The end is nearing. The beginning of the end of my Korean Sojourn. Well, it’s still almost half a year away but these next five months will pass by in a flash. And I’m already starting to feel a mixture of nostalgia for what I’ll leave behind and exhilaration for what’s to come. During my time in the ROK, I’ve written about my complex relationship with the country, and in the vein of the Love/Hate Series, here are some thoughts on the ~good good~ that I’ll miss when my time is up.
1 - Safety
Living in S. Korea has afforded me the privilege and luxury of experiencing what it must be like to be a man in terms of personal safety—I don’t worry about it at all. Being a woman is harder than a dude in way too many aspects and one of them happens to be that we are often perceived as targets. For instance, going home alone at night (if this involves taking public transportation and/or walking) can prove to be a stressful, if not traumatic ordeal. I’m going to miss the liberating feeling of not really having to think about my immediate safety.
2 - Lifestyle
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: we English teachers living in Korea lead a cushy life. We get paid handsomely; enjoy a decent amount of paid vacation; have very affordable and efficient health insurance; our apartment is paid for (and utilities are cheap), and we receive a big bonus when our contract ends. To boot, our work is not taxing or stressful. This is based on the public program and my very personal experience but this is a decent generalization of the teacher life in Korea, whether teaching publicly or privately.
I’m going to miss how laid-back my lifestyle is here—that I can perform my job and still have plenty of time to dedicate to writing and other personal projects. Above all, I’ll miss being able to save consistently, travel regularly, and afford a lively social life without (too many) money worries. Nowadays, I have a financial peace of mind that I didn’t have when I lived in Chicago.
3 - Workplace Comfort
S. Korea is a ‘no shoes indoors’ kind of country and therefore, employees wear slippers during the workday. Sandals in the summer and warmer, covered up ones for winter. At first, it was kind of funny to me but overtime I’ve grown deeply fond of this cultural quirk. I’ve never been more comfortable! This is a policy that any future employer of mine needs to seriously consider, or I may need to become my own employer so I can establish all the rules *scheming face*.
4 - No tip, no problem!
Tipping isn’t a thing in Korea. No need to figure out tip percentages while eating out, paying for cab fare or while purchasing any other service. It’s great. This allows me to save even more than I otherwise would since I eat out a lot more than I did in the States.
5 - Convenience
In Korea, convenience stores are incredibly popular. I love that these little stores are actually, well, convenient. There is one in almost every corner, and a lot of them remain open 24/7. Back in the States, I’d really have to plan a visit to my local convenience store, Walgreens or CVS, because they weren’t everywhere. But in Daegu, I can reach about three stores within 5 minutes of walking. The other awesome thing about Korean convenience stores is that they're brimming with a culture of their own.
6 - Foodie culture
One amazing thing about this country is that they love to eat as much (if not more) as I do. They are such geeks about eats! It’s amazing. Every time I show my students pictures of food during class, they go crazy. And I often have in-depth conversations with my coworkers about the dishes we ate during the weekend, sharing pictures and all. They get me here. Food matters a lot.
7 - Chic style
Because Korea places a big emphasis on appearances, people generally dress to impress. Whether to go grocery shopping or pick up the children from school, Koreans have impeccable style. I’ve grown quite fond of the retro, minimal and sporty fashions that most seem to don on the daily. It’s been fun to be influenced by the local style and slowly incorporate elements of it into how I dress.
8 - Pacifism
I don’t mean this in regards to the peace treaty the South agreed to keep with North Korea. But rather S. Koreans’ aversion to confrontation of any sorts. You know how in most US establishments, say a restaurant, it wouldn’t be cool to walk in and use their restroom without purchasing anything? You could try, but there’s always a big possibility you will be called out. Well, that’s not the case in Korea. From what I’ve seen it’s not so much that the employees want to avoid confrontation, they seem to not really mind. Just the way it should be.
9 - Delivery Efficiency
I’ve come to love that whenever I order stuff online, it’s nearly free and appears at my doorstep in 2-3 days. No more. In the States, I would order things and almost forgot about them because it nearly takes a week (on average) to receive stuff. Granted, the US is huge compared to tiny SoKo, but still.
10 - Language Gap
Don’t get me wrong, not speaking the language can be a big headache most of the time, but other times, it’s actually lovely. I especially enjoy not having to partake in small talk or mindless work chitchat that doesn’t interest me. I’ve heard that many teacher friends don’t enjoy lunch because they aren’t part of the conversations, but I actually like this a lot. While my coworkers go off about who knows what, I enjoy my meal in silence and get lost in my thoughts, daydreaming with abandon.
Stay tuned for part II—everything I won’t be longing for.
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