Recently, I noticed a pretty alarming fact. Among the 120-odd published posts on my blog, this post where I rant about how much I don’t like living in Korea, is one of the most popular of all.
Those close to me know that I didn’t always love my time in the country. The culture was often frustrating to navigate as a foreigner and, on the day that I wrote that post, I had reached cracking point and needed to vent.
I look at how people have found my blog on google and see all kinds of crazy keyword searches. Things like “why do K**eans hate me?” and “I hate K***a.” (I’ve censored these here so that google doesn’t think I’m an expert in this field!)
To those who live in Korea and aren’t enjoying their time there, I can sympathise with how you’re feeling. It’s difficult to be so far away from home in a country that you know will never accept you and with friends who you know will leave in a few months.
However, as someone who came out the other end of it, I have something to tell you.
You WILL miss Korea!
You will regret that you spent so much time in Korea, counting down the days to leave.
And, you will wish you’d had more noraebang nights, climbed more mountains, drank more soju and ate more kimchi. Because when you leave, those things won’t be there anymore.
I hate to know that in someone’s time of need, they stumble upon a static opinion of mine on the internet. Nothing that I said in that post was of much help or comfort to anyone- it was just a big long rant which is why I’m writing this post. I had toyed with the idea of removing my post about not liking Korea but that feels like a lie to me. When I wrote that post, I was still a baby blogger and it took heaps of guts to show a not so perfect part of my life.
Instead, I hope that this post can bring a bit of balance to the universe, or at least my humble blog! I have plenty of posts showing you the amazing things to do in Korea but now that I’ve left, I want to share the things that I truly miss about the country.
I have a lot of nostalgia towards Korea and genuinely think of it like my previous home. Of course, it was my home but it is so much more special to me than just a place that I lived in.
So, now that you’ve all read my lengthy introduction, here’s what I miss most about living in South Korea!
Why I Miss Living in Korea
After I left Korea, I found it so difficult to snap out of doing things like bowing and passing my bank card to cashiers with both hands. For me, that was the biggest serving of reverse culture shock that I had. In The UK, we don’t have a defined way to meet people and I think that’s why we’re so awkward sometimes. Some people kiss on both cheeks, others shake hands and some people hug. It’s actually quite difficult to know what to do when you meet a new person for the first time.
In Korea, there’s none of the worry because it’s always a simple bow.
Even when you can’t speak enough of the language, you can still express politeness by following this easy protocol. I bowed everywhere I went in Korea, whether that was the 7/11, the principal’s office or a restaurant.
It’s the understood way to show respect which is non-physical and accepted by everyone. No awkwardness needed!
Korea still has a very communal culture where things are meant to be shared. Since this is so ingrained, people rarely use the word “my” and instead always use the word “our.”
Our school, our house, our country, our food.
It’s impossible to buy an individual packet of crisps since they don’t exist and, if you buy a cake in a coffee shop, you’ll automatically be given 2 forks since its expected that you would share.
Because of this, Korean people are some of the kindest in the world. I can’t even count the number of times that I’ve been fed by random elders on hiking trips, insisting that I have a glass of makgeolli (Korean rice wine) with them or sharing their apple slices with me. (And, of course, there are also the old ladies who would bring me hard boiled eggs and vinegar drinks to enjoy in the Korean bathhouse!)
Koreans went out their way to shower me with kindness while I was a guest in their country. Even though there were things I never enjoyed while I was there, this is something that I never took for granted.
Korea is honestly the land of no longing. Want to eat BBQ at 6am on a Tuesday morning? There are plenty of 24 hour places for that. How about going to a karaoke room on a Sunday afternoon? There are about 5 on every street! Need a new toothbrush? Spare socks? Honey butter ramen? Fake flowers for your date? Convenience stores in Korea have everything under the sun and you’re rarely outwith a 5-minute walk of one. Even when Veeran and I did our rural cycle through Korea, there were no shortage of convenience stores to stop into.
