I’ve just left South Korea after over a year there, which is the longest time I’ve ever spent abroad. It was an experience full of adjectives – exhilarating, confusing, educational, frustrating, amazing – and never boring.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the bittersweetness of my departure, and of all the things I will and won’t miss about living in South Korea. Below, I present my completely random and unordered list.
If you’ve lived or traveled there before, you will probably appreciate this list, and if you haven’t, then stick around, you’ll probably learn something!
What I Will Miss: (other than the friends I’ve made, obvs)
- Kimbap, bibimbap, mondu, galbi, and a few other Korean foods.
- The plethora of food samples at the grocery store. You can seriously get an entire meal from samples offered by ladies in HILAR outfits.
- Not understanding background noise and other inane convos. Having a cell-phone argument with your bf in the seat right next to me? Don’t understand, don’t care.
- Being a teacher. You get mad respect, and going back to lowly backpacker status somehow isn’t quite as appealing!
- Easy Asian travel. While I was in Korea, I got to travel to Mongolia, Japan, and the Philippines… sans jetlag!
- Cheap taxis. Oh so cheap. Though talk about making me lazy!
- Everything and every person in my size. I’m 5’1. That’s not normal in the USA.
- My students. Their smiles, laughs, jokes, and love for all things Angry Birds.
- Bars staying open until 4 am. Well, actually, maybe that’s a good thing.
- Having a washing machine in my apartment. I haven’t had one since I moved out of my parents’ place. Despite the lack of a dryer, an in-apartment washing machine was ohsogreat.
- Never having to be scared that someone is going to kill/rob/attack you. Korea’s SAFE.
- Not paying rent and FIVE weeks of paid vacation. Prior to this experience, I thought paid vacation was some type of myth that adults tell you about to convince you to get real jobs.
- Cheap haircuts. $10 for a 2-hour wash, cut, blow-dry, straighten? Yes, please.
- Not tipping. I worked as a server for a long time, so trust me, I tip 20%, BUT it is really nice not having to.
- The efficiency of the post office, bank, life. If Koreans are one thing, they’re efficient.
- The ability to download movies in less than 10 minutes. Hello, fastest internet in the world!
- Unlimited side dishes at restaurants. Fo’ free.
- Jeju Island – the beautiful volcanic island where I’ve been living. The ocean, the mountain, and beach volleyball!
- Being able to do things just because I’m a foreigner. Nobody ever thinks anything you’re doing is weird. They just see you’re a foreigner and then give you pretty much free rein.
- Not being the worst driver on the road. In the States, I usually am. In Korea, I am normal!
- Jimjilbangs – nakey Korean spas/saunas that are heavenly in the winter time.
- Eating Mickey-D’s and Pizza Hut and chalking it up to homesickness.
What I Won’t Miss:
- People running into me at every turn. While walking. Every. Turn.
- People chewing with their mouth open. This needs no explanation. It’s completely common and acceptable in Korea, and it’s just gross.
- Lack of quality beer. I never thought I would say this. I am not a beer person, by any means. I have drank my fair share of Keystone Light, if that tells you anything. But Korean beer is almost undrinkably bad.
- The inability to communicate. This is not Koreans’ fault, but mine. I didn’t learn Korean as well as I should have, which made everyday life sometimes extraordinarily difficult. I’ve always been able to speak the language when I’ve lived abroad before, and this was definitely a lot harder!
- The lack of desserts and breakfast. (Biscuits and gravy! Ben & Jerry’s!)
- Movie theatres with the only English options being terrible action flicks.
- Getting up at 2 am to watch Michigan football games. It makes for a very strange weekend sleep schedule.
- The complete dearth of good live music. This has nothing to do with Korea, and eveything to do with the fact that I lived on a tiny island. Seoul gets some decent concerts. Jeju, notsomuch.
- Hurry hurry culture. One of the first words I learned in Korean was “bali,” which means “hurry.” The Korean ethos is focused on this concept, and I am excited to relax a little bit.
- The homogeneity. Granted, I grew up in a SMALL town, but even that was diverse compared to Korea. They don’t even drive different colored cars here! And don’t get me started on the food. Ahhh, Mexican, Thai, Indian, Japanese, BBQ, here I come!
- No dryer. It is going to be so exciting to be able to wash my clothes and then have them the same day!
- Waiting for hot water. Turning on a faucet and immediately getting hot water is an under-appreciated luxury.
- Spitting in public. Another one of those things that is okay there and shouldn’t be.
- The grocery store. I am stoked to be able to navigate a grocery store without a GPS. And for one without entire aisles devoted to seaweed.
- Scheduling calls with my friends. I’ll be only a few hours behind or ahead of most of my peeps. Just being able to send a text or give a spur-of-the-moment call will be fabulous.
- Driving. See hurry hurry culture, above.
- The way that pets are treated, especially dogs. Eating dogs is part of the culture, I accept that. But if you have a dog as a pet, treat it like one!
- Kimchi. Everybody thinks I don’t like kimchi because it’s too spicy. Nope, not too spicy. Just gross.
- Sharing food. I love the concept behind sharing food. It is warm and fuzzy. BUT, there are some times when you just want to eat what you ordered and not share it with the whole table. Enter, USA.
Phew, I think that’s it. Despite our occasional differences, I will always hold a great respect for Korea and its hardworking people.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work and live there and thank everybody for putting up with my awkward bows and grimacingly awful Korean. 감사합니다! (Kamsahamnida ~ Thank you!)