above. Invariably, there are those who just fall in love with their new city (or someone from there) and plant deeper roots.

4) An Ample Supply of Camp Stoves

If there is one thing you will find in any Korean restaurant and any outdoorsy Iqalummiut’s sealift room, it’s a camp stove. Double-burner or single, these little heat sources are necessary to keep your yukgaejang (spicy beef soup) or caribou stew warm. Korean dishes are regularly served at your table atop a lit stove, meaning Seoul’s restaurant-goers are as comfortable controlling a Coleman as anyone who goes out on the land.

5) Hiking Gear is Haute Couture

Columbia. North Face. Arc'teryx. These are some of the most common brands emblazoned across jackets, hats, and backpacks in both cities. The main difference is, in Iqaluit, we wear outdoor gear because we’re about to take a stroll in the unforgiving tundra, while in Seoul, people can be spotted wearing hiking gear while at the market…

…or riding the subway. Complete with hiking poles!

Gamsahabnida to my wonderful hosts, Jaime and Jason, for ensuring my stay in Seoul wasn’t anything short of spectacular. Looking forward to returning the favour Nunavut-style; atii!