Wednesday, December 17, 2014

South Korea pros and cons: What I will and won't miss from the Land of the Morning Calm

The end of December will mark four full months since leaving South Korea.

In some ways, it doesn't feel like it's been that long; I actually just had a dream last night that I was teaching a group of my Korean students. Yet in other ways, Korea feels like a lifetime away—almost as if the whole year had been a dream, some alternate reality of sorts. I recently talked about this feeling with friends who also taught in my program when five of us (the "non-renewers") got together for lunch this past Sunday.

We commented that overall, since sliding back into U.S. society has felt as simple as hitting the "play" button again, at times we ask ourselves if Korea actually happened. At least, that's how it feels for me, because it was this completely separate life and hardly a hint of it remains visible today.

My bizarre upside-down Korean life!

This isn't at all how I felt when I returned from Spain, by the way, even though that was a separate life as well. Coming back the second time was not simple; I got to experience the lovely reverse culture shock for the first time in my life. And that's because I was so connected to Spain; I'd put down roots there in a way, and connected with the locals (This was largely possible because I could speak their language!). As a Western country, Spain also wasn't quite so different from home. And I've gone back twice since the first time I left—once for an entire second year there, and most recently for a month to walk the Camino. I still have connections in Spain today, lifetime friends that I know I'll see again.

But teachers in Korea don't teach at the same school for more than five years; they're constantly being moved around—it's just how the system works. So even if I returned to my little town in Korea in a few years for a visit, the entire teaching staff at my elementary school would likely be unrecognizable to me (One co-teacher has already left). Restaurants in Korea are notorious for lasting just a few months before a new business or restaurant takes its place. So the town could also look quite different. And my young students—the people I spent the most time with during the year—well, who knows where they'll be or how I could ever get ahold of them, let alone if they'd even remember me.

So underneath it's still there, but on the surface my year in Mohyeon now feels like I had been living in the mysterious Brigadoon.

South Korea pros and cons: What I won't and will miss from the Land of the Morning Calm

South Korea pros and cons

The other week I was reading the blog of a former English teacher in Korea, and she had written a post for people interested in doing the same. It was so optimistic and encouraging. Do it! She reassured the readers, "No rent! Awesome salary! Awesome life!" it seemed to scream.

Woah, woah, woah. Slow down there, missy! I almost wanted to write a warning label for that post, a disclaimer in the comments: A year in Korea doesn't guarantee sunshine and rainbows. I don't want to discourage anyone from moving there, but readers should know that it will likely be a challenge. There are also most definitely cons to life in Korea, as all societies have, and so I'd like to share my view of the negatives first.

The cons: What I won't miss from South Korea

I'll willingly admit that I started this list angrily back in February, when I was getting sick and tired of the language barrier at work. It had been a huge shock that my co-teachers were changing come the new school term in a week, I basically missed the sixth grade graduation ceremony (because I was unaware of what time it was taking place) and therefore never got to say goodbye to that entire grade, and when two teachers (one an English teacher, the other has the best English speaker in the school) took me out to lunch earlier that day, they only chatted with each other in Korean the whole time. And I get it, but it was still frustrating, especially the way those last three weeks had gone for me.

Looking ahead at that point, the next six months felt like the longest I'd ever laid eyes on in my life. So I opened up Blogger, titled a post "What I won't miss about South Korea," and bitterly started my list! Hah. Some of these are personal bothers, or are a result of my specific situation, whereas others are surely shared by other outsiders who have lived in Korea. Here we go:

Getting pushed

The personal bubble is much smaller in Korea than in the United States, and somehow it's acceptable to push people when you're getting through crowds. Even though I knew that it was just a cultural difference, that didn't stop me from getting innerly pissed off every time I got pushed out in public. Excuse me?! I'd think in my head, The nerve! Hello, I am a living, breathing person! Ug, I will certainly not miss this! I'd tell myself.

