Joining a Gym in Korea

Last week, I finally joined a gym here in Korea! Best decision ever!

I had been telling myself that I didn’t have time to go to the gym, but basically all it took was getting up earlier, and then I found I magically had plenty of time for everything! (Getting to bed early is always the challenging part of that equation, but not eating after 8pm has really helped me with that. Staying up late becomes a lot less appealing when you know you are just going to keep getting hungrier.)

Some brief cultural observations from my gym experience thus far:

  • They wear uniforms at the gyms here. I like it. Less laundry for me.
  • Judging from the surprised look I got the other day, leaving the gym without showering is not normal. (I wanted to tell him, “I live right across and the street and am about to take a shower when I get home! Promise!” Unfortunately my language skills are nowhere near capable of that.)
  • The lack of personal space here extends to the gym arena. While I was using the lateral pull-down machine the other day, the older man who works at/possibly owns the place rushed over, yelling my name. He adjusted my grip, then jabbed his knee into my back and pulled back my shoulders, instructing me to pull the bar down again. “Like this?” I asked timidly, thinking to myself, Wow, in America, you could get sued for this.
  • The gym music is the same as in the US. (Though Koreans don’t seem to mind extending the Christmas season through all of January.)

Also, a side benefit I hadn’t considered: Increased human interaction.

I go to and from school every day in crowded streets, subways, and buses without being acknowledged by anyone, but whenever I go to the gym, the man who potentially owns the place bows and greets me with enthusiasm. And whenever I leave, whoever is sitting at the desk either bows or waves and says, “Bye!” It’s very sweet. And actually brightens my day quite a bit.

I also work out with complete confidence that if any of the trainers see me doing something incorrectly, they’ll come over straight away and help me out. It’s kind of nice.



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Elizabeth is a teacher, preacher, musician, and writer. She has a Master's of Divinity and a Master's of Music, which represent her two great loves: Jesus and the arts. A half-Korean, half-white American, she spent seven years in South Korea teaching English. Elizabeth is a perpetual learner, a deep feeler, and a pursuer of beauty and truth.

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