The unexpected aspects of Korea

We have now reached our 6 month mark in Korea and it seems crazy that time has gone so fast and we are now heading “downhill”. It definitely makes us think that we still have a lot of things we want to do before we leave and I’m sure the last few months will fly. So now that we have been in Korea for a substantial amount of time, it got me thinking about the things we have come to find ‘normal’ in Korea and some things that no one tells you before you come.

These first 5 points were difficult for us to get used to and contributed to our homesickness after we had been here a while.

  1. English is not as wide-spoken as you may think. Unless you are in a very big city, it is unlikely a lot of people can speak English. This shocked us when we first arrived as we live in a city but the majority of people here cannot speak English (making shopping and other day to day activities rather interesting).
  2. People stare! I guess the locals in our area have become accustomed to seeing a large crowd of westerners now. But, if you go to smaller towns, or even when we go walking in our nearby forest, Korean people are not shy to stop and stare at you (literally). You will often hear them whisper the word ‘waygookin’ (meaning foreigner) even in the supermarket.
  3. The culture can be difficult. I truly didn’t realize people could be so different and have such different view before I moved to Korea. There are things that happen every day to remind you how different things are.  Random men (and women too) have often said ‘you’re so beautiful’, ‘you’re so pretty’ on really random occasions and while it may seem nice it makes you uncomfortable and back home would sound like harassment. The view on animals is something I also struggle with here, but that’s a story for another day.
  4. Living situation. Almost everyone lives in high rise apartments in Korea. There is just no space. We are lucky to have a ‘spacious’ apartment but getting used to living in such a big building with a small living space was tough.
  5. The food. Western food is not that easy to come by and it is by no means cheap. I really miss lots of food from home and I have now taken to ordering food online which is great.

Now onto some more light-hearted observations:

  1. Koreans are friendly and kind people. (read here).
  2. The fashion. This is something  I still can’t work out. Koreans have a cool quirky style but there are some things that are strange. Like, sandals or ’slippers’ with socks are not frowned upon and are really common, trainers go with everything, and when we work, we can wear nice comfy slippers. Let’s not forget the couple clothes either! It is not unusual to see couples dressed head-to-toe in matching clothes and spotting these has become a bit of a hobby for Dean and I.
  3. The laws of riding a scooter. People ride scooters without helmets and are not afraid to drive on the pavement. They simply take the most convenient route for themselves.
  4. Loud-mouth fruit trucks. These trucks drive around with fresh produce and a loud speaker advertising their goods. They also tend to park in 1 spot for a while and leave their speaker on repeat. It is very frustrating on a Saturday morning!
  5. Koreans have the quickest restaurant service ever! An array of side dishes will arrive at your table before you have even ordered and your food order takes minutes. Needless to say, socializing over food is not a big thing here.
  6. Sun umbrellas and masks. Sun umbrellas were a life-saver for me in summer. Never pictured myself using one, but I unashamedly did through summer.  People commonly wear masks here too. Jeonju is not a very big city and I really haven’t noticed anything with the air pollution, so I’m really not sure why. 
  7. Move out the way for ajummas!! These little old ladies with their permed hair can be fierce!!
  8. Cellphone culture.  People are addicted to their cellphones here and you will see people of every age playing games and taking selfies.
  9. Seafood is everywhere. Frozen and fresh seafood is all over the place. There are tanks packed to the brim with crabs and fish outside seafood restaurants and it always makes me feel sad when I see this.
  10. Toilet paper. This is a kind of gross one. But most of us here have become used to not flushing your toilet paper when out in public places. How I look forward to western loos again.
  11. The rubbish system is fantastic. While recycling can be a bit of an effort, I really commend Korea for making everyone recycle and sort their waste. Even food waste is separate and goes to animal feed.