Not understanding what anyone's saying / Not being able to communicate with others

You can somewhat imagine the difficulties of a language barrier, as it puts a damper on doing your daily tasks. I never ordered delivery (despite the cheap prices and free delivery) because I couldn't communicate what I'd need to verbally over the phone, and returning something to a store was simply out of the question (which is the reason I kept that pullover that was too big). Every action required planning and preparation, using the wonderful internet to look up your questions ahead of time: how to do x, where can you buy y, how do you say z.

But that's just the surface of it, and I'm not sure how well I can explain how this factor taints the rest of your life—well beyond those aforementioned issues. Work was often really frustrating for me, especially because Koreans are less direct and like to be polite and pleasant. I just wanted to know clear expectations so I could meet them. Am I doing all right, or how could I do better? Are you pleased with me or bothered that you have to deal with me? I was dying for feedback of any type, because I kept fearing that I was under performing, since I didn't have a lot to go from. This caused unwanted (and probably unnecessary)worry and stress, which also shows elements of my personality.

The language barrier also limited my interactions with others day-to-day, which seeped into deeper implications on my mental state and life. I clearly realized this when I felt amazing freedom, happiness and excitement the night Anne, Abby and I went out with three American guys that Anne knew some time near the end of our year. I could talk normally and be understood! They easily picked up subtle jokes and tone! No miscommunications there!

This breath of fresh air was felt again when I returned to Spain after leaving Korea, and of course upon interacting in U.S. society again during the past month and a half. Point being that the language barrier was challenging, in ways I'd never imagined nor previously experienced.

Trash everywhere / Trashcans unable to be found

Ok, so there actually are trashcans in South Korea, but they were often hard to find when out in public places. I often found myself folding up wrappers and storing them in my pocket to throw it out later at home. During the adventures of Mr. Bear you learned about the trash pick-up situation in my town (and most others, I believe), which results in common sights of trash scattered along the streets and sidewalks.

Where the trash goes for my apartment building

This was a tiny detail that was easy to adjust to, but still, in my perfect world, trash containers will be easy to find so that trash isn't on the ground.

Feeling like a burden / Unable to fend for myself

Directly related to the language barrier, I often felt like a huge burden to my co-teachers. I'm an independent self-starter who thrives on doing things on my own, so when that ability was completely taken away, it was uncomfortable and hard to get used to. I quickly learned that feeling like a burden is a crummy feeling, which always came with nasty grey clouds.

Getting the principal's signature on my attendance sheet

Ah! I'm just remembering the joy I felt when I got my final signature EVER on those sheets! I'll explain: Every day I had to record in a binder the number of regular classes I taught that day, and the number of extra classes I'd taught, and then sign the day's box. If the schedule had changed and lowered my regular class numbers, I'd record those in parenthesis. My first co-teacher was quite Type A, and made sure I wrote in that binder every day.

Leaving early, going to the doctor, and vacation time were also recorded in this binder. And at the end of every month, I had to get signatures on that month's page.

First I needed my co-teacher's signature, which was easy enough. Then I had to get the head teacher's signature, which second semester was a third grade teacher down the hall. Halfway done. Next I'd need to get the Vice Principal's signature. She smiles a lot, so I wouldn't be as nervous to ask her as I was the Principal. But as I'll talk about later, social rank is super important in Korean society, so you want to be your "Korean best" in front of your superiors, for lack of a better term.

On our messenger program I knew which line to look at to see if our VP was in her office or not. Oftentimes she'd be gone at meetings for an afternoon, so I'd have to wait another day or two before I could get her signature. Her desk was in the teacher's office, which I only ever went into once a month for her signature. The door was a sliding door with a window, so I could easily peek in to see if she was available, and then knock on the door before I slid it open and entered.

Although I'm 3/4 done at this point, the Principal's signature was the one I truly dreaded getting. Why? The Principal is top of the top, so you'd better do all the correct Korean things in this formal situation. He also didn't speak a lick of English, but would often talk to me in Korean, as if I could understand what he was saying! To top it off, his office did not have a window, and his desk was on the opposite wall of the door.

