So after weeks of deliberation and weighing my options I’ve decided to leave Korea due to certain family matters. While it will be wonderful seeing my family again after so long, it seems surreal that I’ll be leaving this place that I’ve grown to consider my home. Now that it’s become official that I’m leaving, I’ve made it a point to take full advantage of my remaining time here by doing all of my favorite things. There are just certain aspects of Korean life that you can’t get back in the states, and after thinking it over I’ve realized the top 7 things about Korea I’ll miss the most!
1. Korean Barbecue – Literally everywhere you go in Korea you will find a barbeque restaurant, my favorite Korean dish of all time. In America Korean barbecue is horrendously expensive and not even half as fun, so I’ve made it a mission to get it as much as possible during my remaining weeks here. Like any typical restaurant you go in, have a seat, and order from a menu consisting if various kinds of meat. After all this you’re given the sides, another amazing facet of Korean culture, the thousands of side dishes given to you at any restaurant. While you’ll definitely get some kimchi wherever you go, you might also get a nice seafood soup, an egg dish, some seaweed soup, mashed potatoes, etc. but of course this all depends on the restaurant itself. Then they’ll bring out the meat, which you will cook yourself over a grate using tongs.
This is the best part in my opinion, you cook it just the way you like it, then you wrap it up in a leaf with all the fixings you choose, and enjoy. It’s honestly just a really fun and social type of dining that is so great for unwinding after a long day of teaching English. To heighten the experience I suggest a few ice cold Cass and some soju, just don’t go overboard if you have to teach the next day, soju goes down smooth but it definitely bites back later.
2. Traveling throughout Korea and Southeast Asia – One thing I definitely wish I had taken advantage of more since moving here was traveling. Like almost anything else in Korea traveling is fairly cheap, you can take the subway, the KTX, or even hop a flight to Jeju for a small price. That is another one of the wonderful things about training week, while you’re all incredibly stressed, sleep deprived, and manic, you’re also really bonding over your situation. People form amazing friendships during that crazy week, and on that Friday when you all go your separate ways you can count on having a place to stay and a friend to visit for any weekend adventures you might partake in. For example I met a few friends at training who were placed in Busan.
A couple of my coworkers and myself went to visit in the height of summer and we had a blast. We got to meet all of their coworkers, lay on the beach, experience the city, and even take a spin on a pirate boat, good times for all. Another time we went for a snowboarding trip through Adventure Korea to Phoenix Park in Pyeongchang. Definitely one of my favorite weekends here, meeting a ton of other people and having a blast on the mountain. If you love to travel but don’t like to plan I would definitely recommend using Adventure Korea to get a taste of the best sights, they run some great trips all year round.
Of course when I say traveling I don’t just mean within Korea. Korea’s location allows you to get to so many countries for really great prices. I myself was able to get a round-trip ticket to northern China for under $250 and flights to Japan for as little as $200. The flights are inexpensive, fast, and convenient even if you’re just planning on a weekend away. I know that once I’m back in America I’ll be kicking myself for not taking advantage of the cheap travel opportunities while I could.
3. Korean Nightlife – On the weekends when I wasn’t jet setting throughout Southeast Asia or off to visit friends I was just as happy to stay in the city and take advantage of the nightlife. I have to admit the first time I set foot in Hongdae, one of the biggest club districts I Seoul, I was amazed at what I saw. There were so many people just walking around, eating, drinking, and having a good time in an area that seems purely devoted to nightlife.
You definitely need to see what Hongdae has to offer and find the right place for you while you’re there. While of course there’s your typical dance clubs with strobe lights and smoke machines, there’s also the more intimate little bars to just sit and have a drink with your friends. Feeling cheap? If the weathers right go and drink in the park and just relax while listening to a free show from some of the local musicians. And the best way to top off a night of fun in Hongdae? Grab a kebab or stop in Taco Bell to rehash the madness of the night, if you can remember it. Just be aware that many times Hongdae will suck you in at night and you won’t leave until the wee hours of the morning, but those are usually the best kinds of nights anyway.
