After spending one year teaching and living in the land of the morning calm, South Korea definitely won over my heart.
With lively festivals held every weekend, epic hiking trails (with jaw-dropping views!) scattered across the entire country, colourful temples and palaces oozing with rich history, insane potato chips flavours at 7-Eleven (including banana, crab, coconut, churro, and honey – all delicious, I swear!), the generosity and good-heartedness of the people, some of the liveliest and wildest nightlife I’ve ever experienced, and, of course, mouth-watering streets foods – it’s hard to find reasons to not like this country.
Check out the links below to find out more reasons why I love South Korea so much.
- 50 Things I Love About Living In South Korea: Part One
- 50 Things I Love About Living In South Korea: Part Two
But of course, nothing and nowhere is perfect. Despite it being hard to find reasons to not like South Korea, there were still loads of things that remained odd and perplexing to me, even a year later. Although I became accustomed to most of the country’s many cultural oddities, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily liked or agreed with all of them. And, this is true for any country in the world. Which, whether just visiting, or living long-term, there are those things, those cultural differences, that no matter how hard we try, we just can’t connect with!
Here are 7 reasons why I didn’t always like living in South Korea.
1. Your health is everyone’s business.
Everyone! Everyone in the waiting room at your doctor’s appointment, your coworkers, your students, your neighbour, the owner of your gym, and the cashier at 7-Eleven. While living in Korea, it seemed that I had become a magnet for attracting all sorts of illnesses (lucky me!). And, I was always amazed that the moment I would share any morsel of information about my new ailment, that everyone within a 10 kilometre radius would soon know about it too. The perks of living in rural Korea!
When I went to the doctor’s office with an ear infection, I was treated in a room that served as both the doctor’s actual office as well as the waiting room to see the doctor. A true maximization of space and minimization of privacy! On that day, ten, very nosy patients, heard all about the details of my ear infection and received an intimate (yet, not-so-private) showing of me getting treated for it. Delightful.
2. Aversion to the sun.
Koreans hate the sun. In a country where beauty and appearance is everything, people strive to maintain porcelain-white complexions. And, do so by wearing wide-brimmed visors with long flaps on the sides, carrying umbrellas everywhere they go, wearing long-sleeved clothing (even in the 40°C summer heat), and, going swimming with long-sleeved activewear instead of bathing suits. I’m all for protecting myself from the sun, but I have my limits. You won’t ever catch me in 40°C weather wearing jeans and a long-sleeve shirt. And if you did, you’d probably be horrified (or amazed) by how much sweat my body can produce.
3. Everyone is glued to their phones.
So much so, that busy sidewalks have prohibited signs for cell phone use painted right on them. Seriously, this is a big issue in Korea! Walking and texting can cause some serious injuries! I know this as I have experienced my own fair share of collisions.
And, there is something truly puzzling about being at a cafe or restaurant and seeing everyone glued to their phones – avoiding actual communication with one another. Who knows, maybe they’re texting one another instead?
4. Selfies galore.
Koreans take pictures of everything. Everything! But, one of their favourite subjects for photography is themselves. Anywhere you go, you are bound to find friends and couples with selfie sticks (or a very tired, outstretched arm) performing long and elaborate photoshoots – even when out for a simple coffee at a cafe or meal at a restaurant.
5. Always being noticed.
Anytime I would leave my apartment, I always felt like someone was watching me (and, I’m not talking about the CCTV). Being a foreigner in Korea, you are guaranteed to be noticed all the time.
When I would ride the metro, people would stare at me for an uncomfortable period of time. Making me wonder if I had remains from the snack I just ate smeared across my mouth. When I would make eye contact with my observers, I would always hope they would look away. But, they don’t! It always becomes a painfully weird staring competition. No matter how hard you try to blend in, you will still always stick out like a sore thumb.
Permed-haired, elderly Korean women, that strike fear into everyone who crosses their paths. They will shove you out of their way to get to the front of any line, bring bags filled with stinky fish onto the bus, and glare at you from under their visors while whispering about you to the other ajummas. You must earn their respect and even when (if) you finally do, you will still always feel uneasy in their presence.
7. Garbage problems.
In a country where the people are meticulous about sorting their garbage, I always found it surprising how indifferent people were about littering. Could this be because there are no public trash cans anywhere? While walking through my town, I would always feel sad to see random piles of litter lining the streets. In bigger cities, like Seoul and Busan, public trash cans are just beginning to surface in public spaces like metro stops and in parks. Hopefully, in the coming years, garbage cans will become even more accessible and garbage will go where it belongs.