So I'd knock on the door and try to listen for a reply. But here's the thing: Even if he said something and I could actually hear it, I had no idea what he was saying. He could be saying "I'm on the phone!," "I'm busy!," or "Come in" and I'd never know the difference. So I'd wait a few seconds, then hold my breath as I turned the door handle and began my low, respectful bow. So completing the signatures each month felt so damn triumphant!

Cold buildings in the winter with windows/front doors open

I've previously written about the cold on my "Teaching in Korea advice" post, so I'll copy and paste that here:

As a Wisconsinite, I didn't pay any attention when my co-teachers told me it would be cold in the winter. Psh, I've lived through enough Wisconsin winters; this can't possibly top that. But the thing I didn't realize is that when I'm inside a public building during the winter in Wisconsin, it's heated. But inside Korean schools in the winter? Nope. There's not enough budget to turn on heat to a comfortable temperature.

We started using small space heaters back by our offices in November. I'd never remembered my hands being so cold before! Cold to the touch, always, they were now. I wore leggings every day to school under my pants, left my winter coat on all day (as students and teachers do), and wore arm warmers/glove types of things. And don't get me started on when teachers open the windows. Yes, it's really cold out, everyone is cold, yet for whatever reason teachers often open the windows during the winter for "fresh air" or something.

Just staying warm in the office over winter break!

The front doors on the first floor of the school were often left propped open, as well. Completely unnecessary in my opinion, but open doors and windows in the winter seemed to be a common phenomenon among my Korea teacher friends.

Then one day we had an Open Class with parents, and all of a sudden heat was blasting out of vents in the ceiling. Oh my gosh, they have heat?! I was so surprised. And we're using it to look good when parents come? A few days or a week later, we started being allowed to turn on that same heat for a few hours in the morning, and then it would be off for the rest of the day. It was controlled by the front office downstairs.

I was really dreading the cold midwestern winter awaiting me back home this fall, but it hasn't been bad yet in my opinion. And I think that's largely because when I'm indoors, my hands aren't purple with cold.

Dainty females / Gender roles

I could be somewhat generalizing here, and it's perhaps not the best way to word this phenomenon, but time and time again, the word "dainty" came to mind when I saw how many Korean females acted in various situations. On our planting day at school, the females were instructed to plant the flowers in tiny pots, while the men uprooted and planted the large bushes and heavy trees. Over and over again (and I'll say again, pardon the generalization) it was as if women would not "get down and dirty"; they'd look prim and proper and act quaint and cute.

And then there are the gender roles. The women do the cooking and the cleaning for their husbands and families. My first co-teacher had recently gotten married when I started working there, and she was always looking up recipes to make for dinner, worrying about and not looking forward to the fact that she had to cook dinner every night for her husband. But she must do it, because she's a wife now, she'd tell me. Not to mention the day we had a U.N. book activity in class, and my male co-teacher was only listing male names as possible options for the students to choose from.


Collectivism was one that I could see a lot clearer after spending an entire year in Korea. While America is an individualistic society, Korea—like many Eastern countries—is much more collectivist. This means that generally speaking, what's good for the group is more important than what's good for the individual. This comes to play in family matters, work matters, and also the huge society-as-a-whole picture.

So some examples to illustrate the point: My language exchange partner really wants to travel the world, but he has to take over his dad's company; it's what his parents want so he can't say no (Familial/societal pressures are so much stronger in Korea, by the way). If you want to leave a work dinner early (or even not spend your free time hanging out with your co-workers in the first place!), you don't. You'll attend and stay until every one else leaves, because that's what you do.

My life philosophy is to pursue what you want to do. Well, do what makes you happy while leaving the world in a better state than how you found it. So you can see how it was tough to see children and adults forced into situations, careers, perhaps marriages, and sometimes lives they are unhappy with.

