There are tons of these posts out in the bloggerverse, but I wanted to include my own take. Of course you’ll see blogs talking about the internet here (there’s wifi everywhere – even the subway!), the service here (it’s easy to get your server’s attention and there’s no tipping unless you’re at an expat bar. Plus sometimes free food/ drinks arrive at your table on the house), the cheap booze (Soju and Tall Boys will rule your Friday nights hanging outside a convenience store), and nightlife particular to the city in which the blogger lives. These, however, are the reasons I’m so glad I made the move to Korea:
You’re a novelty
I’m 5’8″ tall and have blue eyes. I was heading in the direction of blonde hair too but trying to get my brown/ gray roots to match is difficult. I finally found a medium/ light brown hair dye at Olive Young (a makeup boutique chain that offers a variety of imported goods) and will probably stick with that for a while. Babies love looking at blue eyes. They’re absolutely fascinated by such a foreign eye shape and probably the fact that I’m so much taller than the average woman here. When we’re out and about elementary school children will often start conversations with us to practice the English they’re learning at their academies (or they’ll run by screaming “HELLO” because they’re scared to stop and talk to a stranger). In taxis we are almost always asked: “Where are you from?” and when we say “Canada” the drivers eyes light up and they repeat our homeland’s name in awe. More often than not people who ask us where we’re from will have an anecdote about their sister’s son going to school in Vancouver, or that time their Doctor visited Niagara Falls and caught a Blue Jays game in Toronto.
That’s right – I live alone in a building right next to the school. Rent is covered by my school as part of my contract, and I pay for my internet ($30/ month) and utilities (usually about $65/ month). My rent back home was through the roof plus Rogers Cable Internet/ TV, although my utilities were about half that. It came with a table, two chairs, and a single bed. Since I plan on staying in Korea for another year for sure, I bought a larger bed (I like to sprawl), I sourced a couch (it was left in the stairwell of my apartment and ended up being a little bit of trouble!), a full length mirror, and some plants to make the vibe homey-er. You can find pretty much anything and everything you might need on KoreaBridge – a network for jobs, blogs, and buy and sell in Korea. I check Koreabridge a few times a week for things I need or for points of interest on what’s going on in Busan.
Cost of Living is Cheaper (but still not cheap)
I try to budget about $150 a week for food, entertainment, transportation, and incidentals. I can do it when I’m not being careful about what I’m eating, but ultimately if I want to cook for myself and have healthy meals with protein my weekly average goes up. I also like to enjoy the sights of Busan and Korea on weekends which drives up my weekly spend. Factor in the desire to see countries outside of Korea and within Asia on my short, pre-designated vacations and the price goes up and up and up. My cell phone bill for 100 minutes and 3 gb of data is $46/ month (less than half of what I was spending with Telus in Toronto). If you have no desire to see the world beyond the town or city in which you’re placed, have no friends with whom to socialize, and are fine eating a ton of cheap rice and veg then you’ll easily save money. If you want to enjoy your time here and make lasting connections you’re going to spend a little more.
You’ll Shop Less!
If you’re a North American body type chances are you’ll save a lot of money by only shopping for essentials. H&M, Zara, Forever21, and the random tee-shirt/ sweater shops will become your best friend when you need new tee-shirts or to replace a pair of basic black pants. Beyond that your shoe selection is extremely limited (you literally can only buy shoes at H&M) if you wear beyond a North American size 7. Your washer will be really hard on your clothes too, so being fashionable is no easy task!
You’re a celebrity at work
When I walk by my students in the street they get so excited to see me outside of Academy and in the wilderness that is my tiny neighbourhood. One parent actually chased me down the street to bring me a cake after a chance encounter where I encouraged her daughter (my student at the time) to speak a little English to my foreigner (and also teacher) friends who were with me. When I walk into school every day I have kids yelling: “KATE TEACHER!” before running up to hug me and say hello. Kids spend so much time at academy because their parents are working so much that it’s encouraged to love them and give them hugs when they want them. It was such a foreign concept to me when I first came to Korea – I wanted no physical contact whatsoever for fear of…”trouble”. My kindergartens especially love to be picked up and thrown around, and whenever we go to the park or on a field trip they feel important holding “Teacher’s” hand.
Nobody will harass you about work after you’ve clocked out
I’ve received ONE text message from my Korean Head Teacher outside of work hours. This was on my birthday when she was busy and forgot to say good-bye and Happy Birthday to me. This is such a wild, bizarre, and wonderful change from the 7:30 AM micro-management calls and texts to the ones I would get at all hours of the late night and morning from employees who couldn’t solve their own problems any given day of the week. Having my evenings, weekends, and even some mornings to myself feels like such a luxury. My stress level was through the roof! Now, my biggest stresser is staying on top of Skyscanner to get the best deal for my flights at New Years. Really – life is good.
