About a year ago my family was given the chance to live in South Korea for a while. Having two small children, we were skeptical about what our experience there would be. We ended up absolutely loving every bit of it, and I’d like to share some thoughts about our experience and why we loved it so much. When I first found out that we were going to South Korea, my first reaction was to burst into tears as questions filled my mind: How are we going to survive there? Is it a completely different environment? How will we take our two babies there? What will we eat? How will we communicate with people?
As skeptical as I was back then, today, as we leave this chapter behind us, it is very hard to say goodbye to the beautiful country and people of South Korea. If for any reason you get to move to or even just visit South Korea, don’t even second guess it! Go for it!! I’ll tell you why. Here are my 9 observations about living in South Korea.
1. Their subway is huge, and everything is built into the same system: metro, intercity trains, and cargo trains.
In the South Korean subway, they have seats designated specifically for old people, pregnant women, and people with children. While this may be true in most other places, what impressed me the most was that people who don’t fall into any of these three categories, don’t dare sit in those seats! There can be a train full of passengers at rush hour, and if there are no old people, those seats are still empty. All the rest of the seats are fair game. On numerous occasions, I watched people literally race for a seat. It was very amusing to watch. But after you ride on the train once or twice for a couple of hours at a time, you start to get it, and you hurry for the empty seat.
2. Their streets may not be the cleanest, but they are very neat people themselves. Both young and old people are very tidy, and their children have the cutest clothes!
3. Many people told me that the winter in Korea would be cold, so I looked it up, and it didn’t seem too bad at all, maybe in the 30s. Their wind, however, chills you to the bone, and it feels like 20 degrees less than it actually is. Ok, maybe not 20, but it’s very cold! These winds, though, don’t seem to bother the locals at all. They wear their coats, but they are unzipped. My children were bundled up so much that they couldn’t move, while their children walk around with their hats off. They must be used to it.
In the summer, however, especially in July and August, it gets very hot. Most people stay inside because it’s so hot. So if you ever decide to visit Korea, come at the end of September and October or the end of March and April. That’s when the weather is perfect.
4. I will miss Korean food. Unfortunately, I don’t speak or read Korean, and labels on the food in their grocery stores don’t make any sense to me. If I knew what they said, I would have tried it all. I tried what I could. We loved the fish, and octopus, sushi rolls, and bingsu, and choco pies and much much more!! There are also silkworms and other things that I don’t even have a name for that I didn’t find quite as delightful, mildly speaking.
5. Koreans are very prudent. I was continually pleased with the small things they provided for people’s convenience. For example, in restaurants, they always have cute plastic dishes for the little ones. In the public bathrooms there is a tiny chair attached to the wall, for baby to sit while mommy does her business, and they are so amazingly clean that I did not hesitate to put my baby in them. There are also little urinals in women’s bathrooms for little boys who accompany their mothers to the public facility. I once even saw a mirror in a stall, attached to the door so that whilst you’re doing your business, you can delight in your beauty at the same time. Whether you’re in a park or on a hike, there is exercising equipment everywhere. One time, as we were returning from a hike, at the bottom of the hill we discovered a machine with a hose to blow off the dust from our shoes.
6. There are many beautiful and wonderful things to see, including amusement parks, history museums, and Buddhist temples. While I admired many of those things, the most impressive sight was definitely the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, of which I will write in a separate post.
7. I think I will also write a separate post about my daughter’s daycare experience. But in a few words, I was so skeptical about taking her there and now I wish I would have taken her there earlier in our stay. Her teachers became some of her very best friends.
8. Every once in a while I would see a girl walking with a hair roller in her bangs. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, if I hadn’t seen it on several occasions. So that was different.
They take great care of their skin. They have all kinds of beauty salons and stores that are very affordable, where you can buy all kinds of facial care products. Everyone who visits seems to know about their sheet face masks and tries to get as many as possible before moving away. Needless to say, I’ve taken advantage of the Korean face masks and made my husband jump a couple of times because I startled him.
9. Koreans are not courteous drivers. Which surprised me, considering how nice they are as people in general. Even when I would be crossing a crosswalk, if there was enough space, chances were, someone would drive right in front of me. But again, as I mentioned before, they are by far the nicest, the kindest people I’ve ever encountered anywhere. They are always willing to help in any situation. They help even when you don’t ask. They are very polite and they loved my children. They would gather around my stroller, ten people at a time, and just adore them, both men and women, young and old. They would take pictures of them, especially my blond one. To my complete surprise they would sometimes walk right up and take them out of the stroller, just to hold them. They would take them out of my arms, just to hold them. At first, I was alarmed, because, I’m definitely not used to that! However, I’ve realized that these people are simply genuine in their intentions, and it’s nothing else but their pure kindness and goodness. (This doesn’t mean we felt we did not need to be watchful as they lavished our children with love. We kept a close watch and were never careless).
There are many fun and beautiful things about South Korea that we love as a family. But what we will miss the most about it is it’s people. The people in our community, the people in our church, the people we randomly met on the streets, the people we had opportunities to be in contact with every day. The people of South Korea are kind, caring, sweet, genuine, and service oriented. I find it so wonderful that anywhere in the world I go, people are different, their customs and traditions may be completely different, but, despite the differences, generally I find that people are simply good. This wonderful opportunity we were given to live in this amazing country gave me even greater proof that this is so.