When I moved to Korea over two years ago, I was full of questions and uncertain expectations. I had been reassured by friends and my recruiter that everything would be great, but it was the specifics that I felt were missing. Part of taking a leap like moving abroad, however, means that certain aspects of your life will be unknowns until you arrive. Some of my biggest questions were about my neighborhood and what it would be like.
One of the buildings around the corner from my apartment.
When I first told people back home that I was moving to Korea, I think the majority of people (especially the generations ahead of mine) pictured the landscape seen in M*A*S*H. Being familiar with the show and terribly anxious about this big move, I couldn't help but let that version of Korea creep into my mental image of my future neighborhood. But, then the rational part of my brain kicked in, reminding me that I was moving to a very modern country with the fastest wifi in the world and some of the best electronic companies.
I did my research before coming here. Thoroughly, I might add -- it became a bit of an obsession to find all the information possible, especially once I received a contract from a Chungdahm located in Yeonsu, Incheon. Unfortunately, at the time I was researching, there wasn't much to be found about Yeonsu. I knew I wouldn't be far from Seoul, but that didn't necessarily mean I wouldn't still be in a semi-rural area.
To add to the jumble of expectations for my future home, I spent my first week in Korea in a hotel in Gangnam while going through Chungdahm's teacher training. Gangnam is all neon lights and tall buildings -- an image that's the polar opposite of the popular misconceptions about Korea's landscape.
So what, exactly, would my neighborhood look like!? The drive out to Incheon after the final day of training was excruciating -- watching the scenery change from populous urban areas to farmland back to cityscapes... It was a huge relief to pull into this neighborhood and take in all the restaurants and grocery stores and apartment buildings:
Looks like a pretty average neighborhood to me.
Coffee shops, donkas, shabu shabu, pizza, ice cream...
Restaurant after restaurant, with some bars sprinkled in there too.
"The Food Street."
Each neighborhood in Korea will be a little different. I happen to be smack in the middle of a busy area -- restaurants, bars, and 7/11s crowd into the buildings and I can't spit without hitting a coffee shop. All the stress and worry about my new home melted away.
In general, the other city-like areas I've visited have looked about like mine. Some have taller buildings, others aren't stacked as high. At night, you'll see the signs that hang down the sides of the buildings lit up with bright neon. Korean BBQ spots will be packed full of people and groups of businessmen will be wandering to and from bars. Huge grocery superstores are open late and there's always 24-hour convenience stores on every other corner.
While all of this is outside my door, it may or may not be right outside yours. However, as I've visited friends who live in different areas and cities, everyone is, at the very least, able to get to an area like this easily. Sometimes it's a ten minute walk, other times it's a fifteen to twenty minute bus ride. On the flip side, it's also just as easy to get to a quieter, more rural area. If the bustle of the city is ever too much, sleepy neighborhoods are almost always close by.
Bottom line: don't stress about your neighborhood. I've learned there's nothing to worry about -- life in Korea is comfortable, convenient, and better than I'd even anticipated.
Between studying Japanese and Asian culture in university and setting her sights on a teaching career, it came as no surprise when Zannah Smreker announced that she was moving to South Korea to teach for Chungdahm Learning. In November 2011, Zannah accepted a position through Aclipse with the Songdo branch in Incheon, just southwest of Seoul. When she's not teaching, she keeps herself busy with exploring Korea, eating all the street food, and hunting down strange Engrish shirts. Check out her blog here for more of her adventures!