As I’m sure 99% of everyone reading this blog knows, I was able to study abroad in Prague, Czech Republic my junior year of college. When I talk to people back home now one of the questions that keeps getting asked is how Seoul compares to Prague. The question sounds pretty simple to answer. I could say “Well, I like Seoul better” or “I like Prague better” but, truth be told, it nearly impossible to look at the two from a similar vantage point. In addition to comparing two cities, if I were to look at both Korea and Prague I would also have to distinguish between two completely different lifestyles as well.
Going to Prague was, and remains to this day, the most fun I have ever had. As a study abroad student I had next to no responsibilities in the classroom so the study part of study abroad rarely got in my way. Classes were only three days a week, which meant my weekends were longer than my weekdays. As a result of that beautifully minimalistic schedule that will likely never be seen again in my lifetime I left Prague most weekends and treated the semester as a tour of Europe. I had budget airlines, beds in hostels, and a good group of friends to accompany me on any spur of the moment trip I felt like going on. Want to go to Dublin? Sure. How does Barcelona sound? Perfect. Paris this weekend? Definitely. My semester in Prague was a great way to see a part of the world I had always wanted to see with absolutely no obligations tying me down.
Seoul, on the other hand, has many of those obligations. From my very first day of work, I was aware that I was employee first and wanderer-of-Asia second. I understand this, though. I would not expect someone from Korea who took a job in the US to spend the majority of their time on vacation so it should be no different in my case. Because of my long working hours and nearly nonexistent vacation time I have only been able to leave Seoul twice in my three months here, once to Taiwan and once to Busan. In the same span of time during my time in Prague I was able to see probably eight or nine of the 12 total countries I visited in Europe. This might seem like a let down of sorts but it’s just really just getting me more in touch with Korean culture and teaching me about a completely foreign way of life.
Comparing Seoul and Prague as cities rather than lifestyles isn’t much easier. Prauge has a metropolitan area of a little over two million. Seoul’s metro has a population of over 20 million. The city of Seoul alone has almost as many people as the entire Czech Republic. I can ride the subway for close to two hours and never leave the city of Seoul whereas in Prague I could walk or take a tram on the street to get virtually anywhere I needed to go. Seoul’s entire city blocks of nothing but neon and a cultural propensity to make nights out last until daylight truly gives the city that city-that-never-sleeps feeling that Prague did not have. But if Prague did not have that high-tech, glowing thing going for it, it did have a certain charm that came from the combination of its architectural beauty and a slightly less beautiful attitude found in many Czechs. If Seoul tends to embrace foreigners, Prague seemed irritated at their presence.
Despite their differences, Seoul and Prague do have a few (vague) similarities. Both cities are filled, much to my appreciation, with extremely cheap alcohol. Prague had amazing beer and Seoul has tolerable soju. They both also have annoying climates, although I would take Prague’s constant clouds and drizzle over Seoul’s monsoon any day.
If I had to answer the question as to which city I like better, I think I would have to give the edge to Prague. Prague was a world class, yet manageable city, with its own personality that I have yet to see anywhere else in the world. While many European cities such as London or Paris are so cosmopolitan that they have lost many of the unique things that made them special to begin with, Prague still feels very Czech, even with the hoards of tourists. Seoul is still an amazing city that I would recommend anyone put on their list of places to visit but it can oftentimes just seem too big for its own good. As I said before, this is a city where a subway ride can take a couple of hours without leaving city limits. Although with Korea’s cheap booze and absence of laws dictating where people can and cannot drink those two hours can easily feel like no time.