Yes, you all know by now that I love Korea, but why? What makes me happy about living here as opposed to living in the United States?
I’m not going to talk about the big overarching things (for the most part), since you can find those fairly easily anywhere on the internet. I’m going to list the small things that I enjoy – the things you can mostly experience and enjoy only by living here, not by visiting.
(And none of these things are necessarily meant as a criticism of U.S. culture, although I may make some comparisons here and there. Rest assured that I love my motherland and my own culture too.)
1. The people. By far, the people you meet in a new culture can make or break your experience with said culture. I have been blessed to meet some of the kindest people since arriving here. I’ve already mentioned how one of my co-teachers has been taking care of me like my adopted Korean mom, and many of my other co-teachers also go out of their way to help me. But beyond the people I know, I’ve received kindness from total strangers.
My sister and I were shopping in the local street shops one weekend and happened to enter a shoe store just as the store owner and her friend brought out some 파전 (pajeon, a Korean savory “pancake” made with green onions and peppers in a simple flour and egg batter). Before we really knew what was happening, we had chopsticks in our hands and were being urged to eat, eat, and eat some more. These women were total strangers, but (through our broken Korean, broken English conversation) they learned we were English teachers and sisters and were very concerned about our diet and whether we were eating enough (at least, that’s what I garnered from what I could understand of their words plus their facial expressions and sympathetic motherly clucking and cooing noises).
2. The vibe of safety and innocence. This goes for walking alone at night (although I can’t speak for after midnight because I haven’t been partying hard here, but I have walked by myself around 10 or 11 p.m. and I frequently see other women and children walking alone as well), and just in general. There’s a lack of that cynical, sarcastic, “I’m going to be a smartass and pretend to be too cool for XYZ” attitude that we’ve developed in American culture. There’s a more innocent approach to life here. People are more likely to express sincere awe, delight, surprise, or appreciation – to the point that Americans would probably think it’s over-the-top or fake, but it totally isn’t.
3. Pizza. America, we need to up our pizza game. I have discovered that white sauce pizza topped with cheese, pineapples, shrimp, and Frosted Flakes (I am not kidding) is freaking delicious. Why is sugary cereal on pizza not a thing in America? For real.
4. Ice cream. So many kinds. So many choices. So cheap. So delicious. Seriously, most ice cream bars and cones are less than a dollar – LESS THAN A DOLLAR! Which means I’ve been stocking my freezer regularly. And by regularly I mean daily. And by daily I mean I might be eating ice cream twice a day. I have a problem.
(Hey, the first step is admitting it. The second step is ignoring all the other steps and reveling in your delicious refreshing cheap I’ll-walk-off-the-calories-tomorrow-morning ice cream.)
5. Public transportation. You might take advantage of this to a degree when you’re here on vacation, but you can’t truly appreciate how awesome it is until you live here. There are taxis everywhere. Literally. You can’t walk more than a minute without having at least two pass you, and at least one of them is bound to be empty so you can hop in if you’d like. Easy peasy. And they’re so cheap! I can get halfway across the city for less than $10. The subway is also great. In Daegu, the routes aren’t difficult to figure out, and it’s super simple to get around once you know where you want to go. Disclosure: I’m still scared of the buses, so I haven’t used them much.
Okay, now you can go check out my list of 5 Things I Dislike About Korea. I’m not always sunshine and rainbows over here, people.