As well as this, Korea has a ridiculously quick postal system, meaning that things you order online are with you the next day at absolutely no premium. And, if you’re not in when it gets delivered, rather than going to a post office to pick it up, your parcel will be left at the nearest shop. Of course, no one will steal it because this is Korea! You can also get every single type of food delivered to your house which comes in a dish with cutlery to use. When you’re finished with it, just leave it outside your door and it *magically* disappears! No dishes required.
WiFi is everywhere, too. It’s so prominent that I never even had a Korean sim card in my first year as I’d never be far from a free network or a coffee shop whose password I’d already punched in.
Honestly, even when I couldn’t speak much Korean, I had very few difficulties in Korea. When I think about the hoops that you need to jump through to get things done in some countries, I miss the easiness of living life in Korea.
This year, I’ve skipped winter for the first time ever. As a sun worshipper, I didn’t think this would affect me as much as it has but it’s been getting me down quite a bit.
Korean’s are super proud of their 4 seasons and even claim to be the only country in the world with them. While I do think this is pretty ridiculous, I must admit that Korea is the only place where I feel like I properly experienced the diversity of the four seasons.
In Scotland, we’re lucky if we get a full week of Summer, Autumn is usually just brown and crispy and winter is just much colder and darker than usual. Maybe it’s because I lived there all my life, but I never got excited about the seasons in Scotland. In Korea, though, I experienced freezing winters, red and crimson autumns, sweltering summers and flower-filled springs. I know that other places in the world have seasons like this but, for me, this was a first. The seasons would change so quickly and I’d always pay attention to them. I knew that in Spring, I wanted to see cherry blossoms and in Autumn, I wanted to go hiking and see the autumn leaves. In Summer, I wanted to drink soju on the beach and in Winter, I wanted to buy a life’s supply of “hot-packs” and go into full hibernation.
Every season brought something new to look forward to.
Fashion and Make up
Koreans are known for taking a lot of pride in their looks. (Sometimes a bit too much pride!) I did often think that this was overkill while I was there- especially with the constant hair combing and staring in mirrors. But, now that I’m gone, I miss seeing all the different styles. Even in the little city that I lived in, I’d see men and women dressed up to the nines every day to go about their daily business. I’d see all the different fashion styles, from the oversized fake glasses to the boxy dresses and trench coats. Getting dressed up is just a way of life in Korea! When I was travelling and surrounded by backpackers wearing the same old denim shorts, I did crave a bit of Korean style inspo in my life!
Of course, I also miss all the make-up and skincare, too. Now that I’m in Thailand, I have access to some of the brands that I love but not all of them. In Korea, I could easily jump out my apartment, head to the underground shopping mall and see what products all the stores had in. Honestly, some of the things in Korea are ridiculously amazing! I loved all the cute packaging but also the fact that these cheap products were a fraction of the price they would be back home.
Cuteness is a big deal in Korea. Almost everything you buy comes with some cute face on the front of it and the most mundane things are given a cutesy makeover- whether that be a sign for roadworks or your bus pass. There’s no limit to who can participate in cute culture either and you’ll even see middle aged men walking around with pink notebooks and bunny rabbits on their socks.
As well as this, acting cute is part of the culture in Korea. Now, this is a double edged sword. Sometimes, I’d see grown woman throwing complete strops and stamping their feet like toddlers so that their boyfriends would think they were cute. That’s the not so nice side to cute culture.
But, on the other side of this, there’s a more subtle and intriguing way to act cute in Korea which I naturally picked up on. From using expressive hand gestures to giggling and talking in a higher pitch of voice, this kind of behaviour is often complimented on and, as a grown woman, it’s not offensive to take a compliment from someone that you’re cute. Lots of my co-workers even said that they were surprised that I’m an older sister because I acted cute like a younger sister should!
In the west, lots of women criticise other women for calling themselves girls (guilty) or letting someone call them cute. It’s pretty suppresive, to be honest. I like being able to show this side of my personality, so why shouldn’t I? A lot of women think they’re being kind by saying these things but, I’d rather just leave people to be how they want to be. Cutesy or not so cutesy.
