It took me a while to narrow down how I wanted to write about Korea. Informative or Personal? After two years of living in this fast-paced, and ever-changing country it’s become hard to decide on one. So, I’m just going to write what comes to mind at the moment. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll try not to make this too long.
Korea is a very small country. About a 6-7-hour drive from the northern border to the southern sea. Yet, as small as it is, it has a lot to offer. A lot a lot. I’ll try narrowing it down to the top 4 things I most enjoyed about living in Korea. Food, nature, people, and safety.
Food: When I first landed in Korea’s Incheon international airport, I knew nothing about the country, the culture, and its people. All I had vaguely heard of in my then 23 years of existence was its capital, Seoul. Very vaguely and in passing. I had never tasted anything other than Korean BBQ once and didn’t understand the intricate taste of kimchi. During my first 3 months, I struggled to enjoy Korea’s cuisine. My taste palette just wasn’t equipped to appreciate the sourness of it. But after having daily school meals at work I was introduced to many dishes, flavors, and eating styles and sure enough, it wasn’t long before I became irrationally addicted to anything kimchi. Kimchi stew, kimchi fried rice. I even began craving the simplest meal of white rice, kimchi, and seaweed. I dived into their famous chicken saucy bbq styled dish (dakgalbi), Korean pork BBQ (samgyeopsal), and the cheap street food after late nights out. 6 months later I found myself craving Korean cuisine nearly every day. The flavors & spices are so different from any other cuisine. Even Korea’s neighbors China & Japan have vastly different flavors in their cuisine. So food is YES.
Nature: Korea’s landforms are 70% mountainous. Combine that with its 4 seasons in full swing & you got yourself heavy snow mountains in the winter, blooming trees in the spring, luscious green mountains in the summer & a beautiful combination of red, orange, and yellow bunches in every corner of the eye in the autumn. Koreans are big fans of outdoor hiking and its mountains and seasons really create a perfect environment for it. Schools and workgroups usually partake in hikes and such outings during peak season. I got lucky enough to participate in a few outings with my schools (perks of living in the mountains). With that said, I’d recommend visiting in either spring or autumn as the climate is most kind compared to the humid hot summer and the biting cold winter. I experienced highs of 29 ͦC with 100% humidity in the summer to -21 ͦC in the winter. So definitely check your calendars for weather updates before embarking on a trip to Korea.
People: Towards the end of the 2nd year of living in rural Korea I was fortunate to experience some unique interactions with the older locals. In the big cities like Seoul or Busan, you don’t get as many chances to interact with senior Koreans any more than your usual taxi driver experience & local store clerk, considering you don’t speak the language. Of course, wherever you go, youth groups and uni students are out and about more and there’s a lot of opportunities to engage and make friends. But in rural Korea, specifically down South for me, I got to interact with seniors, farmers, young children, and other workers who rarely, if ever; see or interact with someone who is not Korean and/or knows no more than a few simple words and phrases in Korean. I found to be that most of my experiences were not only positive but were also sincere and very inviting. I had locals always interested in where I was from, what I did there, etc. But also experienced a handful of thoughtful little gifts from Randoms and workers who encountered me in different scenarios. Things like receiving shelled peanuts from a lady at the bus terminal or a warm freshly boiled corn on the cob during a bus ride from another lady rider, some fruit from bank clerks who helped me sort out a banking issue, or some interesting candy of sorts from bus drivers or strangers passing by. Despite the overwhelming welcome from most Koreans, it is fair to say that you’ll always get some little nasty stares or individuals with high temperaments and low patience in your journey. But truly the hundreds of ugly stares and neck brakes have nothing against the smiles, hospitality, and kindness of the Korean people. It’s hard to be bitter about anything for too long.
Safety: next is the big important one, safety. Oh, my goodness I can’t stress enough how safe Korea is. I can now say I am unprepared for the rest of the world because Korea’s convenience and safety have just spoiled me rotten. I believe it’s rooted in the culture and tradition of hierarchy and respect of others and elders, but don’t quote me. People in Korea just respect your things. Space, not so much. But your belongings are, for the most part, respected and kept alone. You can leave your belongings in a café or restaurant while you slip out of sight for a bit. I’m talking wallets, phones, laptops, etc. I myself lost my phone twice in Jeonju and got it back the next day as well as once losing my entire purse on an overly drunken night in Busan. I had left the purse outside a bar on a busy Saturday night and 2 hours later upon realizing I was missing my most precious accessory with all my belongings I was able to gain contact with my cellphone (someone answered it) and was reunited with my precious, with every crevice intact. However, I have heard of items getting snatched out of bar counters when unsupervised in Seoul so it’s not always a bulletproof scenario. Just remember to be careful in bigger cities as you would anywhere else. Having grown up in Los Angeles I was blown away by how easy and safe I felt in a foreign country. Especially as a young woman of color. So, carry everything with you in hand. In Korea, you’re A-Okay!
Korea also has its downers, but honestly what country doesn’t. For one, it’s not very cheap. Safety apparently comes with a price and the price is quite near the range of Los Angeles prices with cheaper taxis and cheaper local cuisine. Work culture is also quite heavily demanding and women’s rights are slowly surfacing and becoming an important topic of discourse. It has been rather slow with liberal ideals but it’s completely understandable considering the history of the Korean War. However, despite these issues regarding social freedoms, Korea is still a beautiful country with beautiful people, cuisine, and nature. It’s definitely one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
With all the kimchi.