Things I Miss About Living in South Korea

Lately, my blog stats have been blowing up, and it’s all because of this post about things no one tells you before moving to Korea.

Overall, it’s a pretty negative post. That bothers me for a few reasons. First of all, I’m a pretty positive person by nature, and so I don’t love that the internet has latched onto one of the very few negative posts I’ve ever written, and that the opinions in that piece are now being lauded as fact in some forums. Secondly, I feel that people who just come here, read that post and then leave must think I hated living in Korea. And that couldn’t be further from the truth. Lastly, I dislike that in the comments some people feel my blog is now the place to bash Koreans. So let me make myself clear–most of the time, I liked living in Korea. It was really hard, and very different from what I am used to, but it was eye-opening and exciting and provided me a unique opportunity for which I’ll be forever grateful. Now that we’ve been home for a year and a half, I’m starting to really miss certain aspects of our lives there, and so in the spirit of optimism, I wanted to share some of the things that I miss about living in South Korea.

There are moments that don’t fit into any category, where I just feel a sense of longing that can’t really be explained. The other day as I left work, I felt a warm breeze, scented by the Korean restaurant across the street from my office, and I had a deja-vu type moment about Korea. The warm humid air, the smell of Korean food…it just took me back. That’s when I really started thinking about all of the things I miss about life there.

Food

Duck bbq

Duck bbq

Obviously, food. This is probably the biggest one. It’s weird how you can get sick of a cuisine at the time (eating so much of it!) and still miss it so much after its gone. I’ve been able to find most of the things I liked around the Seattle area, but usually for three times the price and I can’t walk there from my house, so it’s just not the same. And my favorite thing (pumpkin duck) is the ONE thing I cannot find anywhere!

Dining out lifestyle

Rabokki

Rabokki

Other than the food itself, I really miss the lifestyle of dining out often, and cooking less! Because it’s so cheap to eat out in Korea, and because groceries were actually weirdly expensive, we ate out a ton in Korea. We’d often meet up with other expats or Korean friends for dinner, or get takeout from the local gimbap shop to eat at home. We had SO MUCH sticker shock at restaurants when we got home. Every restaurant seemed wildly expensive! Now we’re sort of back to our normal routine of eat out once a week.

Not having a car/walking everywhere

Matt and Andrea in South Korea

I never thought I’d say I miss not having a car…but I miss not having a car. Now we’re back to being a two-car family, and so the necessity of walking anywhere, ever, is gone. I love that having no car in Korea forced us to walk everywhere, or take public transportation. It saved us so much money, and kept us in shape. At a minimum, I walked half an hour everyday, to and from school. Honestly, if I walk half an hour a week now it’s been a good week. I don’t miss walking in the pouring rain, or the snow, or when it was horribly hot and humid, but I just miss the overall healthier lifestyle it forced on us!

Subway/metro

korea subway

This isn’t necessarily exclusive to Korea, but I really miss living in a place that had such a good grasp on public transportation. The subway in Seoul is so amazing–clean, efficient, on-time, and connects to every part of the city. Seattle…not so much. We have a bus system, but it can barely stay funded. We’re trying really hard to build a light rail…but that’s not going so well either. Hence why we’re back to being a two-car family.

The Markets

Gwangju market garlic sellers

I loved all the outdoor markets in Korea (and really, all over Asia), and I miss being able to just wander through them at any given time, day or night!

My students!

Andrea with students in Korea

Because they were adorable and funny and they treated me like a celebrity. Who wouldn’t miss that??

Feeling obligated to explore/be a tourist

crowds of tourists at Gyeongbokgung Palace

I saw so much more in a year in Seoul than I have in ten years in Seattle! I went to just about every museum in Seoul, and I’ve  realized recently that I haven’t been to hardly any of Seattle’s museums. Since I knew my time living in close proximity to Seoul was limited, I took advantage of every weekend, trying new museums, restaurants, shopping centers, parks, you name it. I loved exploring Seoul! It was exhausting to just go go go all the time, but it was definitely worth it!

Life with less financial responsibilities/cheaper cost of living

Cait and Cam with won

The biggest thing with this is that we didn’t have to pay for our lodging in Korea. Part of our compensation package for our jobs was a that we could live for free in an apartment the school rented. We saved so much money this way! Plus, utilities were pretty cheap, and overall, public transit, eating out and activities are cheaper in Korea than they are in Seattle.

Ability to travel more

Matt and Andrea on beach in Koh Chang

We had the ability to travel more while living in Korea due to the close proximity to other countries (unlike big, isolated USA!), jobs with more vacation time, and extra money from not having to pay rent! Plane tickets in and out of the US (to anywhere really) are infinitely more expensive than plane tickets in and out of Korea. It’s a huge barrier that stops a lot of Americans from traveling more, or keeps Americans mostly traveling within the US. I want to encourage people to break out of those patterns…and yet, it’s easy to fall into them, because it can be so hard to bite the bullet and just buy an expensive ticket!

