Alright… here goes. I’ve kept my mouth shut on this one for far too long.
I’ve just moved to my fourth apartment and finished my first few weeks at my third school in Seoul. I’ve been through the freakin’ ringer in this city… I’ve had good days and bad days, but at the end of all these day, I could not be more thankful for the chance I have to live here.
Since moving to Korea, I’ve met some pretty fantastic people, and I’ve done some things that weren’t even on my radar before… (like, most recently, going to the 2018 Winter Olympics – check out that epic adventure here).
I’ve delved back into old passions and am more motivated to write, to capture moments, and to keep a record of all these crazy experiences this expat life has rewarded me with.
I know people make the cliché “Seoul Searching” reference all the time… but that’s truly what this experience has been for me. In a city where no one knew me, I was able to get back to a version of myself that had almost been buried under the mundane expectations of living a “normal” adult life.
South Korea isn’t the end goal for me, but moving to Seoul has without a doubt been the catalyst that allowed me to begin living the life I’ve always dreamed of.
…And on that note, I am sick and freakin’ tired of seeing and hearing people rant on with nothing but negative things to say about this place… saying that Korea sucks… that’s it’s soul sucking… and, my personal favorite, a shit hole.
If you’ve heard or seen statements like these… please take them with a grain of salt and don’t let them deter you from visiting (or moving to) this dynamic, beautiful, and seriously underrated country.
Sure, Korea has its positive and negative aspects, just like ANY other place in the world… but at the end of the day if you say it “sucks” I say, sittttt down. Korea doesn’t suck… and Seoul definitely doesn’t suck… but, hey… you might.
Save for the brutally frigid winters and occasional heavy smog, I truly love living in Seoul. Here’s why.
1. It’s extremely safe.
Seoul’s night life is popping, and, more often than not, late nights out turn in to early mornings. Thankfully, unlike in many cities, you don’t have to be fearful after the sun goes down.
I can (and have) walked home alone at 4am and not been afraid… at all. For reference, I wouldn’t walk a city block by myself after dark back in the states… and I am from a very small North Carolina town.
Obviously, you should be on your guard like you would anywhere else, but I’ve never been fearful here in South Korea.
To prove my point on safety, here’s a super embarrassing story that I’ve never made public… til now. My first few weeks in Korea were like my first few weeks of university… but on steroids. I was in a brand new environment, meeting new people, finding my way… and mistakes were made.
When I first moved to Seoul I vowed that I wasn’t going to go out drinking for a while… not til I found solid friends that I could trust. Well, on my first day in the office, one of my coworkers said, “Hey Kirstie, we’re going to wine buffet next weekend, do you want to join us?”
…I, without even a smidgen of hesitation said, “Yes!”… not because I was worried about missing out or wanted to fit in and impress these people… but because it was a WINE. BUFFET. My favorite two words.
So anyway… flash forward to my second weekend (and ninth day) in the country. My coworkers and I put on our Saturday best and went to said wine buffet. Being the overly competitive person that I am… I took on a bet to try all of the dozen or more wines. After losing said bet (but trying my damn hardest) we stumbled to Itaewon, Seoul’s foreigner district.
Three years later and Itaewon’s winding streets and hills STILL confuse me... but that night, as you can imagine, the drunken maze that is HBC was even more puzzling.
Once there, things went downhill pretty quickly. We for some reason continued to drink, and I promptly lost literally everyone… in a part of town I had NEVER been to before.
I took my phone out of airplane mode… (tragic)… called my ex (also tragic)… and then finally used it for something useful… mapping my way to what I guessed was the main road.
When I finally managed to hail a cab, I realized I didn’t actually have a clue where I was going and, instead of providing a proper address, proceeded to rattle off every English sign I’d seen in my neighborhood in the past 9 days. Bless that poor cabbie who did not have the slightest clue what I was on about.
Eventually, drunk Kirst got the bright idea to call one of my coworkers who was able to direct him. I made it home in one piece, but it was still a pretty dumb night for me.
If I’d been this unaware of my surroundings anywhere else in the world, I’d probably be chopped up in the basement of a warehouse somewhere… but that, thankfully, is a non-issue in Seoul.
Soooo yeah, despite its proximity to a malevolent northern neighbor, South Korea is really safe.
In addition to personal safety, you also generally don’t have to worry about theft.
I’ve had people chase me down the street to return cash that has fallen out of my pocket. When I’m at a café, I frequently leave my laptop and bags unattended to go on a bathroom run. I’ve even known people to lose their wallet and have it returned with the money put in order.
*Again… bad things CAN and DO happen here… just like anywhere else (so don’t be totally off-guard), however, in my experience, safety isn’t as much of an issue in Korea as it is in other places I’ve lived and visited.
2. Most things are incredibly convenient.
Korea is also extremely conveninent.
You can pay your bills at the convenient store, use T-money to pay for the subway, cabs, or whatever things you’re picking up from the convenience store. You can link up to public wifi on the train (or walking down the street), and get just about any food imaginable delivered straight to your door with one of the many mobile delivery apps.
Public transportation is super cheap and, once you get the hang of it, is really simple to navigate. You can get across the city or across the country by hopping on a bus or the train.
Seoul seems massive… but Korea as a whole is actually pretty small. Catch an express train, and you can go from one end to the other in a matter of hours.
Between the beaches of Busan and the green tea fields of Boseong… epic hikes and island getaways… Korea has actually got a lot to offer.