Social pyramid / Fear of disobeying higher ups

For me, Korea's collectivism intertwined with the importance of your place on the social pyramid was a tough one to stand by and watch. While it's great to show respect for people in high roles, they shouldn't be exempt from criticism or be so off-limits to those in lower standings. Except it seems they usually are.

At my school, for example, the Principal is #1 (that's why I'm capitalizing he and my VP throughout the post! Hah). You use the most respectful language with him, bow very low, and don't disagree with him. To put it simply, even if you know your boss/superior should do something a different way, what they say is final, and you'd best not confront them. Also, you can't jump the social ladder when you have a concern. Say I would have had an issue or something at school, I could never go to the Principal directly. First you talk with the co-teacher. Then the co-teacher would perhaps talk with the head teacher. And the head teacher to the Vice Principal, and if necessary, the VP to the Principal.

Perhaps on a related note, once I asked a co-teacher about discipline, wondering if students were ever sent to the Principal's office if they really misbehaved, like we do in the states. No, that's not a practice in Korea. If you had to go to the Principal with a misbehaving student, it would only reflect poorly on yourself, showing that you're not a capable teacher because you needed a higher up's help to handle it. Ah, ok. Never show weakness to higher-ups. Gotcha.

Students had better "B"-have!

At one of my previous jobs I could totally tell my boss if we should change a procedure, I could always share my opinions for improvement, or even tell her if she was wrong about something. At my current job, I also have an awesome boss who admits when he makes mistakes, tells us directly when he wants us to do something differently, and always asks for our opinions and implements our ideas to make things better. So it sucked that that couldn't happen in Korea.

I actually suggested to my co-teacher last February, before the new school year started, the idea of an "English table" at lunch—perhaps one day a week for starters. This idea came about after one lunch period where I stayed and took my time eating after the teachers left our table, and Holly—"the only white girl in school" as her mom put it—ended up sitting next to me. It was so fun talking with that first grader at lunch! And there's never time for fun chit chat during English class with the other grades, so why not get some authentic practice during lunch (while keeping me sane at the same time!)?

My co-teacher said it was a good idea, but then kind of blew it off. She said that she tried to get an "English zone" or something in the school last year, but the VP "denied" it. (My co-teacher always used the word "deny" for a whole slew of situations...). So she didn't think it would fly, and that was something I couldn't just start on my own; it'd need to go up the ladder for permissions, which starts with the co-teacher. So no English lunch table. Le sigh.

Causing scenes when paying for things

This one is definitely only on the list because of some first-hand accounts I witnessed with teachers from my school. So in Korea, in certain situations the oldest person pays for the meal. I say certain, because with my exchange partner, for example, we took turns paying every week. And I think many friends must split the bill too, so it's mostly family or smaller group co-worker dinners perhaps where the eldest pays, and age/relationships of the attendees must also come into play—but I obviously don't know specifics.

So take, for another example of this social norm, the time when my two co-teachers took my ex-boyfriend and I out for dinner and coffee when he visited. My female co-teacher had to move her car or something, so she hadn't arrived yet when we ordered coffee/tea. I pulled out my card to at least offer, since they'd (well, she'd) just paid for dinner, and my male co-teacher said "No, Mrs. Kim will pay for this." She's maybe upper 40s, but my male co-teacher wouldn't even pay just this once even though the cashier was waiting there for payment. Instead we waited and sat down, and left the bill to be paid by Mrs. Kim as soon as she arrived (which felt weird for me). So it's always seemed like it's a deal to break this rule; you should let the eldest pay.

So what's all this fuss about causing scenes? The one that sticks out clearest in my memory was a day during summer break when my co-teacher drove me and the librarian to the nearby university for lunch. They have a $5 (well, 5,000 KRW) school lunch which is awesome, and this was my first time eating there. My co-teacher, Mrs. Kim, was parking her car when I walked in with the librarian. We went up to the register (you pay for a ticket before you get in line), and the librarian said something to the cashier (probably how many we were), and then handed her a bill.

