In 2011, I was blessed with the opportunity to work in South Korea as an English teacher. I was in a “little village” of only 300,000 called Iksan.
Iksan was a 3 hour bus ride from Seoul, S. Korea’s capital, and a 3 hour train ride from Busan, S. Korea’s 2nd largest metropolis. So I traveled across and back and forth and up and down through Korea.
I took in as much of Korea as I could.
1. The Landscape
Korea is populated in clusters of villages and nothing for vast distances, it seems. The bus rides I took were almost all through the countryside. There are rolling hills and deep valleys that make the landscape breathtaking. And once you’ve made it across the country, there are beautiful coastlines that great you on the other side.
Tip: Take the high speed train from Seoul to Busan. The ride is nice and the views are excellent!
2. The Food!
Korea cuisine was a thing of beauty! Most dishes included some types of rice. Many of their dishes also packed a punch. Many Korean dishes are very spicy.
I frequently ate bibimbap (a boiling bowl of rice, meat, eggs, spices, and vegetables), gimbap (a roll that looks like sushi made with seaweed wrap, rice, and different vegetables or fish), mandu (a dumpling filled with rice or noodles served both fried and steamed), different types of ramyun, even the instant that we have here called ramen noodles, except Korean flavors are a lot stronger and sometime a lot spicier, and their fried chicken. (Not the same as we do it in the USA)
Tip: Learn to read the Korean alphabet and basic food vocabulary so that you can really experience the local foods and read the menus. I learned the hard way when I though I was ordering chicken and ended up with a plate of of chicken feet covered in a red pepper paste! (My friend and I did finish the plate, though)
3. The Ex-Patriot Community
When I arrived in South Korea, I knew NOBODY! That changed the first day I was there. My co-teacher, who was American, took me to a pub where other ex-pats hung out. By the end of the night I had a few Americans, a couple Irish fellows and a Scotsman that were now my buddies. Ex-Pats in South Korea, for the most part, are a welcoming community. They are more than willing to trade local tips for getting around, best places for food, drinks, and entertainment, and will almost always go out of their way to help you get started in S. Korea.
My time in S. Korea wouldn’t have been the same without the friends I made from all over the world. I made friends from England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. By far one o the best parts of Korea!
Tip: Seek out English speaking people as soon as you arrive to get helpful information. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! We all had to figure things out, too, and we know what it’s like to be in a new place.
4. The Korean People
My friend and I made a conscious decision to make friends with Koreans and not just ex-pats. We made a core group of friends that went to the norebang (karaoke rooms)with us. Koreans that went to the movies with us. Koreans that would go out to eat with us. This really let us get a cultural experience that we wouldn’t have had if we were only hanging out with other ex-pats.
Tip: Ask Koreans at a bar if they speak English. Most of the young Koreans do. Even if they don’t they will most likely include you in activities and you will have a night full of charades trying to communicate and it’s refreshing and fun.
5. Being Told I’m Handsome By Complete Strangers
Daily, Koreans would practice their English by telling me that I was handsome. Complete strangers and mostly boys and men. I’m not sure if Koreans like to compliment people and spread joy, or if they really just think Westerners are handsome. I was told that it was because of my light complexion. Koreans value lighter skin. It was definitely a confidence booster to walk around a city and be told I am handsome.
Tip: Take the compliment and say thank you. Maybe even shake hands and thank them again. They are happy to have communicated in English.
– Being a millionaire (I got paid 2.2 million Won per month)
– The historical buildings (I was in a temple built in the year 400!!
– The kids I taught