After spending some time with a friend in Tokyo this summer, I realized (or was more told) that I’m generally pretty negative about Korea. While everyone vents about work and many people abroad have frustrations with the cultural differences, this should be no excuse for me to show Korea in such an unfavorable light when really, I absolutely love my life here. All too often, I get caught up in the negative aspects here – the language barrier, the politics and work drama, the conformity, the expensive avocados.. you know, the usual.
When I really think about it, my life here is pretty spectacular. So here are a few reasons why life in the ROK absolutely rocks:
1. Living comfortably:
We (teachers in Korea) don’t make a lot, but it’s sure as hell the most disposable income I’ve ever had. Rent is included when you teach English here and so about 90% of your salary is yours to play with. There seems to be endless financial responsibilities back home in The States, which, for the most part, is nonexistent here. This leaves room for traveling more (and it helps that a flight to Thailand can be under $200), saving money, paying off students loans, etc.
2. Free time:
I feel like I am a thousand times more busy here with also a ridiculous amount of free time. I’m not sure why or how that works, but it does. Free time is just spent differently abroad. I know that back home, I would’ve never enrolled in salsa dance or acro yoga classes with the boyfriend. I probably would’ve never traveled to a city 2 hours away to see cherry blossoms, participated in a dragon boat race, or stayed the night at a Buddhist temple.
One of the amazing things about Korea is that there’s a huge ex-pat community. There are countless events going on every weekend, clubs/teams/every type of health-and-wellness groups to join, endless volunteer opportunities, language exchanges, and so on. I’ve mentioned before that Korea also has hundreds of different amazing festivals to attend as well. Having a consistent 9-5ish schedule means that you can plan for these kinds of things and you won’t be serving food until “10pm-12am-ish-depending-on-how-busy-it-is” on Friday nights.
I think when I was comfortable in one place (i.e. home), I didn’t necessarily feel the need to do any of these “new things”. I had my favorite restaurants and bars, my solid group of friends and that’s all I needed. I guess once you’re thrown into unfamiliar territory, you’re more keen on looking for adventure and making new friends, which are both abundant in Korea. It also helps that your average cab ride here can often be an adventure (language barriers + intoxication are usually contributing factors, however).
This kind of branches off from #2, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned a dozen and a half times how much I LOVE festivals – but I’ll say it again people – festivals in Korea are AMAZING. The Busan International Film Festival, Fireworks Festival (my personal favorite), Firefly Festival, Sand Festival, the list goes on (click HERE for a list of some of the biggest festivals in Korea).
4. Korean BBQ:
This will be what I miss the most about Korea. Not just the actual food (which is friggin delicious), but the atmosphere – going with a big group of people, [sometimes] sitting on the floor, plates of delicious meat that you cook to your heart’s desire, the unspoken struggle of trying to cook food and consume it before somebody else swoops it, bottle after bottle after bottle of soju and beer, cheers-ing every 5 minutes, playing Soju games, other delicious sides of food, the loud conversations and shouting across long, smokey tables. It’s the epitome of Korea and I. LOVE. IT. The bonus is that after stuffing yourself with delicious meat and getting properly inebriated, the bill usually comes out to about $15 a person.
5. The Drinking Culture:
What’s better than [legally] sipping sangria at the beach? Walking from bar to bar while simultaneously pre-gaming? Chugging soju on the bus/cab/metro/any mode of transportation? Or taking shots with the principal at your school? Koreans love to drink, I love to drink, so therefore I love Korea. End of story.
(If your Friday night consists of #4 & #5, you can possibly get away with only spending about 20,000 won [$20] the entire evening.)
Okay, so this is pretty much the same as #5, but I seriously love this stuff. Especially in a country where liquor is twice as expensive [as California, anyway], you can’t really go wrong with $1.50 bottles of alcohol. (And here’s 9 more reasons to drink it 😛 )
7. Public Transportation:
I pretty much never want a car again after living in Korea. Aside from saving a sh*t ton (just think about how much you spend on gas, payments, insurance and servicing a month), it’s just easy. You don’t need to have a DD when you go out to the bars. You don’t have to drive around for 30 minutes looking for a parking spot. You don’t “waste time” driving because you can actually be productive (read: nap) during the ride. And if you’re out past the time the metro stops, you can always get a super duper cheap cab home!
Not to mention, Korea’s public transport system is pretty awesome (unless you’re unfortunate enough to have to endure those dreadful buses in Ulsan or other small city).
Okay, I might’ve gotten lucky on this one (although it’s definitely a love-hate relationship I have with my job) but my kids are just the cutest things EVER. It’s sometimes hit or miss, depending on the school, but they weren’t lying – teaching really is rewarding (most of the time, anyway). I mean, just LOOK at them :).
From what I’ve heard and learned first hand, teaching at hagwons (after school academies) or private schools will usually mean you get to know your kids better, while teaching at public schools will give you more “desk warming” (free) time. Both have pros and cons but overall, teaching in Korea is a pretty sweet deal.
9. The Weird & Quirky Things I’ve Mostly Gotten Used To:
There’s a lot of fascinating and interesting things about Korean culture, but most of it is just plain WEIRD. In a mostly good way. The matching “couples outfits” (yes, couples wearing the EXACT same thing – from shoes to shirts to bracelets), the intense and I mean INTENSE hiking gear (NorthFace gloves, walking sticks, windbreakers, etc – mostly worn for casual strolls down the street), the horrible lost-in-translation English on signs and shirts everywhere, the ajummas, the obsession with karaoke-ing everywhere – Korea, you are SO weird. But I love you anyway.
Ajummas are usually elbowing you on the bus or selling leafy greens on the streets, but they also like to get down on a Friday night 😉 (thank you Kasey Barrington for the video!)
10. College Part 2:
In addition to pretty much living in a dorm (all the foreign English teachers at our school live in the same apartment building…and we may or may not drink like we’re 18 years old again), teaching English in Korea has a very college-y vibe to it sometimes. A [little bit] more mature version, anyway. Each city has it’s own little ex-pat community, like I mentioned already, making it relatively easy to meet people and make friends. Because you’re all doing the same thing, you often meet many like-minded people from all around the world, enabling you to learn about different cultures and all kinds of people.
Life in Korea is pretty good – but even better if you’re living in Busan, where there’s a plethora of restaurants, bars, hiking, bike riding, kayaking and shopping. Most people don’t really think about Korea when planning trips or traveling around the world, but it really is a beautiful country with a ton to offer. I have a spot on my floor and an air mattress if you want to visit 😉
For information on teaching English in Korea, click HERE.
For all posts about Korea, click HERE.