Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Five Things I Love About Korea

We've been living in Korea for just over 7 months now. Many of the experiences have been amazing, whilst life has of course been interspersed with challenges along the way. Here are five of my favourite things about Korea.

1. The 24-hour culture. Working hours here are long, 9.30am - 6.30pm at a minimum but longer for many people. At home this would mean that you'd miss out on most shopping opportunities, except perhaps on a Thursday (I know in Leeds the shops stay open til around 8pm on Thursdays!). Here, you can go shopping til at least around 10pm in most places, including malls and markets which means you don't have to wait for the weekend. Many places are open well into the early hours of the morning. I actually much prefer to visit these places on weekday evenings as they tend to be a little quieter and less crowded. Au contraire, supermarkets do not open until about 10 or 11 in the morning, so popping to Tesco (or the equivalent) on your way to work isn't really an option.

2. Not knowing the language. Now, I know - this sounds very strange, but hear me out. Whilst I have picked up some Korean and made an effort to at least learn to read the language, I can't understand most of the conversations taking place around me, for example on the subway. At first this felt incredibly alienating and I felt lonely and as if I was stuck in my own head, but as the months have gone on I have come to really appreciate this. As an adult, I have never really been a fan of my own company. My anxiety can come on quite quickly if I am alone with my own thoughts, but since living in Korea I've started to find a real solace in just sitting and mulling things over. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't say that I would want this to always be the case, but for now, and for some rest-bite from the day-to-day madness of the classroom, it can be some very valuable down-time!

3. The food. When I first came here, the thought of eating rice every day was enough to make me shudder. But, as with everything, you soon get used to it! I'm not the most adventurous person when it comes to food but since living here I have been more open to trying new things and have rarely regretted it (with the exception perhaps of octopus. No, no, no.) Some flavours here are a very acquired taste, but I've found so many things I love. Also, the snacks here are excellent. In the early weeks I craved things from home, my favourite crisps and chocolate but now, whilst those things are nice to have as a treat, I have found Korean substitutes I really love. I just wish they made small packets of crisps as my waistline is not thanking me at the moment. Whilst I will be glad to go home and enjoy roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, nice cheese, cous-cous, proper bacon, unsweetened cereal... ok, lots of things... I don't find myself hankering after them too much any more.

4. The public transport. Seriously, the UK could learn a thing or seven from Korea in this regard. Public transport, mainly the subway and busses, are fast, reliable and extremely affordable. To get from one side of Seoul to the other on the subway takes around 45 minutes and costs around £1. Yes, £1. The bus drivers may be a little erratic at times (hold on tight or you will fall over, as I have nearly done so many times) but you'll only have waited a couple of minutes and again, it will barely cost anything. They are available 365 days of the year, and the busses run well into the early hours, with the subway running from around 5am - 11pm most days. #impressive

5. The cost of things generally. Whilst some things can be unexpectedly pricey, the cost of doing things here makes it easy to jam-pack weekends with activities. Alex and I have recently started going to baseball games, and it can cost as little as 12,000 KRW for a ticket (that's £8!) Even the premium seats only set us back £11.50 each. You can eat out for £5 each easily, often making it cheaper to eat out than cook for yourself (I do miss cooking, but with such a tiny kitchen I've been grateful to have the option!). Many things are free too; sports pitches (we love to play badminton after work), museums, exhibitions. Combined with the aforementioned affordable transport, there's really no excuse not to get out and explore the city! 

These are just a few of the things I love about living in Korea. Some of them may be specific to Seoul but, having travelled to other cities around Korea, I would say that most apply across the board.