I recently looked back at the last two years in Korea when writing my post, 10 Things I Will Miss About Living in South Korea. There really is so much to miss — overall this has been a great experience for me. While I try to avoid being negative in my posts, I don’t want to sugar-coat my experience either! There are some things that I don’t love about living here. So, I decided to share 10 things I won’t miss about living in South Korea! Here we go…
Photo via Flickr (KSU MAIGC)
Obsession with Body Image
I really won’t miss Korea’s obsession with body image. I’m all for taking pride in your appearance and looking and feeling your best, but most people in South Korea take that to the extreme. You’ll see ads everywhere for plastic surgery — and it’s quite common. Some of my high school girls will receive plastic surgery as a graduation gift before they head of to college. The makeup and plastic surgery industry for both men and women are huge.
In South Korea, you need to look your best all the time — or you risk being told otherwise. It’s common for someone to comment that you look sick or that you look better with more makeup. You might even be told you’re too fat — it’s not at all considered rude here.
Last Minute Decisions
Before I moved to Korea, I thought I was pretty good at going with the flow. Boy, was I wrong! South Korea tested me with how normal it was to find out really important information at the very last moment. Guess what you will be giving speaking tests this week! Oh sorry class starts 2 hours late today (after you’re already at school). We need you to grade these essays before you leave today. Oh sorry, payday was today but we’ll have to talk to the head office about it. The list goes on and on…
I didn’t find out my placement until a couple of weeks before leaving for Korea. I got my visa in the mail 1 business day before I flew out. At the time — I had no idea this was absolutely normal!
My recommendation to anyone who may be moving to South Korea — just go with it! Embrace those silly awkward last-minute decisions.
No Trash Cans
This is something that was so odd to me — and it was noticed even on my first day or so in Korea. There are usually no trash cans around! Now, when I visit Seoul or Busan — I notice them in places like the subway. But, if you’re wondering around outside they’re nonexistent. This can be frustrating if you’ve purchased a take out beverage somewhere. I’ve sometimes had to stop at another shop or restaurant to throw out my trash.
Pushing/Shoving and Line Cutting
This is something that you’d think I’d be used to after two years — but still shocks me! In the Korean culture, it’s okay to push and shove your way through and to cut someone in line! This is especially true if you’re an older man or woman. To me, it looks incredibly rude — but it is what it is. If you’re waiting in line for a bus ticket — don’t be surprised if someone cuts right in front of you. If you’re just minding your own business somewhere — you may get pushed or shoved out of the way. If you’re on an airplane and it’s just landed — prepare for people behind you to rush to stand up, grab their bags, and cut in front of you to get off the plane. I will not miss this at all!
Photo via Flickr (Clint Tseng)
Students Being Overworked
I’ve worked with elementary, middle, and high school students during the last two years. There are things I’ve enjoyed about working with each group of students — but I really won’t miss the overworking mentality that is placed on middle and high school aged students. It’s common for them to go to school during the normal hours (for example 8:30-3:30) and then attend classes well into the evening (6-10pm) at a private academy. Many of my students do this — and if they don’t, they stay at our high school and take more classes and have self study time. Students even attend academy on weekends.
I think education and learning is so important — but I also see how exhausted my students are each day. If I ever ask about outside activities or weekend plans — they’re almost nonexistent. I think kids and teens should be allowed to also live a life and develop interests outside of the classroom.
Sorry — another gross one! I won’t miss hearing the sound of someone about to spit on the street — or anywhere really. Sometimes my husband makes this noise to me jokingly to piss me off 🙂 (it works!!) In Korea, it’s quite common to hear and see this happening around you. It still grosses me out!
If you know me, you know I love, love, love cats. I’m a crazy cat lady. I have cat furbabies and I’ve also volunteered at a cat shelter. I know that there are stray cats out there and that they can’t all be saved — but Korea has a huge stray cat problem.
In Korea, apartments are incredibly tiny (typical for Asia). It seems smaller dogs are more common here as pets, but most people don’t have cats as pets. When I lived in the countryside last year, I saw stray cats everywhere. It’s upsetting to me that there isn’t more done to promote having cats as pets or to shelter the existing strays. There are shelters, but in the cities outside of Seoul, they’re not common and they don’t have enough funding.
Sickness and the Mentality of Taking Sick Days
This one is a mix of things — but in general, I will not miss being sick in South Korea. I thought I felt guilty taking a sick day back in the states (my last job didn’t even offer any and was a 9-5 at a real company — ha!) until I worked in Korea. Here, a sick day is incredibly frowned upon. You’re often thought of as not as hard of a worker if you miss a day. Each year, I am given 11 sick days — but after 3 you need a doctor excuse explaining exactly why you missed work. I only took 1 sick day this year and 1 sick day last year.
In addition, to sick days not being an acceptable thing — I won’t miss BEING sick here. So many times sick people go out in public or to work — making it easier to get others sick. Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze also seems to be something that isn’t as common in Korea. Lastly, I didn’t love how things were handled in hospitals — it felt unsanitary at times. For example, I’ve seen on multiple occasions the same ear thermometer being used on multiple people — without a plastic sheet protector. My first trip to the hospital was when I had pneumonia. I was placed on a big bed next to an old man who was also sick (with who knows what?!). While health care was very affordable and quick in South Korea — I won’t miss those moments.
I so won’t miss expensive fruit! I don’t know about you — but I love fruit! I didn’t realize how much I ate it (or enjoyed it) until I moved to South Korea. Here, the fruit is pretty expensive because it’s imported. I’ve seen a watermelon for about $30 before. The smallest little pack of cherries can cost me $10-12. f you’re wondering — I mostly ate bananas the last two years. I can’t wait to buy lots and lots of fruit!
Kimchi as a Side Dish
There are many Korean foods that I enjoy — and I’ll miss them greatly. There are also some foods that I won’t miss! I never got into the taste of kimchi! I will clarify, I don’t mind kimchi served hot — in a fried rice or kimchijeon — which is a fried pancake like meal with kimchi in it. But, I never like the taste of cold kimchi served as a side dish. I’ve tried many types — and I can only get myself to eat a small bite or two! I KNOW — WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME!!? 🙂
And there you have it — those are 10 things I won’t miss about living in South Korea! I want to clarify again — that I absolutely am so, so, so thankful for my time and experiences here — but not every moment is perfect (anywhere!). If you’d like, check out my post about the 10 things I will miss about living in South Korea.