The cashier punched something into the machine, bill still in her hand, when Mrs. Kim entered the building. She saw what was going on and runs over to the register. They're talking in Korean (just reminding those not used to it), but it's clear that they're arguing over payment; Mrs. Kim wanted to pay. So Mrs. Kim pulls out a bill, and they continue this embarrassing scene arguing over who gets to pay while pushing money at the cashier. Finally, Mrs. Kim reaches over behind the counter, takes the librarian's bill out of the cashier's hand and replaces it with her own money, returning the librarian's money to her.

It was just so unbelievable to me how important it was for each of them to not be the one who didn't pay. Sure, people in the states may put up a stink when someone just goes ahead and pays for the whole check when you'd wanted to get it or split it, but that's nothing like the scenes I'd witness in Korea. It just made me feel uncomfortable/embarrassed and felt very ridiculous, which is why they made it to this list.

Emphasis on physical appearance 

I've written about this topic before in my Small face > big face post, so definitely go there if you're looking for something a bit more in depth. But basically, physical appearance is very important in Korea, starting at a young age. There's a small window of what's beautiful, and plastic surgery is common. It's really sad to see younger kids so concerned with looks, and have such a low self esteem about themselves, but it was also heartbreaking to see absolutely gorgeous teachers at my school call themselves ugly and fat. How can they possibly think that?

The "small face" and big eyes, drawn by my young students on their own

Luckily, this had no effect on my personal views about appearance. I don't wear make-up, and that didn't change while living in Korea, surrounded by all of the cosmetic shops. Just not my cup of tea. I prefer my sleep and never shower in the mornings, so my "morning routine" often consisted of lounging in bed until I had five minutes to leave, then quick throwing on some clothes and running out the door, never glancing in a mirror. I think this would horrify most Koreans! So the societal views did affect my feelings about the country: Children and people should be taught to appreciate their differences and non-physical attributes, why couldn't this place support that?

I really didn't like that it was best to look the same, not different. Korea is a very homogenous society, whereas I really appreciate personal and cultural differences. Be yourself!

Being told I have a small face

Related to the physical appearance, I got sick of being told I had a small face. All of the teachers at my school would always comment about my "small face" and how they envied it. They thought their "round" faces ugly and big. You're so lucky, they'd tell me. I hated being compared to them, especially knowing that my presence made them feel worse about themselves. And this wasn't just a first week of school type of thing. I got these comments throughout the entire school year—by teachers and students—even through the final month. On our teacher outing, it was like that's all I was to them: a small face. Don't you want to get to know more about me?

High suicide rates

Many of the topics I've touched on above (collectivism, social hierarchy, importance of physical appearance), coupled with the high societal/family pressures to do well and conform, result in the fact that Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Nearly twice as many men commit suicide than women, though more women attempt suicide than men.

I left Facebook at the start of this month, but while living in Korea I was part of a Facebook group of English teachers in the country. Last month a teacher posted on a Friday, randomly asking for your worst teaching moment—just to share frustrations and whatnot. His was a huge downer though, as you'll see, and I was surprised by the similarly devastating stories that followed by random English teachers. These are just a snippet:

So as you can imagine, it was difficult to live in a society where suicide is so prevalent. So much shame, low self esteem, and strong pressures. I just want to cut out all those negative feelings and fill people with positive thoughts—which I tried to do with my students as best I could.

Being called "Jessica" 

This is going to look so unimportant, putting it right after suicide, but it did irk me. The native English teacher at my school the year before me was Jessica. We are both blonde white girls from Wisconsin. Just like some Americans may think that two Asians look alike, all of the Koreans at my school thought that us two Westerners looked alike.

