I’m very ready to leave Korea. Not so much because I’ve stopped enjoying my life here but rather because I’ve outgrown the place. Living in Korea has served me well. I’ve gotten what I craved (and then some!) out of my stay, but new adventures and challenges await. I have a clear sense of purpose and direction, and well, it’s time to move on. I’ll savor these last four-ish months as I eagerly and patiently wait for February to roll around so I can dive into the backpacking and freelance life head-on. As a follow-up to the Korean things I’ll miss, today I share the stuff I won’t be yearning for.
1 - Work Culture
One defining element about Korea is their intense working culture. The notion of life-work balance is not something that most entertain because Korea happens to be one of the most overworked, over-stressed and overpressured nations in the world. The vicious cycle starts early with a rigorous academic career that evolves into more rigorous professional careers. In my opinion, the rat race never really seems to end until retirement. From age 3 through 60ish, the wheel ceaselessly turns and turns. Not my cup of tea. Koreans take their schooling and jobs so seriously that calling in sick is looked down upon, even if you’re nearly on your deathbed. Countless times students and teachers alike show up to school sick AF, spreading infections and colds (that I’m prone to catching!) because Korean culture dictates so.
2 - Inconsideration
This one is hard to articulate because I’ve experienced it in very subtle ways. From backhanded compliments (e.g. “You look so nice today!” “You look so beautiful with makeup on”) to more overt ones like a co-worker asking if I could trade my desk chair because hers was very uncomfortable… Um, why would I trade my oh-so-comfy chair for a shit one? The best I can describe it as is an oversight for the wellbeing of others or maybe a lack of manners. It seems to me this behavior tends to be directed mostly to foreigners. Note that this has been my personal experience and isn’t meant to generalize all the people of Korea.
3 - Caffeine fix
The wonderful thing about my life in Korea is that I’m rich enough to buy $5+ coffee multiple times a month, at least once or twice a week. Back in the States, I could only afford Starbucks or other overpriced but oh-so-worth-it coffee twice a month (if that!) with my meager salary, and even then, I still managed to end up deep in credit card debt. I digress. I’m happy to disclose that Korea has afforded me the luxury to be bougie enough to ~treat myself~ for fancy coffee whenever I please. Like a lot of other humans, I crave caffeine the most in the mornings. But! This is a big issue in Korea because Korean cafes (the most abundant) open until 11 am. The reason is that Koreans love coffee shops, not so much to get a caffeine fix early in the morning on their way to work, but rather to spend hours socializing with friends and family. Oh and most Korean cafes close until midnight, while some (but not enough) remain open 24/7.
4 - Traffic lights
I’ll admit this is an inconsequential but irritating matter nonetheless. Stoplights take forever to change. I’m not entirely sure why. I probably would if instead of paying attention to the road every time I’m stuck waiting I didn’t space out and started wondering why the hell minutes (this is definitely an exaggeration, but it feels like an eternity to me!) go by before I’m able to walk again. When the light eventually turns green and I can cross the street, it goes back to red in about 15 seconds regardless of the intersection. Why?! A mystery I’ll never solve.
5 - Wolfing down food
Nearly 18 months have passed and I still despise how fast my coworkers chow down their lunch. It’s unhealthy, leads to overeating + stomachaches, and most importantly, this awful habit interferes with my attempt at mindful eating! It’s a problem for me because the collectivist nature of Korea says that if a group of people has lunch together, they are to leave together. At the same time. No man left behind kind of mentality. This means I gotta keep up with my Co-Teachers to avoid having them stare at me while I attempt to finish everything on my plate so we may all exit the cafeteria together.
6 - Banking
Banking in Korea is a hassle. From opening up an account, to setting up internet banking, to authorizing the use of a card overseas, nothing is easy or convenient. First of all, they are only open M-F until 4 pm. If one needs anything, physically going in is required. No phone calls. In order to make it, leaving work early is necessary. Then don’t even get me started with online banking… Confusing and so extra. The main annoyance stems from seemingly simple transactions, say paying a bill. These are the steps required to do so: Log into account using a special “certificate” password, type in the pin for my debit card, receive a phone call and press the 2 digits appearing on the payment screen, use the numbers on a security card given to me when I opened the account and type in 4 numbers selected at random, re-type certificate password. This ridiculous process is supposed to protect users and banks from fraud. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t but it’s way over-the-top for my taste.
7 - Staff dinners
I’m gonna be happy not to attend these. Not because I don’t like the food or don’t enjoy spending time with my coworkers, but because I have no idea what is being said 98% of the time. This is my problem because I never learned the language, but these dinners can be painful on so many accounts. The affairs usually last 2 hours. I tend to drag out eating to 40 minutes, which means that for nearly an hour and a half I’m staring at the ceiling and desperately trying not to be on my phone. Needless to say, I never succeed and end up in deep instagram or google vortexes.
8 - Exteriors
Korea isn’t one of those places with a defined sense of aesthetic and memorable architecture. Quite on the contrary, it’s drab and lackluster. Commercial and residential buildings alike are ugly. To make matters worse, most structures resemble one another. Condos in one area of the city can’t be distinguished from condos in a different area. Simply put, the architecture in Korea lacks character. Everything blends into everything else.
9 - Effeminate men
I had no preconceptions of Korean men before I moved here. I was nicely surprised to find a staggering amount easy on the eyes but there are also many that are pretty like girls. I’m not talking about a metro kind of look, rather of an aesthetic in which the use of makeup is totally cool. From foundation to lipstick… This is normal here. Couple this with the fact that a lot of Koreans (both women and men) have plastic surgery done, and the final result is odd. I personally prefer men to be, well, manly. I don’t want them to be prettier or more high maintenance than moi, ya feel?
10 - Dating Struggles
Speaking of men or lack thereof, dating in Korea proved to be a disaster. Not because the men were terrible, but because meeting them was a challenge. Surely I am picky. Some of my close friends may even claim my standards are sky-high, to which I say nonsense, but I did choose to live in a small city in which the local Love Gods didn’t appear to be in the mood to grant me any favors. Never have I been more willing to actually be proactive about my singledom only to have nothing happen. Oh, the irony. Dating turned out to be mostly nonexistent because Daegu is a smaller city offering a limited quantity of single dudes. Both the Korean and foreign men seemed more partial to court the local Korean beauties rather than the foreign women. And, neither the Korean or foreign pool of men were impressive or worthy of pursuing.
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