3. I’m never bored.
Speaking of having a lot to offer, you’ll literally never be bored here… unless you yourself are a boring person.
In and around Seoul, there is literally always something happening… even on the most frigid winter weekends.
I personally prefer to hibernate during the winter months, and save my energy (and money) for all the fun spring activities, but despite my frequent seasonal reclusiveness, It’s still nice to have options.
There is always a new café to visit, some sort of sporting event happening, rotating museum exhibitions, concerts, festivals, and so much more. If you’re not comfortable navigating to a festival or special event on your own, there are several facebook groups you can join that frequently organize outings and other trips. A couple of my favorites are Adventure Korea and WINK – (for other travel group suggestions, feel free to contact me).
TRAZY, a Korea-based travel company can also organize private transportation and guided tours to popular destinations like the ski slopes of Pyeongchang, the cherry-blossom lined streets of Jinhae, Jeju Island, or Seoul hot spots like Nami Island and Gyeongbukgung Palace.
4. I don’t pay rent. This one is a no brainer.
One of the best things about teaching abroad in Korea is the benefits provided to foreign teachers… and, for me, the biggest benefit (after getting to work and live in a foreign country) is that my living expenses are fairly low.
Most schools provide either a furnished apartment or a housing stipend for their teachers. In addition to not having to pay rent, I don’t need a car here so I don’t have to worry about those monthly payments either.
I don’t have cable… as a matter or fact, I don’t even have a TV. I don’t have a phone bill, as I usually stick to using public wifi and only charge up my data when I need it.
All of the money I save by not having these expenses goes straight to whatever budget airline has the cheapest flights (and my highly unfortunate student loan payments).
5. My job is really rewarding
…AND KOREAN KIDS ARE FREAKIN’ CUTE.
Let it be known that a lot of the things foreigners in Korea (myself included) complain about are job related… and many of these job related grievances are things that we literally signed up for.
Like I said, I’m guilty of this as well.
The hours are long… the vacation days are few and far between... But, hey, we knew this when we signed our names on the dotted line and faxed our contracts back to our future employers.
Though there are obviously things about the Hagwon (private school) teacher life that I wish I could change, I overall really enjoy my job, and find it to be SO much more rewarding than the other positions I’ve held.
There are so many positive aspects to teaching English and working with young kids here in Korea, and I’m going to focus on those… (but, if you want to hear about the negatives, and other sticky situations, stay tuned for a bit of a Hagwon tell all).
I’ve been at my current school for nearly a month now, and I already love my students so much. They’re still in a bit of an adjustment period as they get acclimated to a new school year, new teachers, and new subjects… but, like with most things, they are soaking it all up like a dozen little sponges, and I couldn’t be more proud.
When it comes to Hagwons, I’d say third time has definitely been the charm. Though the school I just started at has been a lot of work so far, it’s really nice to feel like a teacher again. I was able to decorate my classroom (something my previous school told us NOT to do), I teach my kids all day, and, since I’m their only teacher, feel like I’ll get to know them really well.
I’m only teaching kindergarten, which is my preferred age group, and am finished teaching by 3 p.m. everyday (this is HUGE for me). Though I don’t really have a break from the start of the work day til the end, I finish MUCH earlier than I used to. It’s been SO nice being out of work before the sun goes down, and having time in the evenings to work on things that I want to!
Speaking of working on things that I want to, Korea has opened SO many doors – travel opportunities, creative opportunities, collaboration opportunities… you name it.
There is truly something for EVERYONE in Seoul.
Into writing? There are several foreign magazines always looking for featured writers. Want to do yoga or learn muay thai? There are gyms for that. Want to try your hand at stand-up comedy? Yep. Salsa dancing lessons? You can take those too.
I guess this goes along with my previous point about never being bored. ANYTHING you could want to do or try or learn about, you can find it here.
Of all the opportunities I’ve had, the opportunity to meet such diverse, interesting, and talented people from all over the world is without a doubt at the top.
Here’s a fun little fact that’s actually laughable now… I had never even met a Canadian until I moved to Seoul (I guess they don’t really travel to the south much, eh?). In the past two and a half years I’ve met people from SO many walks of life... and I’m so thankful for all of the laughs, adventures, and late night chats I’ve shared with each one of them.
The growth I’ve made by moving to Seoul is due, in part, to the lessons I’ve learned from each person I’ve crossed paths with – some good lessons, some bad, and all important.
So… yeah… I really like Seoul and am so happy to live here.
If you need a change of pace… want to do something challenging… to try new things, meet new people, and see new places, I’d highly recommend spending at least a year in this city – and teaching abroad is without a doubt the best way to do it. I can’t really speak much for the rest of the country, (though Busan seems pretty tight).
Maybe I’ve just been really lucky… but I have a hard time believing that anyone can truly think Seoul sucks. If you see these statements, again, take them with a grain of salt... then consider this...
A lot of times, by the time someone's teaching contract is finished, they're SO ready to get out of the country... to begin travelling, or to go home... that they're broadcasting the negatives and ignoring all the positive experiences they've undoubtedly had in their time here. Living in Seoul be stressful, you can meet bad people, and you WILL have bad days... but, does that mean the place as a whole sucks?? Absolutely not.
(To said people who spout nothing but hate for their time in Seoul, if your hometown sucks… and that’s why you came to Korea… and then Korea sucks… and then the next place you go sucks… and you hate the next place, etc, etc, etc… Maybeeeee it’s not the location that sucks, after all. Perhaps… the common denominator is… you?).