Adventure

seoul fortress wall area 5

Life in Korea meant never knowing what was going to happen next! Even when it felt mundane, it was all quite an adventure.

If you’ve ever lived in Korea, what do you miss most?

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14 Responses to “Things I Miss About Living in South Korea”

  1. OSEMWINGIE MAXWELL March 3, 2015 at 3:32 am #

    Thanks for the review, i am planning on moving to korea and get a job as a school teacher, i am of African descent, is there a likelihood of getting this because i see you mentioned a thing about “blatant racism”.would you please advise and let me know if with all the while you were there, you met a male teacher from Africa.

    • Andrea March 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

      I think if you live in Seoul you will be okay — and really, you’ll be okay anywhere. It’s not unsafe, it’s simply just that many Koreans, mostly in small towns, have never had much exposure to anything other than Korean people. People WILL stare at you, and they might make remarks, but you won’t be unsafe. There are a lot of South Africans living in Korea, as well as Americans, Canadians, Kiwis, Brits, etc. of all colors and backgrounds. The closer you are to the hub areas of Seoul, the more diversity you’ll see. Good luck!

  2. Ellie May 26, 2015 at 10:08 pm #

    I miss the peace of mind…I was in a constant state of Namaste while living there. Whereas the USA seems to be filled with daily, dramatic and petty stressful events. I also miss how easy it was to save money there and just the lifestyle in general.

    • Andrea May 27, 2015 at 9:05 am #

      Interesting! I felt the opposite most days, because it was always so crowded and busy — I felt like the busyness (while sometimes exciting) could also really stir up anxiety for me. But you’re right about saving money — it was so much easier not having to pay rent! 🙂

  3. Sol July 21, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    I am going to ask for a scholarship to Korea this august. I am really curious about life in Korea. I am from Paraguay- South America and my native language is spanish! OMG! do you know if Korean people speak spanish?

    • Andrea July 21, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

      Hello, thanks for reading! I think that probably the average Korean person does not speak Spanish, it’s not one of the more commonly studied languages there. Most people I knew there studied English and Chinese. However, I’m sure there are some who can, who knows, maybe there’s even a Spanish-speaking community I don’t know about. Good luck!

  4. Nau October 23, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    I loved visiting Seoul! I’m planning to move there next year, for many of the reasons you listed above. I spent two and a half years living in Tokyo and loved it, the lifestyle is quite similar.
    Nau recently posted…Las Vegas: Whenskiesaregray w/710 Visuals @ the Womb Room 2015-10-03My Profile

    • Andrea October 23, 2015 at 2:05 pm #

      Yes, Seoul is great! You’ll have a blast living there — soak it all up while you’re there, because you’ll miss it when you’re gone 🙂 Can you believe I’ve never been to Tokyo? I am kicking myself for not getting there while living in Korea. I went to Okinawa, but nowhere else in Japan. But it’s definitely on the list!

  5. Paul June 18, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

    Thinking about moving to South Korea…Looking to spend $50.00 – $100.00 per month for a house…where in South Korea is this possible? If you can direct me in the right direction…maybe someone who lives there and has a business in helping me accomplish this.

  6. monisha September 20, 2016 at 4:10 pm #

    I am an Indian and I’m really fascinated by the Korean culture. I’d really like to spend an year or more teaching English in Korea but I’ve heard that they only take teachers from native English speaking countries. Is that true?

  7. Taylor October 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    I just ran across your blog today! I am a student at UW in Seattle this year, and looking to head to South Korea (hopefully) after graduation. Your blog posts have been helpful with little tips and things to keep my eyes open for. Oh! And you mentioned some Korean restaurants in Seattle. Could you give me some recommendations of places you really enjoyed? I know there are a couple in the U-District here, but I was wondering if you had any favorite places (even though they are crazy expensive).

    I just wanted to say that I hope you are doing well, and that even in the moments when you miss S. Korea, your heart doesn’t hurt too much. Thank you for posting!

  8. Francine Quintin April 21, 2017 at 1:12 pm #

    «Korea is a flowered Yin. Her dress a healthy Chi. Her people, tenderhearted.» During the first month of my stay in South Korea, I wrote these words in my travel journal, my first impression of the people I would serve as a Teacher of English Conversation to Adult Learners. Throughout the years I lived in South Korea, my impression remained the same. I lived there for seven years.

  9. Prakriti July 22, 2017 at 3:02 am #

    Hi ,
    I am from Nepal and planning to my masters in south Korea by next year.
    I am going to apply for Masters in film making/directing.
    Can you please tell me, am i making the right choice?
    i want to study in seoul because thats where i want to study.
    should I apply for another country like USA/Australia
    Can we get part time jobs easily if we can converse in korean language?

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