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.

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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.



Excerpts from my journal; Spring 2017


Today is the kind of day that makes me thrilled. It’s the kind of feeling that Korea translates as heart-fluttering. Sure, the sky is overcast and a thick grey that puts me in mind of fog porridge, and the temperature dipped down twelve degrees, but apart from all that, today is a wonderful day.

We’ve been very busy lately, to put it mildly, and I haven’t had space in my head to breathe. Everything was pressing down, my pace was quickened, just enough to keep everything taught. Now I can relax, take a step back, and let it out for a bit.

I’m eating better, drawing again, writing more, going out with friends, and feel more inspired. My life is going well, and I realize how the bad things that happen are so transient and don’t last. Stuff doesn’t last. Yeah, I’m happy now.

That could also be because I saw cherry blossoms about to burst today. Hmm, maybe.


Plant our own mound. Start a little molehill and turn it into a mountain. Mmkay.

Of course all my characters are me. I’m still trying to figure myself out. So I keep inserting my mini-me into different situations and seeing what I’ll do. Maybe one day I’ll make sense of me.


Listen, little soft girl. I am not “was just like you as a kid.” I am just like you. I am soft and unsure and wide eyed scared of everything. Only I seem larger than life and bright and confident, leading you here. But it is armor I have crafted, and not even that well. At night it shatters so I have to remake it before morning. Sometimes the light shows through. My light. But that light means the darkness can get in. Anyway what you think of as admirable is only my shoddy imitation of other bright people I have seen. I am like you. I am not like me.

I feel like way too many people idolize kids. I mean, I’ve taught kids. Kids aren’t magical and sweet and wide eyed, breathless with innocence. Kids pick their noses and make fart jokes and think calling the rash on a kid’s hand a brain is clever. Kids are just little drunk people with terrible jokes. 


How to Deal with Homesickness as an Expat

Image result for parks and rec meme ron

Ron Swanson is my hero. – (Photo from Pinterest)

Lately, I’ve been watching Parks and Rec. Which is an amazing show, if we forget Season 1 exists. But there’s a problem I have when I watch it (aside from watching way too much, but that’s everyone’s problem so it’s not special). I start to miss America big time. Which is odd, since most of the show pokes fun at all the problems in America, like obesity and ridiculous food problems and racism and such. And yet, for some mysterious reason, I start to miss home. I miss making fun of those giant drinks you get from Sonic with the most delicious ice. (C’mon now, they really do have the best ice.)

I miss the way things work. Maybe that’s it. I miss understanding everything that’s happening around me. I miss getting the jokes and cracking one-liners about my own culture that other people will get. I miss that. I miss feeling like I belong.

Homesickness comes in waves. It’s not always there. Sometimes I have the opposite of homesickness, where I’m sick of home. Which, then, should also…be…called….homesickness? No, it’s wanderlust. When I get tired of belonging and knowing everything and have to go. Geez y’all. I’m a mess. I’m an expat.

Currently, I miss things like Walmart and Taco Bueno and malls where all the stores have clothes that fit me. What a concept.

I also really miss Hobby Lobby and libraries. Those might be two of the things I miss most as an expat. I can’t craft like I used to because I can’t figure out where to buy stuff. And I miss libraries so much it’s nearly physical pain. Alright, tuck your snarky comments away.

Here are my steps to getting over homesickness.

Don’t Watch Parks and Rec

Or other American shows that might make you remember the best parts of your old life and give you rosy glasses. Everything annoying about your past becomes endearing when you look back on it. Some kind of Retro-Doppler Effect. The future is always rushing towards you screaming anxiety-ridden diatribes about how you should be HUSTLING NOW, and the past is lengthened into happy front-porch rocking goodness.

Get Perspective

And awareness. Knowing that you’re idolizing your old life can help in getting perspective. Snap out of it and try to recall the bad stuff too. The reasons you wanted to leave in the first place. It wasn’t working for you. It might work in the future, but right now you have a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow and experience another culture, so accept where you are. And remember that there is good and bad in every country and every job.

Get Active

Homesickness really hits when I’m not doing anything. I’m moping about at home after a long day at work and remembering how at least when I was at home, my comfort food was only a short drive away. But when I’m actively engaged in my life here, I don’t get as homesick. When I’m writing, eating with friends, playing D&D, or boxing, I’m busy living and not missing the things I don’t have.

Accept an Imbalance

You may never conquer homesickness. Some people might be able to fully leave their old life behind and sink into their new life forever. But for me, and for most of my expat friends, we’ll always have that part of us that loves home. Our native culture will always be an integral part of who we are. Home is home, after all. I still have two distinct images in my head when I think of ‘home.’ Two opposite truths that define me.

That will never change. Whether I go back full time to America or travel the rest of my life, one of my homes will always be in America, with my family. I will always feel the tension of being pulled in two directions. But maybe that means my life will be fuller. That tension will keep me on my toes. It will keep me aware of what I’m feeling and doing, and it will help me keep perspective when I relate to other people and cultures.

I’m okay with that. Sure, it means that when I’m in Korea I miss America terribly, and after two weeks in America on vacation, I’m itching to get back to Korea. I’m okay with that.

As long as I don’t watch Parks and Rec.


Excerpts from my journal; Fall 2015


It’s the end of day two of lessons. I’m so utterly exhausted I can barely type. I’ve been to immigration twice now; yesterday after classes ended and today before my last class. And I still have to go again tomorrow. I don’t know if they’re telling me the truth or not, but they keep saying there are too many people so I have to come back. Now they’ve told me tomorrow morning before 9. So I’m going at 8:30 and oh well if I can’t get done. My co-worker is taking over my classes for the time being. I feel terrible about it but what can I do? I have to go. And I have to go soon or my health check will expire.

On the whole, classes are going as well as can be expected. We’ve had the schedule change twice now. Yesterday that meant that I had to suddenly teach a couple of classes with no preparation, but I muscled through them, and it’s not like the students can tell.

I have to keep reminding myself that they don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, so if I go off lesson plan it’s okay. I will get used to things and be better. Because just the act of teaching is so new, I don’t have room to think of creative things to do with the material. I just lecture and make them do work mostly.

It’s very hard not having internet at home. I could do a lot more if I could work on it here. And hopefully tomorrow I can be done with immigration and have time after classes end.

I found the garbage area. I’m sure I did it wrong, but no one was around to yell at me so I did I anyway. I’ll figure it out or just keep doing it wrong.


Yesterday I had my first accosting. I was in the grocery store line and an elderly lady said hello and welcome to Korea and wasn’t I pretty? All in Korean, of course, so I just smiled and nodded and ignored her. That’s been it so far.


I feel like I’m getting to know the ahjussis who work at the CU downstairs. There’s the older guy who works in the morning most days who speaks very good English and always says “Good morning!” to me. He’s my favorite. He makes counting music when he counts my coins. Like a little song. But he doesn’t smile, so it’s even funnier. Then there are the two slightly younger older guys, maybe late thirties or early forties, who seem either scared of me or just so angry about working there that they border on being rude. Finally, the older guy who may be the owner who asked me if I just got paid when I gave him a fifty. No, sir, I just only have many fifties in my house.