You get to see and try new things!
If you were open to it every day could be a new adventure for you. Korea is what we call “Asia-lite”, so it’s an easy transition into life abroad. Beyond all the signs being in Hangul, every day life here could easily be compared to my life while in University in Vancouver. On the weekends, however, getting out and being with nature is so accessible. We have the train station, the subway, and an intercity bus terminal close-by that enable you to explore to your heart’s content! I’ve traveled from Gwacheon to Changwon and between Changwon and Busan. My second weekend in Busan I traveled to Hadong and Jirisan National Park to visit Ssanggyesa Temple. I could read a little Hangul but had no real speaking ability under my belt just yet. Still, we made it through the cherry blossoms, over the green tea fields, and up the mountain to the temple I was so excited to see.
I’ve tried new foods (traditional Korean food at Makgeolli bars isn’t exactly my jam, but I do love going for beef BBQ, bulgogi bibimbap, or the oh so famous Korean Fried Chicken!). There are 2 major sports in the summer (I love going to the baseball games!), and I’m certain there will be a ton of festivals in the winter. I’ve been on a bus tour with incredible student tour guides (now friends!) from Dong-eui University. I’ve sailed into international waters (and was violently seasick) on a yacht will 11 other expat pals. There is always something to do in Busan (even just a trip to the beach is exciting!), and if you get antsy it’s definitely not tough to leave!
Life is Safe
The crime rate in Korea is really low. Especially in this little pocket of Busan I feel exceptionally safe going anywhere at any time. There are buttons around my neighbourhood with a direct line to the Police should you need them. There are various numbers for foreigners in need of a translator or assistance as well. Even on that random glass floor well above Gwangalli Beach I felt safe. The scariest thing that’s happened here is when a Taxi driver took us to the airport instead of the subway station I had shown him and then he took us on a wild goose chance without turning off the meter. Eventually after about 45 minutes he got us to our destination, and because of his major errors refused to let us pay.
Life is easy
On Mondays and Wednesdays I wake up around 9, hit the gym at 9:15, workout for about an hour and a half, then grab a coffee and head home to leisurely get ready for work. On those days I work from 12 PM (starting classes at 12:45 PM) and go through until 7:30 PM with a one hour break. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays I start at 9:30 AM – 7:30 PM, but have a break from 12 – 3 making a lengthy gym trip a no-brainer. My colleagues are awesome, my kids are great, and I’m not stressed out over timelines or egos.
My evenings are to myself. Since I live in a contained area of Busan a little far from any of the downtown areas I tend to stay here on weeknights meaning I meet up with friends for dinner or just enjoy relaxing after work. Because I’ve usually fulfilled my gym duties earlier in the day I’m not stressed to go workout if I’m tired at the end of the day, but if I feel like walking or biking there’s a massive Eco-Park right next door.
There are tons of great places in Hwamyeong for BBQ, Chi-Maek (Chicken and Beer), Kimbap (Korean “sushi” rolls), Sushi, Japanese Izakaya, Cafes, Sandwich Shops, and a plethora of “Italian” restaurants. Everything I need is within a 3 block radius including a train station (to get around practically all of Korea on the “Slow/ Cheap” train) and the subway.
My biggest comparison would be to University life. If you miss the responsibility-free life of University, then come to Korea. Here you get to live like you did in college without papers to write (well, you’ll have some to grade!) and with money this time!
Your friends reaaaaally understand you (Life is good)
Most of your friends here have or will have encountered just about any situation or problem you’re facing. These people understand issues you may be having with friends back home, feelings of loneliness, and will be there for you when tragedy strikes and you just physically can’t be there for the people back home who need you. These awesome people will make your time here exponentially better not only because they understand all of these problems, but also the excitement of being in a new country, experiencing new things, and wanting to see and learn more. You’ll build relationships quickly and will find so many great people with whom you have a ton in common. You’ll always have someone who is ready to take on a new adventure with you (today we’re heading to Gamcheon Cultural Village), make a trip across the country (we’re headed to Seoul for Hallowe’en!), or sit in a corner of your favourite cafe for hours on a Sunday getting work done (ie. blogging/ researching travels) and having the giggles. I often say I’m getting new and terrible wrinkles just from laughing so much.
What are your reasons for wanting to move to Korea? Why are you glad you live here? Let me know in the comments! xoxo