Oh, my sweet vegan-friendly chicken nuggets! It’s been over 6 months since I moved to South Korea. I cannot believe it and I’m a little bewildered as to where the time went. I’m one of those die-hard fans of living in the moment and trying to be as present as possible… I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that over here!
It’s a very fast paced lifestyle here in Seoul and it reminds me of London where everyone is heading somewhere! There are few pauses during your day and it’s a constant hum of ‘onto the next’. This can be… exhausting. It can also make the time go incredibly quickly!
The Pros of my life in Korea
I have enough money to do what I want.
This is within reason, but you have a large amount of disposable income here in South Korea as an English teacher. Back home, I’d be constantly worrying if I could get my monthly facial or that moisturizer I wanted. Here… it’s along the lines of “oh, look there’s a new makeup range out – let’s get it!”
To give you an idea of my disposable income ‘bracket’: 10% of my salary goes towards bills. The rest is in my pocket. Travel is another 7%… for the entire month. There’s a massive portion, which is completely at your disposal. It’s an amazing feeling to have… money. Money to save. Money to invest in things you love. Money to invest in… you. It’s fucking amazing.
There is so much to do!
I’m pretty sure you can live in Seoul for a decade and not see everything. This place is amazing in both its diversity and size. It’s massive. I was chatting with my sister on the subway yesterday complaining how long it took to get ANYWHERE in Seoul. I compared it to London where everything is within the hour. She told me that Seoul is just a tad bit bigger… Then I looked on Google Maps and was like, Okie Dokie, I is understanding.
It’s HUGE and there really is something for everyone. You just need to get up and go see it all! The themed cafes and parks are my favourite.
The public transport is AMAZING
I’m not just saying this in terms of zipping around Seoul; there are countless trains and buses going EVERYWHERE! Weekend trips are doable because of the efficient public transportation. It’s also super affordable!
The lack of crime
Please understand that I come from South Africa. I understand that crime still exists in Korea but in South Africa, I can’t even walk on the streets on my own. Well… I could, but I would be risking my safety and I never take that risk. To be able to walk around is just amazing. I love the freedom it gives me. You can also leave your laptop unattended in a cafe to go to the restroom and nobody will steal it. Honestly, the lack of theft here amazes me.
I have a keypad lock on my apartment door so I have to input a code whenever I want to enter. When my boss showed me this, I laughed at the thought of it being in South Africa. He asked why and I mentioned they would hold you at gunpoint or torture you to gain entry into your house. It’s crazy to think how differently I’ve lived in all the countries I’ve lived in.
The cons of living in Korea
The lack of free time
Comparing the schooling system here in Korea to that of my home country is just laughable. I told my 9-year-olds that we finish school at 2 pm in South Africa and they laughed at me. They might finish ONE school at 2 pm, but then they head off to various academies afterwards, often finishing at 10 pm or so. The work of a teacher reflects this if you’re working at a private language institute.
You start relatively early and often finish really late. You work a full kindergarten schedule and then follow that up with various elementary classes. I only have 28 hours of actual teaching time, but I’m at the school doing other work for approximately 43 hours a week. Let me tell you… teaching is far more tiring than office work. Holy shit. I get home and I am finished. Especially at the speed and level of what we’re teaching here. I am teaching my kindergarten kids how to use possessive nouns correctly – apostrophe rules and all! They smash through a textbook every month and playtime is kept to a minimum. It’s a lot more work rather than play… even for a kindergarten teacher.
I have dedicated an entire post to this point. You can read all about my experience with pollution by clicking here.
The outcast feel
You can expect this whenever you’re in another country where you stand out by both physical differences and language barriers. I’ve lived and visited many countries and I’ve never felt as isolated as I have here in Korea. Expats (that aren’t from other Asian countries) make up approximately 1% of the population, so it’s completely understandable. I still often get gawked at and observed as a different species. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me. However, when I go off on my own and visit a park or café, it can get quite bothersome getting approached or commented on.
I will always initially respond with a smile and only move off if it gets really uncomfortable. I welcome curiosity, but sometimes it gets sexual very quickly as they simply want to gawk at a foreigner. That, I’m not OK with.
The obsession with beauty and group mentality
I celebrate those who wish to better themselves through makeup and enhancements – if it’s within reason. Self-love starts from within but after all the conditioning that has been forced on us since birth, it’s forgivable to assume beauty is a one size fits all. Here, it’s uniform to another level. There are groups of friends that dress exactly alike down to the lipstick shade. They’re fearful of looking different or being excluded from the group.
You’ve heard the racist statement of ‘all Asians look alike’. I don’t agree with it because when you actually come to an Asian country you realize how beautifully individual their features are. In Korea, they strive to look a particular way. The same hairstyle, make up routine, the same pair of trainers, same way of dressing and so on… It’s so uniform that when you see someone dressing differently, they stand out SO MUCH.
All in all, I am still really enjoying my time here and I’m looking forward to branching out of Seoul and exploring more of this beautiful country and its people. I’ve been here for 6 months, but I feel like you’d need a few years to really grasp all of South Korea.
I’ve got so much content in the works for explaining more on what my life is like here. There is so much to share but my free time is limited… so patience is needed from both you and I! Ha!