Remembering Korea: 1 Year Later

More and more lately I find myself thinking about my life in Korea. Bits of it come back at the most random moments, and I get a pang of…not quite homesickness, but close to it. I miss life in Korea in many ways. I’m glad to be back, but there will always be that part of me that loved living in a foreign country and making my home there.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

This is the view up the street where I lived. The bakery on the corner, Paris Baguette, was a place I often went after school to grab dinner, and I got to know the owners a little, since their English wasn’t good and my Korean was terrible. But they were very kind to the foreigner who didn’t understand about the tray and the tongs the first time she went in (grab a tray and tongs and then put the things you want on them).


This is near the bakery, down the other way to the Tancheon river. Apparently, you can bike all the way to Seoul on the paths, but I just walked, mostly, probably a dozen or so times the two years I was there. It was usually busy, crowded with walkers and families, or the air was full of clouds of gnats, but the rushing water was always soothing, and once I saw the most unusual black water bird hunched in the middle of the river.


I have a lot of memories of Jukjeon cafe street. I celebrated the first birthday after coming to Korea with a couple of coworkers there. We had sandwiches and awkward silence. But later, I would go to that street often and walk about the old European style streets, looking at the restaurants and checking out the handmade jewelry at the tables. It was most beautiful near Halloween, when decorations would go up and the lights would wind around trees. And let’s not forget the date I had there, where, at the end of the night, I was informed that my date “had nothing else to say” and thus closed the evening.


The walk to school – one I took close to a thousand times – was always a good part of my day. It was twelve minutes long, and unless there was snow to slip on, was a peaceful early morning kind of meditation. This house above, and its near twin next door, fascinated me every time I walked by. Small brick houses, so tiny, with gardens and plants everywhere. Hollyhocks, roses, trailing vines, bleeding hearts, and all other manner of plant life spilled over the fences and were glimpsed between the slats. I watched the growth of the squash on the corner with interest, seeing every day how it had changed. Though we lived in the city (see the skyscraper apartment buildings in the background), there were these pockets of garden and nature that kept me happy.


This is an earlier portion of my walk to work. Down the street and to the left is the road that leads past those houses, but before that, I would pass under the cherry trees, which, in spring, would dust the road with pink sprinkles and create whirls of magic as cars rushed by. It was breathtaking for a first-timer, and magical every year after.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

This was taken at the mall in Jamsil. They had several of these flying unicorn statues, for what reason, I’ve no idea, but it was a fun and unique part of the huge complex. Jamsil was where I did nearly all my clothes shopping, as it had Zara and H&M and I could find clothes to fit my American body. It was also where I spent a lot of time with my two best friends in Korea, hanging out in the coffee shop run by a car designer (or something) with cars on display, or at the Kakao friends store giggling over Apeach cushions, eating huge meals at On the Border, or just wandering around and talking. I was never one for hanging out at malls until I moved to Korea.


And then there was this. This place, and this group of people, and this new hobby, Dungeons and Dragons. I started watching Critical Role while I lived in Korea, and after several months was aching to play, so I posted a question on the local foreigners facebook page, just on a long shot, and lo and behold, there was a group. The rest is history. I got hooked, and had the best time with some of the best people, and had the best food at Lagniappe, a cajun/mexican eatery run by a woman from New Orleans. Seriously, the best food.20160329_121557(1)

And of course, Jeju. The first vacation I took with friends. A week of bliss, riding in a rental car, singing along to Cake by the Ocean five times a day, eating black pork twice in a week because it was so good, cringing through the chocolate museum that reminded me of my grandmother’s closet floor, and laughing with each other in our fabulous suite rooms. Not to mention the oranges, the black beaches, the gardens, the hiking, the rafting, and the multitude of cherry blossoms.


Then there was my life at home in my tiny apartment. I spent most of my time on my laptop, writing, watching TV, or using it to put a bit of nature in the background while I read. I started bullet journaling while in Korea too, hoping to insert a bit of meaning through organization. That bedspread was one of my favorite purchases. Cream colored with dusty purple accents, it was calming and warm and meant home to me. If I could have brought it back to America, I would have.

