I’ll be completely honest; I did not expect to like South Korea. I’m not much of a city person and I saw this with experience having lived in both London and Dubai. I like aspects of it, the availability of everything and the well-paying jobs; I just prefer to be surrounded by nature. In saying that, I love South Korea.
It took some time to realise the WHY behind my surprise love for a place I might not usually like. Was it the people? Was it the opportunity? It’s the complete package.
My first impression of South Korea:
- You get to enjoy all the seasons: Ridiculously cold in winter and beyond hot in summer with a dash of spring and autumn/fall in between. I’ve arrived at the tail end of winter and I’m sat eating the most delicious dumplings watching the snow on the sidewalk. The beautiful parks are a glimpse into Central Park in New York during winter. Even with it being so cold, the country accommodates it. Everything is heated and you don’t spend hours walking in the freezing cold because public transport is so convenient. In summer, even the underground walkway tunnels are air-conditioned.
- Shopping can be enjoyed by everyone. I feel that some countries have AMAZING shopping on offer but it’s expensive and can be enjoyed by a select few. In Korea, the shopping is incredible and can be enjoyed by everyone, as it is ridiculously affordable. To put it into perspective, before I left South Africa I was on the hunt for a grey sweatshirt/hoodie. I found one for about R750, which is pretty good as far as this item is concerned. Saving my money, I decided against purchasing it. On my first trip up to Seoul, I managed to find the same hoodie for R190 and almost bought two. The skin care surpasses the western more ‘popular’ brands in quality and it’s for a fraction of the price. Not going to lie, I’ve been using it for one week and my skin looks fabulous; might come back here just for that.
- Adventure is there if you want it. Expats usually gravitate towards the cities, mainly Seoul, so it’s strange to think that hikes could be within your grasp. My sister is staying in Cheonan and it’s considered countryside, which is not true in my eyes but when you see Seoul you kinda understand why they came to that decision. About 500m from my sister’s apartment is the most beautiful forest that boasts some awesome views and footpath to be enjoyed by runners or slow-walkers. There is gym equipment along the walk so you can enjoy an active time-out from the city just a short distance from your home. There are also mountains, beaches and islands in South Korea that can be enjoyed if you’re willing to take a lengthy train ride. What I love most is that there are adventurous activities for ALL seasons, something not a lot of South-East Asian countries offer (in my experience).
- There is always something to do. I’m here for a month but I’m sure I’ll only be able to do a fraction on what is on offer. Let’s start with the cafes. There is a sheep café with actual sheep, a racoon café with actual racoons, a café where you can create your own cell phone cases, a café where you can dress up in costumes before sitting down for your coffee, and, they’re all well-priced! These aren’t necessarily tourist spots, more just to be enjoyed by everyone. You can go hiking in the mountains or watch a concert in Seoul, again, all affordable. If you’re a party animal, just hop on a plane and get your ass here. These people are wild – in the best way possible.
- You don’t feel like a tourist. Strange that even with the language barrier, you don’t feel like you stick out like a sore thumb and you’re hardly ever gawked at. There aren’t as many tourists here as in Thailand or Cambodia, you feel like part of the country and you don’t have to deal with the mass tourist groups or the backpackers. I sound old as hell, but at 28, I can safely say I don’t enjoy that vibe anymore. I just don’t feel like I’m enjoying what the actual country has to offer, just what they want you to see. Also, being puked on by an Australian backpacker has never been an enjoyable past time of mine. I also haven’t spotted an Irish pup yet… that’s always a good sign.
- You can live comfortably. One of the main concerns with being an expat is not being able to enjoy your life because you’re counting your pennies from being underpaid and overworked. In Korea, you’re paid handsomely and you can fully enjoy what’s on offer. Take a weekend trip to the coast? Sure, I can afford that. In South Africa, you save up for months to take a trip anywhere and sometimes years for an international trip. It feels liberating to actually live a life without having minor meltdowns as you suspect you’re going to run out of money before the month is up.
So yes, this place has completely taken me by surprise and I am even considering giving teaching here a go over the next few years. My first impression of South Korea has been an incredibly positive one. It just seems like such a great way of life!
Expect more posts about South Korea over the next few weeks…