I was called Jessica multiple times each month, way more often at the beginning of my year, but it tapered down to about once a week throughout the rest of the year. My first two co-teachers accidentally did it a lot at the start, and students—especially the younger ones—called me Jessica all the time. But I was even called Jessica by fellow teachers on our teaching outing... in July. Eleven months after I'd started working there. And you bet, even on my last week of work. Yup. I always kept my cool, but man after that much time it really pissed me off. No offense Jessica, but the name just has a negative feel to it now.

My bus ride into Seoul

I couldn't get into Seoul via metro from my town; I had to take a bus. On good days, the bus ride was an hour and a half. On bad days, it was a 2+ hour ride. But the wait in my town for this bus could be anywhere from 5 - 45 minutes (there wasn't a set schedule, so you never knew how long you'd be waiting). So on days when I'd wait there for 30-40 minutes before getting on, then the 2 hour ride, then taking the metro to wherever I was meeting someone, it took a really long time and lots of effort to be social.

My body didn't enjoy the starting and stopping and curves of the ride either, so I always wore my Sea-bands, but never felt great on the journey. And then doing the whole trip in reverse later that night royally sucked. A Saturday in Seoul was always so draining, but those trips were even more necessary to connect with English speaking friends. 1150 bus, I do not miss you one single bit!

And that's the cons list. So of course I'll counter this fire ball of negativity with some positives. After all, there are two sides to every story.

The pros: What I will miss from South Korea

I don't find myself consciously wishing for any of these things, as I did for vino, tapas and sunshine when I returned from Spain, but they're the smaller details I really appreciated while living in Korea.

My students

First and foremost, I miss my students. But I really can't sit and think about it because it's too depressing, knowing that the chances of seeing any of those kids again is slim to none. 

My kids are cute and smart and funny, and I wish the best for them in life. I hope I made some tiny dent of a difference, but I would prefer if I could somehow follow them and encourage them as they age...

The food / Eating with chopsticks / Sharing dishes

Korean meal at restaurant

Whenever I raved about my Korean school lunches, pretty sure the point I'd get across was that they're amazingly delicious, and that I looked forward to lunch time every single day. I loved eating with chopsticks, and sharing communal dishes too.

Like the other items on this list, while Korean food is delicious, I hadn't actively missed it and sought it out (until meeting up with the Korea girls last Sunday). Maybe I'm too adapting of places or something, jeez. So I must buy some kimchi and make kimchi bokkeumbap!

Living by myself

Korean apartment

I knew I would love living by myself in Korea, and I did! Again, I'm actually not actively missing it—surprisingly. It's been nice living with my parents since I've been back, though I know the next move I make will be best if I can be on my own, without roommates.

Mountains / Hiking

Korea is 70% mountains, which is why they have such dense cities with super tall apartment buildings to fit everyone on the small space of livable land. What this also means is that there is awesome hiking throughout the country. 

Hiking in Seoraksan National Park, South Korea

Hiking in Andong, South Korea

These are the places I hiked during the year. Definitely could have and should have done lots more, but it's better than nothing:
Hiking in Andong, South Korea

Aside from hiking, the mountains provided a beautiful backdrop when looking in any direction—that was really nice on the eyes.

Safety, respect

Korea is much safer and Koreans are more respectful than many other places in the world—including the USA and Spain. The respect part is a built into the Korean culture, and safety naturally follows I think.

I always felt safe walking around my town at any hour, as well as in Seoul. I even left my laptop out at my table in a Starbucks in Seoul when I went to the bathroom—without trying to ask anyone to keep an eye on it! I'd never do that anywhere else.

One night while walking the Camino in Spain, I was talking to the Spanish hostel owner, and she started talking about Korean guests. While much of what she said felt judgmental and a bit racist, like lots of Spanish can sound, she also commented that she liked having Koreans as guests because they're quiet and respectful of the property, whereas many young Spaniards will be loud and party, for example.

Stationery / Artbox

As a fan of snail mail, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the wonderful world of stationery stores in Korea.