I still remember the feeling of waking up, looking at the wall next to my bed, at the lightly raised pattern on the wallpaper. I would roll over and sit up, feeling the quilted floral rug next to my bed, over the warped faux-wood flooring that covered the ondol heating. I would meditate like that, sitting in bed with my feet on the rug, anchoring myself to reality, before getting up and walking ten paces to start my coffee maker, a small red two-cup maker, while listening to my friend down the hall grind her coffee. I would sit at my desk and put my makeup on using the small standing mirror, since my bathroom mirror had permanent water stains all over it and no surface to hold my makeup.

I would drink a cup of coffee while putting on makeup, do my hair quickly, since it did so well in Korea, and then pour the rest of my coffee into a thermos to take with me. After the cafe went in at the school, breakfast was there. I would buy two chicken sandwiches, specially made by the dear lady who worked there, previously our office coordinator, and save one for lunch. I would eat the first after Quiet Time at 8:50, while the kids had their snack, and drink my coffee or tea and prepare myself for the day. Strange how those habits still remain so clear.

Yes, writing all this makes me miss Korea terribly. Even the problems. But the problems were very real, and I know my hindsight is rose-colored, and I needed to move on, move out, or make some kind of change. Maybe I could go back one day to teach in a different school. Maybe I could live there for several months on a sabbatical. I don’t know. All I know is that even memories of walking through the grocery aisles while listening to my brother tell me his latest D&D story brings a pang of longing very deep. I can remember so clearly buying tuna and milk tea and those excellent caesar salads and laughing at the antics of his group, thinking one day I might join them (I did).

Korea will remain a bright memory for me. No matter how it ended, no matter what happened there, it was an amazing time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.



The Top Five Reasons I Loved Living in Korea

I lived in Korea for a little over two years. I moved back over the holidays, but I wrote this article when I was still living there, and it still applies.


Here are my top five reasons why I loved living in Korea.


I didn’t grow up in a bad area, all things considered. The only danger I ever really faced was coyotes in the tree line behind my friend’s house. But I was chicken little as a kid, so I never went out walking after dark, even in my safe suburban neighborhood. I didn’t even like walking around in the daytime. And try to get me to stay out after nine, even with a car? Fat chance.

At the risk of scaring my mother out of her wits, I will reveal that I *gasp* often walk home after dark here in Korea. Sometimes quite far. And I’ve never felt unsafe. I’ve never had anyone talk to me or grab me or anything. I see other people walking all the time. Kids, women, dogs, cats… They all walk around until late in the evening (I’ve never been out past 11, so that’s my version of late). Of course there is crime. No country is crime free. And I don’t walk in unlit areas, so I’m still smart about it. But the point is that crime is far less prevalent here. It’s a statistical fact. (Facts people.)

Petty theft is also rare. People leave shoes outside their apartments, leave bikes unattended, leave products outside stores after hours…and they don’t get stolen, for the most part. I’m sure it happens occasionally, but nowhere near as often as back home. I don’t have to hide my cash when I withdraw from an ATM. It’s just safer. (But hey, be smart guys. Still be safe. Never let your guard down. And realize that some areas of Korea are safer than others.)

Cost of Living

On the scale from Numbeo, the major cases where Korea is MORE expensive than the US are in these categories: dairy, produce, coffee, imported clothing, and housing. Those come as no surprise to anyone who’s lived here a few months. I’ve taken to eating less dairy as a whole simply due to expense. And outlet stores are a joke.

The majority of the rest of life is a little cheaper, including important things like meals and transportation. I’m able to save a lot of money here owing to the fact that I don’t have a car and my apartment is so tiny I don’t spend much on utilities. The car thing is huge. Back home a lot of my money went to gas or upkeep every month, so not having that to deal with is a boon.

Even on a relatively small teacher’s salary, I live very comfortably with enough left after saving to travel and buy pretty much whatever I want.


Having no car, aside from saving a lot of money, also means I get to walk everywhere. This might not be a benefit to some people, but I love it. I like the urban feel, the free exercise, the chance to slow down and avoid road rage…and Korea is well adapted to walking. I don’t know what the ratio is between walkers and drivers, but it seems like at least half the population uses shank’s ponies to get around.

