There are so many things that are amazing about Korea which make it an awesome place to live, work and enjoy. These are the things that have kept us (my wife and I) in Korea for the past two and a half years, with no definitive plans on returning home any time soon. These are our opinions about what we have experienced thus far in Korea, and obviously perspectives might differ on some points.
The people. The Korean people are good people. Most experiences thus far with the ‘natives’ have been positive one’s. You might not always understand each others language perfectly, but you’ll always find a way to get the message across (be it through hand gestures and body language, anything goes…). They are a friendly people in general and will help you as much as they can.
The food. To keep it short and simple: hot, spicy, soups, broths, noodles, side dishes, rice, kimchi, raw fish (sometimes beef), beef, pork strips, seafood, and many vegetables. But in general, Korean cuisine is largely based on meats, rice and vegetables. Having a meal together in a group is usually a festive and very social occasion. It is not as formal as what we are used to (sitting down to a set table); you usually sit on the floor (nicely heated in winter!) and everyone shares the side-dishes that are placed all around on the tables (side dishes are usually free and replenished when empty) and depending on the occasion there will be some drinks shared among everyone (usually with a toast at the beginning). We really enjoy having our meals in this manner; it feels very interactive and it helps everyone bond!
Public transportation. This is maybe the greatest thing (IMHO) that Korea has going for it. We can’t stop praising the public transportation, which just works, ALWAYS. You know exactly how long it will take to get from A to B, you know it will be on time, you know the price, you know you’re safe. The cost of public transportation is also very decent in general. Be it the bus, the train, the taxi or subway, there’s always a way; you really don’t need to have your own car! Having this whole transport system work so efficiently makes it a delight to travel and explore Korea in your spare time.
Beautiful scenery (and 4 seasons!). There’s no denying the fact that Korea has some spectacular scenery! It’s no secret that hiking is very popular in Korea; this is due to the various hiking trails with its attractive scenery, waterfalls and interesting geological formations that you’ll most probably encounter. Korea also like to boast about their ‘4 seasons’. Spring time is especially beautiful with trees with cherry blossoms in abundance here…
Festivals. This is something that you can actually put your money on – there will be a festival somewhere in Korea almost every month of the year. Lantern festival, cherry blossom festival, mask dance festival, mud festival, apple festival, lantern festival, butterfly festival, green tea festival, firefly festival and traditional herb festival, just to name A FEW! Koreans love their festivals. Attending festivals in Korea is definitely worth it; there is always something interesting and there’s always a festive atmosphere.
Market day. “The way it always have been, before big grocery stores, department stores and online-shopping”. Walking through a market on market day is quite an experience. You can just imagine that this is the way that business was done long ago… You’ll find fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs, nuts, spices, clothing, all kinds of tools and hardware, and then you also have the ‘wet market’ where you can buy your seafood (live squid, fish, clams, eel etc.) and almost anything that you’ll find in a river. Market day usually starts on the 3rd or 4th day (depending on your city) of the month, and then every 5 days after that.
One plus one and “service”. You’re guaranteed to see this when you go shopping in Korea: 1 + 1. Buy one, get one free. It is really nice and sometimes you get real bargains! When we do shopping (usually for fresh produce) you get ‘one or two more’, followed by the word ‘service’. It’s basically a way of saying ‘thanks, come again next time’.
Amazing work ethic. In Korea things get done, quickly! There is no messing around. When they want to do something they do it. It’s almost like this work ethic is a part of their being; they always seem busy or on their way to do something. Koreans are definitely very efficient in everything they do!
Kimchi and Soju! These two are synonymous with Korea. Kimchi is eaten with almost every meal (there once was almost a national crisis due to a shortage of cabbage caused by unfavourable weather conditions). Soju is the alcoholic drink of choice for the average (usually male) Korean. Both is an acquired taste; you learn to love it or you hate it.
Culture of sharing. This is especially evident during meal times. The side dishes are shared among everyone seated at the table, and usually the main course (be it meat that gets barbecued, cut-up and shared or a broth) is shared. This way of eating makes you ‘feel part’ and helps everyone present bond with each other. Going to a Korean restaurant and sharing a meal together is always a pleasant experience.
Taking off your shoes inside. Usually in Korea at a restaurant or private residence (even in school!) you’ll take off your shoes upon entering. It’s funny and kind of awkward in the beginning, but after a while you’ll hear yourself say: ‘why haven’t I done this earlier?’. It keeps your place clean!
Safety. Korea is a very safe place. You never feel like you have to go to extreme measures to keep safe or ‘hold on to your valuables’… So much so that sometimes we’ve left (or forgot…) our house open, or left our bags somewhere without a worry.
All these factors, and many other more that’s not mentioned here, makes living in Korea as an expat a very enjoyable experience. Korea is a beautiful place and we are lucky to live and experience everything it has to offer.