4. Convenience – Korea has spoiled me so badly since I’ve gotten here and I know that once I step back onto American soil I’ll be in for a rude awakening. Korea is extremely convenient in almost every respect. Every street has almost everything you could need especially if you live in a city. For example, I live in an area of Incheon that is relatively small but I have everything I need within a five minute walk. There are five 7-elevens surrounding my building, three cell phone stores, at least eight cafes, a post office, a movie theater, Lotte Mart, a hospital, three pizza places, a McDonalds and a Baskin Robbins. I can get to any of these within minutes of stepping outside my door. I can get a taxi in two minutes heading pretty much in any direction, and the subway is only four minutes away on foot. I cannot tell you how amazing this has been, when I get home and actually have to travel more than five minutes for ANYTHING, I’m going to be totally exhausted and put out. Another amazing convenience of Korea? WiFi for days. Pretty much everywhere you go there’s free WiFi, it’s an internet junkie’s dream.
5. Work – Working as a teacher for Chungdahm has been so amazing and I know that any job I get in America when I get home will pale in comparison. I’m just going to say it – my job is easy. The curriculum rarely ever changes, I know exactly what I’m going to teach every class, I have all of the answers given to me, and I get to hangout with a bunch of incredible kids all day. For someone who was working part-time as a nanny and at a coffee shop before moving here, I honestly can’t believe I’m leaving this job. Not to mention I get to sleep in every day, take care of all my errands, and mosey on into work at three in the afternoon. Plus the money you make for your time is great, especially when you consider just how cheap it is to live in Korea.
I couldn’t talk about work without mentioning the kids, because they are truly the best part of my day. These kids are so funny and so smart that you can’t help but be amazed by them. There are a few students that I know I will continue to email once I’ve moved home and will without a doubt miss a ton. So definitely make it a point to enjoy the kids as much as possible during your time teaching here, because they are what really makes the job such a wonderful experience.
6. The people I’ve met – Over the last 11 months I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many people, from so many different places all over the world and it’s one of the things that has made my time in Korea so unforgettable. From the minute you step into the doors from training you are forming friendships with people who, like you, are doing something extraordinary. But it’s not just westerners or your fellow teachers, I’ve made some amazing Korean friends as well that I can’t wait to have come visit me in America. Half of the fun of your time in Korea is experiencing a new and amazing country with new and amazing people. And while it’s so bittersweet to meet and then say goodbye when your time is up, you will have even more couches to crash on when it’s time for your next adventure.
7. Independence – I came to Korea to teach for Chungdahm relatively soon after receiving my undergraduate degree, and I know that being here has definitely taught me a lot about being an adult and how to live on my own. For someone who was living at home with her parents, working part time, and not paying any of her own bills, I’ve learned how to survive on my own and take care of myself financially and in every other respect, which is not an easy lesson learned. I feel like Korea offers a great opportunity for recent graduates to learn to stand on their feet after living in the dream world that is college. While you will be living here on your own, you’ll have the security of a good job, an apartment, and people around you who are in the exact same position. You might be scared at first, but you’ll quickly realize that you can live and work here all on your own and after a while you won’t be able to imagine life any other way. I needed this last year to help me get a taste of what life in the real world is like so that it won’t be so shocking to me when I’m actually on my own in the states.
Living in Korea these last 11 months has been one of the most insane, wonderful, and eye opening experiences I know I will ever have and I’ve loved every minute of it. Now that I’m leaving I wish I’d taken more time to just stop and appreciate what an amazing place I got to live and work in. So while you’re in Korea don’t forget to do as much as you can in the time that you have because once you’re on that plane back home it will truly hit you that you’ve just spent the last year or so of your life doing something truly extraordinary that you will never forget.
A recent graduate of University of Massachusetts Amherst, Kara Jameson has always loved traveling and being able to discover new and exciting things everyday. After living abroad in Greece, Kara decided it was time for her next adventure, this time even further from home. After being introduced to Aclipse, she knew exactly how she wanted to spend her post-graduate days before going back to school. Kara now lives in Incheon working for the Yeonsu branch of Chungdahm. The months have flown by and every day is another opportunity to learn something new about this vibrant and amazing culture! To learn more check out her blog on the Ning page!