I say well adapted; my friend has at least three times lamented “unregulated sidewalks!” when we’ve had to goosestep around people, but at least there are sidewalks everywhere. In my hometown, that’s not the case.

Buses and the subway are superb as well. Again, being from the suburbs, public transport wasn’t something I was familiar with before coming to Asia. I had the impression buses were stanky pits and you had to clutch all your belongings tight. And the subway was some mysterious force in New York that only the very brave ever, well, braved.

But the Korean metro is notable for its ease of use and convenience. With every sign in English and a comprehensive set of lines, you can get anywhere in Seoul with no trouble. If you don’t count elbows in your ribs during rush hour. No white gloves though. Looking at you, Japan.


One of the big draws of Korea for me was the food. I love spicy, flavorful food, growing up on Indian and Mexican, so discovering Korean was an utter delight. It’s becoming more popular in the US, so you might have tried Korean BBQ, with pork belly or beef grilled and dipped in rich sauces. You may have slurped Korean style ramyun or naengmyeon, the strange and refreshing ice noodles. You may have even tried Ddeokbbeoki, the famous street snack of rolled rice cake covered in spicy red sauce. (I may be a little hungry.) Not only that, but western food here is also good. I don’t know what the reason is, whether it’s better quality food itself or better preparation, but even in the fast food chains that have reached Korea (Burger King, McDs, KFC), the food is better. No dry, uninspired burgers here. No limp noodle fries here.

Natural Medicine

I’m very interested in natural medicine and herbalism. I went to the chiropractor weekly at home, but outside of that, it was hard to find places where people accepted the legitimacy of alternative medicine. In America, I feel like it’s still seen as quaint and peculiar, not a fully acceptable solution. But in Asia it’s equally as cool to see an acupuncturist as a doctor, and no one is going to assume you have crystals and tarot cards at home to go along with it. Suction cups are another method of healing here, one that I have yet to try (it’s just way too scary). More and more people are getting into it, which is helping the exposure (Michael Phelps coming to workouts with giant bruises probably did a lot). But in general, the first step when you’re feeling sick is often diet related or a simple remedy than an immediate trip to the doctor for pills.

On a related note, when you do need to see a doctor, it’s super cheap. I’m not sure how the insurance system works or whether there are hidden costs for some people, but with my health insurance provided by my school, I could see a doctor and get medicine for under $10. Even when I got more intensive tests done, it was a fraction of what it would have cost back home. It made getting sick a little less scary and stressful, to be honest.

Processed with VSCO

Now that I’ve lived at home for half a year, these are the things I miss most about Korea. I miss walking everywhere, I miss taking the subway to the mall and spending the day there, shopping and sitting in various cafes, I miss the abundance of Korean food, the succulence of Korean fruit, the cheap medical care, the safety…there’s a lot I don’t miss as well, but it’s nice that I have those good memories. I may never go back to Korea, but it was an amazing journey there.



Guest Post with Lani: Being an INFJ/HSP Abroad

Today I’d like to share a post by my long-time blogger friend Lani of Life, the Universe and Lani. I’ve known her on the web for about five years now, and the more we talk, the more similarities we find.

Lani is also an INFJ/HSP, and she’s an expat living in Asia, as I once was. I asked her if she would share what her experiences were living overseas as an empath, and she graciously accepted.

When did you first discover you were an INFJ/HSP?

I didn’t realize this until I was in my late twenties. I just thought I was prone to crying and therefore too sensitive for my own good. I was living in Portland, Oregon and walking with a freshly returned expat who had been living in Japan. A bus behind us made a noise, like the door opening or a screeching halt and we both jumped. Then we looked at each other and laughed. We were like, “hey, you, too, huh?” and that opened the door to a conversation I never had before about being a highly sensitive person.

Once you found out, how did you react?

Honestly, I felt relief that I wasn’t alone because people have a tendency to stare at you like you’re a freak when you seem to “overreact” to a situation. Of course, my friends always laughed, like the time I thought I was falling off the side of a mountain and screamed. OH, how it echoed.

What are the challenges living overseas as an empathic/sensitive person?

Good question. I don’t know if I can count the ways. I mean, being an HSP in another country looks like you’re simply adapting to another culture or a language barrier. And this is not to say that you aren’t, but I think it gets a little trickier to compartmentalize your overseas experience and being an HSP.

