As I wrap up my year in Korea, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the good and bad aspects of living in Korea.
Living in Korea
Last year, I decided it was time to do something new. I was feeling in a rut, grinding away my days. Something had to change. So, I quit my government job and moved to Korea to teach English.
Things have worked out well so far. It took some time but I think I have fair grasp of teaching. Of all the jobs I’ve done this is the most difficult. It’s a continuous learning process.
Like all things though, there are good points and bad points. These are 7 of the things I will miss about living in Suwon (about 30 km south of Seoul).
If you missed it, I already posted the 7 Things I Will (Definitely) Not Miss.
7 Things I Will Miss
- Hiking – Hiking in Korea is bountiful, scenic, and easy to access. Most trailheads are within walking distance of a bus stop or subway station. Trailheads almost always have a variety of small restaurants nearby too. Because if there’s one thing Koreans love more than hiking it’s food. Rightly so, Korean food is delicious! However, one downside is that because hiking is so popular, trails can get crowded. It can be difficult to find those peaceful lost-in-nature moments. So, if you find that annoying, you’ll want to adjust your start time to either early morning or early-afternoon.
- Cute Kids – Generally, I don’t get fuzzy feelings about kids. But I have some of the most adorable children I’ve ever seen. They’re sweet, cute, and very friendly. They love to play and laugh, tell jokes, and be silly. They bring me treats and draw me pictures. And they brighten my days when the demon children stress me out. One cultural thing I’ve noticed is how willing the kids are to share. If someone has candy, they’ll share it with everyone even if that means they only get one piece. Why? Because it’s reciprocated. They know other students will share their candy when they have it. People aren’t as greedy here, it’s really nice. As an only child, I have sharing issues and living here has helped me become more generous too.
- Food – One of the most enjoyable things I get to do on an almost daily basis, is try new food. From snack food to dessert, fast food to full meals, there are all kinds of tasty things to try. One of my favorite meals is sundaeguk (순대국), a soup made with sundae which is a pork blood sausage and other pieces of meat. It sounds questionable but it’s actually excellent. You can’t come to Korea without enjoying the BBQ. If you’re tall, just be careful not to burn your legs on the stove. I consider the scar a nice souvenir because I’m weird like that. There are restaurants everywhere, you will not go hungry here. Here are some tips on eating at a restaurant.
- CGV Movie Theater – Especially the cheese popcorn! It’s ridiculously good. I go to the CGV at AK Plaza/Suwon Station because it’s closest to my house (25 minutes walking, 10 minutes by bus). Unlike most theaters in the US, the seats are extremely comfortable and the stadium seating is steep so big heads won’t obscure your view. Another nice thing is the assigned seating. Pick your seat at the counter or kiosk when you get your tickets, it’s all very neat and orderly. Once the film is over, don’t try to exit the way you came in. Everyone exits at the bottom of the theater and comes out in the shopping mall. Buying a ticket was confusing the first time there. So here’s the deal. You can use the giant electronic kiosks along the wall. There’s a button on the touch screen for English. Then choose the film, the time, your seat, and insert your card or cash and wait for your change and ticket to pop out. There is usually an employee standing around to assist people and they generally speak decent English. They do a great job seeking out confused looking waygookin (외국인 or foreigner).
- Public Transportation – This is an area where Korea really shines. I mean wow. Simple to figure out, timely, and inexpensive. I don’t think I’ve waited more than 10 minutes for a bus or subway train. If I want to go to Seoul it’s about $6 round-trip. Go to a convience store buy a T-Money card and put money on it so you don’t have to hassle with tickets. Quick tip: Be aware of where you’re sitting. On the bus there are designated seats for elderly and pregnant women. Avoid sitting there but you can, just be prepared to move. On the subway, there are similarly designated seats. Don’t sit there at all or face the wrath of an irate adjuma or adjusi (older woman or man, respectively).
- Rockstar Moments – The first time a group of Koreans ran over to me, linked arms, and threw up peace signs for an impromptu photo I was so confused. I imagine the photo is hilariously awful. But this has happened many times, at Namsan Tower, while hiking, waiting to buy movie tickets, anywhere. It’s a strange feeling but kind of fun. It’s never been fully explained what the deal is but the general gist is that it’s cool to have a picture with waygookin and/or they don’t see many wherever they are from (maybe they live in the country). If you know why, please leave a comment.
- Parks – Sometimes they’re hidden but Korea is full of parks for relaxing, playing, or working out. I have two parks within 3 minutes walking distance from my apartment with several more a little further away. The one I frequent is next to a library and it features a basketball court, two workout areas, and a dirt court for playing a popular game that looks something like volleyball with your feet. People also play badminton there, which is crazy popular here.
BONUS: Friendly Neighborhood – I’ve gotten to know my local grocers and many of the shop owners near where I live. A lot of them even know my common orders. A lot of them have gone out of their way to help me, especially when I first arrived. It’s a great feeling.
DOUBLE BONUS: WiFi – It’s free on the buses here (called suwonwifi) and many other locations have it too. Wifi is available on the subway too but you’ll need a phone contract or service. I bought an unlocked phone from an expat for 100,000 won and pay 55,000 won per month for phone service (which I never use) and unlimited data (which I always use).
TRIPLE BONUS: Low-Costs – It’s possible to spend only 10,000 won per day on food and not starve. But stuff is cheap, sundaeguk is a fairly big meal and it only costs 5,000 won. Kimchi bokkeumbap (볶음밥, kimchi fried rice) is about 4,000 won and a roll of regular kimbap can be had for 1,000 won. My favorite is chamchi kimbap (참치김밥, tuna kimbap) and that’s 2,000. Or tteokbokki (떡볶이) for 2,000 won. For the first few months, I had a small budget so I got good at finding delicious food that was inexpensive. Buy local brands of toothpaste, soap, etc and you’ll save a ton. Imported brands are pricey. Same with beer. Korean beer isn’t that great so I avoid it and just occasionally buy an import like Heineken, Kona, or Stella.
Have you lived (or traveled) in Korea? What did you like/dislike?