I moved to Korea over 2 years ago and so far, there has been no looking back. Here are some things that I have learned to do that have made living & teaching in South Korea beyond worthwhile.
1) Eat everything
It goes without saying that Korea is a food mecca in its own right. The rapidly growing awareness and knowledge of Korean food culture feel as if it is on a nonstop incline. Most people are aware of staple dishes such as bibimbap, ramen, & kimchi but really there are thousands of other dishes available here. There are also some dishes that are quite different from what you would find in Western culture. Trust me, while I love Korean food I can say with confidence I have not loved every dish that I have been served. However, even if at first glance or whiff the silkworm pupas or raw wriggling squid seem too off-putting to eat, at least try it. After trying it, you can decide then and there if it is something you like, could try again, or absolutely hate and someone needs to remove from your immediate presence. You may, however, find yourself surprised at some of the foods you end up falling in love with.
2) There is more to Korea than Seoul. Go outside!
Understandably Seoul is the most famous city in Korea and always has something new to offer but there are also so many other interesting places to explore. There’s Jeonju (the supposed OG inventor of bibimbap), Jindo (famous for it’s annual sea parting festival & the cutest Jindo dogs), Busan (the famous seafood & beach destination), Jeju Island (the ‘Hawaii of Korea’) & Daegu (a city which hosts a beautiful lantern festival every year). Those are just to name a few but there are so many places that expats who live in Korea for years just never venture to. Get creative. I have a friend who on weekends just goes to the train/bus station and decides on a random location for that weekend right then and there. It’s so easy with the relatively small size of Korea and the amazing transportation system they offer. So make sure to get out there and explore!
3) Take advantage of Korea’s nightlife
To be honest I knew Korea had a good nightlife scene but I never realized how great it was until I actually got here. I gotta give it up for the Koreans, they go hard and love to test how much soju they can consume in one night. Before you know it, it’s 7 or 8 in the morning. The first reason though why I love going out in Korea, I feel safe. This I think is one of the biggest factors for women and why so many of them go out at night here. That is not to say AT ALL that no terrible things happen here! I want to make that very clear, there are definitely still the regular dangers to watch out for here as you would anywhere else. I will say, however, the biggest distinction for me going out in Korea versus other countries is that if someone approaches me and I say no, more commonly than not they understand and walk away. This versus the mentality when I went out back home where guys thought no meant to get more aggressive. Again, however, this is just from the general viewpoint of myself and friends. Another reason is that it’s a great way to meet native Koreans! In your daily day to day, it’s quite hard to meet Koreans and many are probably hesitant to approach you due to your “foreign-ness” but like anywhere, people get much friendlier with a few drinks in them so make sure to swap some kakao ID’s next time you are out!
4) When in doubt…snacks
This is pretty much my go-to solution for everything in life. Want to make a good impression? Bring snacks. Want to open up more communication with your co-workers? Bring snacks. Think your English camp isn’t exciting enough? Include snacks! Trust me, this really makes a world of a difference.
5) Be bold with your Korean
Lastly and probably my most important piece of advice, speak in Korean! I was and am in the same boat as many foreigners in Korea in that Korean is not my native language. It’s not even my second or third but if I’ve learned anything since being here it is to use Korean at every opportunity. This might seem obvious but you would be surprised how apprehensive you become once your living here to not be that foreigner who sounds like an idiot and pronounces everything incorrectly. To be honest, 90% of the time you will probably sound like an idiot and it will be frustrating when you speak in Korean but then people respond in English but nonetheless, persevere! Your Korean can only get better the more you use it, right? As the saying goes, ‘go big or go home!”