What is the best thing about being an INFJ/HSP?

For me, it’s not being who people expect. Folks have a tendency to think they get you, right? after a particular interaction or two. For example, as an INFJ, people think I’m super social and that I want to go out drinking with them after work. No. Instead, I desperately want to get home, read, and be alone.

Being an HSP doesn’t seem like a good thing at first. It’s taken me a while to appreciate it. If you are quickly moved to tears or “jumpy” folks think you’re weak or a wuss. Okay, I’m projecting. But being HS means that empathizing with people or situations can be done with greater ease. This is no small thing either.

I’ve had many people open up to me throughout my life. Maybe this has to do with trust and non-judgment. But I think it could also be due to the fact that I pay attention, when I ask how you are doing I’m not doing it as a passing greeting and when I see that you are distracted or out of sorts, I gauge the situation. In other words, I’m sensitive to other people and my surroundings, and it has created wonderful connections.

How does your partner respond to your needs?

He’s gotten used to me and how I am. For instance, whenever we’re at a movie theatre, I’ll be bawling my eyes out over the film, and these days he doesn’t even notice that I’m clutching and crumpling up a tissue or that I fished it out of my purse. It’s kind of nice actually. Sometimes you don’t want to be asked if you’re okay. I can’t help it, and yes, I’m fine, thank you.

How does it affect your life? (In writing, teaching, etc.)

Yeah, being an HSP is tough because of the way society perceives tears, sensitivity, and feeling things with great emotion. Non-HSPs assume that you’re a drama queen or that something is wrong with you.

When I’m particularly stressed out as a teacher, I cry in front of my students. I hate it because I don’t want them to think they have gotten to me, but they have, and well, what are you going to do? Sometimes, I walk out. I’m fond of walking away to compose myself. But I don’t even have to be upset to “get the vapors”. I’ll cry if there’s a beautiful video I’m showing them or if I read something touching.

There’s really nothing you can do. I mean, people have tried to give me medicine when I’ve complained about how prone I am to tears because they see it as a bad thing. You have to learn how to handle your feelings regardless if you are sensitive or not. A lot of it for me is accepting who I am, and knowing your self.

What advice do you have for INFJ/HSPs for travel or life abroad?

Regardless of whether you are at home or if you travel, you really do need to figure out what you need and what makes you happy. I like a full fridge, a clean apartment, and some peace and quiet.

I feel like the reason why encounter everyday resistance is to shape us and give us an opportunity to figure ourselves out. Trust me life can become a little bit easier when you do.

It was amazing to read Lani’s answers, because so many of them echo my own. You can read about how I reacted to finding out I was an HSP here.

Thanks Lani!

Korea: Looking Back

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

(Written two weeks after coming home.)

Already I miss Korea. I was desperate to leave the situation I was in, but Korea itself was never the problem.

I miss walking up the uneven sidewalk to the crosswalk, where I always waited. Sometimes I waited with others, sweat pouring off me in the summer humidity.

Sometimes I waited in silence, the special padded silence of falling snow, on those rare mornings it fell.

Sometimes I would run into a coworker. Let’s leave it at that.

I miss the walk; that calm ten to twelve minutes on the way, when the steady rhythm of my feet evened out the day ahead of me. The first wrinkle ironed.

I must have walked that way and back hundreds of times. Almost every day for two years. Sometimes on weekends too. I wonder if I had closed my eyes and felt with my feet if I could have guessed where I stood at any point along the way.

I miss waiting for the 102 bus to Jeongja, where I played D&D. I miss walking to the station in fine weather to the mall to shop, or just to the Kimbap King to get food that didn’t come from a convenience store.


The path to school – one I walked hundreds of times, and every season it changed.


I miss the spring rain of cherry blossoms.

I miss the few friends I made there. I miss the things we said to each other every day.

Funny, how quickly all the problems shrink as they move past. Funny, how everything that seemed heinous seems laughable now. Funny. It’s not.

Korea from this moment looks like my regular life, the one I will return to when I wake up.

I wonder what Korea will look like when I realize I have woken up.

I wonder what Korea will look like ten years from now.

Korea, Korea, land that I miss.