My wee pumpkins were like my second family in Korea, especially my hagwon kiddos in my first year. Even when I had to teach on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, I loved seeing their wee faces! I miss all the funny slang that they taught me and all the random little pictures and gifts they’d leave on my desk. I could talk all day about how much I miss my kiddos but I’ll leave it at that!
Before I moved to Korea, the only Korean foods I knew about were kimchi and dog meat. When I got there, though, I found out that dog meat is a dying trade and that kimchi is the best thing ever. I was introduced to so many hot, tasty, spicy dishes while I was there and can now confidently say that Korean is my favourite food!
The annoying thing about this, though? It’s sometimes hard to find foods that answer to my cravings since Korean isn’t as popular as other cuisines.
When it’s hot and I want to eat iced spicy noodles, there’s no chance I’m going to find them!
What about minty sesame leaves to eat with pork barbeque?
When it’s cold and I’m feeling sorry for myself, I can’t pig out on cheesy tteokbokki.
Or haejangguk when I’m hungover?
I had an occasion for eating all of these foods and, now that I can’t have them, I always feel their absence.
In my second year in Korea, I dedicated most of my weekends to exploring the country rather than dying of soju hangovers in my bedroom! One of the things that made this really easy, was the amazing public transport system in Korea. Not only could the intercity buses take me anywhere, they were cheap and quick, too. A bus from Seoul to my city, Masan cost 30,000 won (about £20) for a 5-hour journey in a full reclining seat. Even in the city, I could get anywhere using the cheap and intuitive public transport system. And, if I was feeling lazy or out on a night out, a 30-minute taxi ride would cost less than 10,000 won (about £7!) Very few countries in the world have a public transport system quite like it.
Now, I wasn’t the biggest K-Pop afficiondo when I was in Korea. I mean, I couldn’t even name all eight members of Girls Generation so I can’t really say I’m a fan, can I? I was a more passive K-Pop fan who just enjoyed having K-Pop as the soundtrack to my life.
Because it was so normal for me to hear K-Pop, I still get pretty confused between what’s Korean music and what’s not. In my first year, my ex-bf came to visit me and 2NE1 “Come Back Home” was playing in a restaurant. I started telling him how much I loved this new Rihanna song and asked him if he likes it, too?
He was like, em, Nicole, this is obviously not Rihanna. They’re rapping in Korean, not English!
A similar thing happened last week when I was out shopping. I was singing along to a “k-pop” song when I noticed that most of the words were English. I got home and told Veeran about it and sung along to the song, askinghim who it is who sings it again.
It was Ariana Grande.
It feels weird that, now, if I go back to Korea, I won’t know what the popular songs are. I don’t know what everyone’s listening to this winter. Or, what’s blaring out every single phone shop. Is everyone still obsessed with Twice or is there a new kid on the block? I just don’t know anymore!
Even if I’m not the biggest K-Pop fan in the world, I do love the nation’s obsession with it and miss hearing it everywhere I go!
It’s funny for me to look back on these, because, in all honesty, when I was there, I thought I’d miss the easy money the most. That was always my prime motivator for being there but, in hindsight, my experience offered me so much more than just that. I’m glad that I’m finally able to make peace with the time I spent in Korea.
It’s the country that I lived abroad in for the first time. I grew up heaps there and even learned a completely foreign language and alphabet. It’s the first culture, other than my own, that I really got to know and I still don’t know everything about it yet.
When I left, I thought I was leaving for the last ever time and practically ran to Gimpo Airport to get away. I regret my attitude and wish I spent my last day enjoying the things I now miss the most. Maybe I would have had one more bowl of haejangguk or sung one more song in the noraebang. I’d definitely have made that final bow in the airport a good one! I don’t know what I’d do if I was randomly given 24 hours in Korea, but I’d definitely make the most of every one of them.
Let me know: have you lived abroad? What did you miss most after leaving?
Pin it to your Korea Board!