Artbox stationery and cards in Korea

There are plentiful, and everything is cute and inexpensive! It's probably best there isn't an Artbox here in Wisconsin, though, because it's too easy to pick up everything in sight!

Paying with credit card

Koreans use their credit cards for nearly everything, no matter how small the purchase amount. And even though you sign an electronic pad when you use the card, Koreans just make a blur with the pen, or use the corner of their credit card to "sign" a squiggle.

I really came to like this method! I felt strange this fall when a cashier in London at Hannah & Herm's local grocery store compared my signature to the signature on my card when checking out. Whoops, those aren't gonna look anything alike! Likewise, in Spain earlier this fall I had to hold back and start paying with cash again at places, since cards aren't used quite as often as they are in Korea.

ATM transfers

Hey there, U.S. banks, why the heck do we still use checks? What I've loved about banking in Spain and Korea were the bank books and ATM transfers. You can put your bank book directly into the ATM, which prints updates of all your purchases whenever you want—so you've always got an accurate print record on hand, in addition to your online statement.

And if you need to transfer money to another person, team or company, you can do so with an instant bank transfer done either from an ATM or online banking. Goodbye checks and waiting for people to cash them!

Well, except not, because now I'm back in check world. Bummer.

Not needing to own a car

Like the two years that I lived in Madrid and my years living in downtown Madison, I loved not needing to own a car in South Korea. While public transportation was loads better in Spain and Korea, I got around on foot, bike, and by bus when I lived in downtown Madison.

Waiting for the metro in Seoul

Right now is the first time in my life (post-age 21) where I would have to use a car to get to downtown bars, since I'm living in a suburb. Every week back in the states I'm being reminded how much drunk driving goes on in Wisconsin, and I don't like it. Since driving and drinking is new to me, I don't drink any alcohol when I drive somewhere, even if I'll be there for several hours. It's been the simplest to stick to, and the only thing I feel safe doing right now.


It was lovely to have the option of going to a jjimjilbang (Korean spa), even if I only went I think a total of four times during my year. How wonderful, to have a warm daylong R&R getaway at your fingertips, for just $10-15—especially in the winter. Walking around naked with everyone else at the spa was also a welcome, liberating feeling.

Another reason I loved jjimjilbangs was because they provided a really cheap option for spending the night in Seoul. Instead of booking at a hostel, you could go out in the city, and later go to a jjimjilbang whenever you wanted to crash (Itaewon Land - 10,000 KRW). Either head right to sleep and enjoy the spas in the morning, or enjoy the saunas and baths before you hit the sack. 

If only there were a jjimjilbang in Madison, that would solve my whole driving and going out dilemma!

Not paying rent

Um, so it was totally awesome to have a job that paid for my rent all year. My friend Abby (who's also living with her parents now) and I joke that not having to pay rent was so great, that we really don't ever want to do it again! Hah

No tipping

Like Spain, Korea is another country where you don't tip for meals and drinks. The price on the menu is exactly what you'll pay. Yup, awesome.

Korean food at restaurant
Delicious food, no tipping—what more could you ask for?

And that's my pros list for Korea! 

All right, your turn. What would you add? Take away? Which items do you agree or disagree with?
• • •


  1. This is like a perfect post, hun. Everything you won't miss is exactly what I'm gritting my teeth to get through for another year. (Some of the students still call me 'Shauntel' because that was the name of the last teacher too.)

    For some reason I had no idea that you'd left here (although I have been in a pretty self-indulgent state for the last 9 months or so). I do hope whatever you end up doing in 2015 is amazing. :)

    1. Thanks Ceri! Yeah, there are some real teeth gritters for sure. Power through and try to spend your time and thoughts on as many of the pros as you can! And eat lots of kimchi jjigae for me, all right?

      By the way, did your contract start in March or in September?

    2. It started in March so I've got another year to go (though I kind of look at it as another 9 months to go because the only real teaching is from March-December, isn't it?)