Today is August 14th, 2017. I’ve now been in Korea for nearly 6 months/half of my contract. Currently, it is Summer Vacation for my school and I decided to take a trip to Seoul to save money instead of going somewhere exotic. I’ll save the exotic place for Winter Vacation come January~ I have also decided to renew my contract, if my school invites me to (they are not required to ask their NET to renew by any means). Schools should begin asking their NETs to renew around the start of the Fall Semester. It is possible for the NET to stay in Korea and work at another school if their current school does not ask them to renew but I would rather not go through that kind of stress.
For this entry, I have decided to make a list of the PROs and CONs of living and working in South Korea. I’ll do 6 for each side to represent the 6 months I have been here. Note: This is through my eyes, my experiences and my opinions. In no way does this represent 100% of every NETs experience living and working in South Korea.
- You will see plenty of people handing out flyers to people walking by. You will more than likely never be handed one because they automatically assume you don’t live in Korea or know Korean. You will also never be stopped to answer a survey or give your input for whatever bill is about to be passed or sign a petition.
- The majority of Korean citizens are sweethearts and will try to help you if you walk up to them asking for directions; if you are carrying a heavy load they’ll give you the seat on the subway; most of my co-workers really go out of their way to make sure I’m included in the worker community and are more than happy to help even with small tasks (cutting paper for an activity, double checking for translation errors in PPTs, etc).
- Many people will tell you fruit is more expensive here than their home. I am from Florida and I don’t recall the prices of fruits back home whatsoever, but I do know that the US makes living a healthy life more expensive and I also know I can buy 6 peaches at the mart for 3,000 – 4,000 won (like 2 – 3 USD) and that doesn’t seem too expensive to me.
- The cost of living is extremely cheap! I opted to live in employer-provided housing, so my school pays for my rent and I cover everything else. This past month, when it started to get hot enough to keep the AC on all day, my electricity bill was under 40,000 won ($35 USD) to keep my AC running all day on top of any other electrical needs (refrigerator running, lights, washing machine powered, things plugged into outlets, etc). With Wi-Fi, cable, water and gas included with electricity, I am never paying more than 100,000 won a month in bills ($87 USD/month). Reminder: My situation is my individual experience.
- Transportation options make nearly all nooks and crannies of this country accessible. I live in Daegu and we only have 3 subway lines but I know that the buses and taxis can also help me get anywhere I need to be in the city. If you live in Seoul you’re even more lucky. There is something like 20 subway lines on top of the buses and taxis to get you wherever you need to be. I can take the KTX from Dongdaegu Station to Seoul Station in under 3 hours and from Dongdaegu Station to Busan Station in under 2 hours. The Daegu Airport also has nonstop flights to several locations outside Korea (Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, etc) as well as flights inside Korea (Seoul, Busan, Jeju, etc).
- You could easily live your life in Korea without ever needing to learn a lick of Korean. If you do choose to learn Korean, which is what I would recommend, it isn’t hard at all to pick up. The language itself was invented by a Korean King (King Sejong) as a way to help every citizen in his kingdom be able to be literate and communicate with each other. He took some symbols from Chinese and simplified them and worked with his top scholars to develop a language that even the poorest, uneducated man could begin to understand in a week’s time. In my opinion, it is also fun to learn the different words in Korean that are just Koreanized English words, for example: cellphone in Korean is 핸드폰 (haen-deu-pon AKA hand-phone).
- Even though you may not be handed flyers for local Korean businesses advertising their new products, you will be stopped by local church organizations regularly. They’ll be asking you to attend their services in English or go on a trip with them to some religious site here in Korea.
- There are a few exceptions to my sweetheart statement and you’ll find them easily if you allow yourself to. For example: maybe you’ll have students who refuse to see you as a teacher because you’re too young or not Korean or whatever their reason may be and they’ll make sure to act out constantly to remind you that they don’t see you as an authoritative figure.
- I came into an apartment that had zero pieces of furniture in it. Nothing. Just a mattress on the floor. So I have had to incur more expense than my NET friends who went into a furnished apartment. At first this was a huge income burner, but now I have no complaints because I was allowed to pick all of my pieces of furniture and customize my apartment to me. This is listed as a con though because outside of what is guaranteed in your contract, expect to be footing the bill.
- The Korean society, and most of Asian societies I believe, is still heavily filled with smokers. Most smokers will go to an area outside that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic and in some parts of the city there are smoking cubes (rooms where people go inside to smoke). Unlike America, where someone can usually smoke walking down the street and get away with it, Koreans will at least give people the curtesy or removing themselves to go smoke. If you do not like the smell of smokers, however, be warned that you’ll always encounter the smell outside walking around a shopping area or market.
- If you do not enjoy the sound of loud eaters, you will hear it nearly everywhere you go to eat, especially traditional Korean restaurants. Korea has a culture of “if I like it, I’ll let you know by eating loudly” and not the culture we are used to in America of “if I like it, I’ll tell you after I eat it quietly”. This ranges from drinks to noodles to beef to bread, literally anything. This is not my personal CON, but several of my NET friends have stated it to be one of their major peeves about Korea.
- Of course, if your body is not shaped like a Korean body, you will have difficulty finding clothes here. There are hidden gems, I have been able to find several plus-size locations in Daegu. I also have NET friends who are skinnier than most Korean girls and still they have trouble finding something to work to their body type. A lot of Korean clothing stores will not let you try something on before buying it either. I recommend finding the store or two stores where you can find something in your size and become a regular customer to those locations versus continually trying your luck at random store locations.
I hope this list proves useful to someone out there looking to come to Korea. In the end, I say come as you are and come with an open mind. You won’t truly know what is a PRO or CON for yourself until you move somewhere and are out on your own so far removed from everything you knew and held for granted. Try to see the PROs and CONs through your own eyes and find the harmony in the balance that everything and everywhere in the world has PROs and CONs.