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The Joys of Living in Korea

Posted on the 13 April 2013 by Smudger @ChristopherSm73
Out of a very British sense of fairness perhaps, I am feeling a little uncomfortable with the amount of bad news or negative stories I have been writing about Korea recently on this blog and the general malaise about North Korea as well.  Believe me when I say that things aren't all bad, indeed they are very often good and better than back home in England in many regards.  This goes without saying really when you think about it, because if everything is bad then why the hell have I stayed here for so long?
The Joys of Living in Korea
So here is a list of reasons why I think Korea is actually a pretty decent place to live most of the time. 
Life is simplified (for a foreigner or native English teacher)
It really is stupidly easy to live here, even if you cannot speak the language.  When you arrive everything is usually sorted out for you; you have an apartment without looking for one, furniture without shopping, and are set up with a bank account. 
Life generally is made exceptionally easy with great delivery services, you don't have to search around for the best energy providers, public transport is efficient and cheap, and if you live in even a small city or town a convenience store, supermarket, gym, department store, doctors, dentists, pharmacy, a variety of restaurants, and all the services you can possibly need are all just around the corner.
Korean Food

The Joys of Living in KoreaAs a man who is from a country well known for terrible food (for good reason), I can tell you that I really love the food here, and enjoy being introduced to such a wide variety of different Korean foods.  Korean people take great pride in their food, and for this reason I am never short of generous souls to take me out for lunch or dinner to a different restaurant so they can watch me gleefully gorge myself on another new Korean dish.  I have met some foreigners who say there is little variety and that it is all the same spicy taste, but I think they have simply not gone out there and experimented or tried enough different Korean foods.  There is great variety here, and most of it is extremely healthy, yet another tick in the box for Korean cuisine.  You can even travel to experience specialty food, something that I seem to be doing more often.  Korea has a rich culinary tradition and certain foods are considered especially delicious in different parts of the country where they specialise in them and this is well worth exploring.
Finding Work and the Work Itself

As a native English speaker, finding work in Korea is easy and for me as a man who is married to a Korean it becomes exceptionally easy.  As long as you give your work as a teacher here its own meaning and try to excel at your job, you will be appreciated and at the same time as finding work as an English teacher quite undemanding, you will be challenged enough to make things interesting.  This challenge is greater when you have to plan all your lessons without the aid of textbooks or any syllabus, like I have to.  This takes extra time and effort but is rewarding as it gives me an intellectual freedom in my job that I really enjoy.  Even for teachers without this amount of freedom, relishing the challenge of teaching and motivating students whose language it not your own is the key to enjoying the native English teacher experience.
The Lack of Petty Crime

There will always be stories that can be shared that are exceptions to this rule, but it is nice to be able to walk around with at least some level of faith that nothing will be stolen or if you lose something it might get returned to you.  As I have mentioned before on this blog, some shop owners just store their stock outside on the street under some shelter from the rain and no one steals anything.  I could not imagine this happening in Britain.  Also, if you lose your wallet you do have a great chance of getting it back with everything still inside.  Reckless vandalism also appears to be almost non-existent.  Perhaps much of this is because of a Confucian based culture's greater respect for authority, an aspect of their culture to which I have pointed out a fair amount of downsides to, but this happens to be a happy result of it.
The Lack of Politically Correct Nonsense

The Joys of Living in Korea

None of this nonsense in Korea.

Sometimes in my British world of forcing school kids to wear goggles for a game of conkers, law suits for tripping on cracks in the street, failure to criticize anyone within a group of people for fear of giving offence, and everyone wins sports for the young, I yearn for some spade calling bluntness and this is what you can get in Korea.  Kids are wondering around at night buying street-food without fear of abduction or anyone reporting their parents to social services, obese people are called lazy people who need to exercise more and this is widely accepted, my high schoolers are given the responsibility for cleaning their classrooms and changing light bulbs without the fear of them having an asthma attack from dust or killing themselves with electric shocks (no one has died yet), and people trip up and make a mistake by not looking where they are going and slink off in an embarrassed manner without looking for the nearest person to claim money off of.  There are many more examples I could go through.  Sometimes they are too harsh, too blunt, and don't consider individuals very much or empathise with them but mostly I do appreciate their clarity and no-nonsense approach.
Random Acts of Kindness

I sometimes experience a level of sweetness in Korea that I rarely experience back home.  This can be in the form of offering food, surrendering an umbrella or lending one when it is raining, the offering of lifts in a car when I have looked lost and other kind gestures.  Whether these acts occur out of a sense of duty or not they can be very heart-warming.  One of the situations where I often find kind acts being done to me is while hiking, where offers of food, drink or assistance seem to be particularly common.
Exploring the Country

With a little bit of knowledge of Korean it is possible to explore the whole country just by taking public transport - which ties in with what I said about the ease of living.  With mountains, beaches, gorges, forests, islands, different foods, temples and historical landmarks, Korea is a great place to travel around with the added bonus - especially for a skin-flint like me - of not breaking the bank either.  It is a great country to explore and one that is still relatively free of tourists, so a genuine feel of the culture can be experienced.
The Joys of Living in Korea

Young People

I am very fond of young people in Korea, especially between the ages of about 11-20.  Really young kids just annoy me, period, regardless of their nationality, but that is just my personality.  Young people in Korea, in my opinion are especially kind, fun, friendly, open-minded, and polite.  Contrary to what some believe, I find them generally highly respectful of foreign teachers - something I explained in a previous post, here.  Reverse the situation and have Koreans teaching in English schools and I doubt whether student behavior would be so kindly.  The reason for their affability might be because of their respect culture and the fact they are slightly oppressed by it, both in their dealings everyday with elders and their monumental amounts of study.  Respect culture is something I profoundly dislike but I must admit it does seem to create nice kids, perhaps exactly because they are slightly down-trodden by it.
There is Always Plenty of Controversy and Conflict

Some might think that this is a bad thing, but if you can embrace the difference in the culture here, you will never be short of a talking point over dinner.  Some people think embracing a culture means accepting it, I disagree.  Arguing against things you believe are wrong is important regardless of culture.  I have conflicts with Korean culture all the time but I don't necessarily accept their point of view as equally valid, I enjoy the battle against it, even if many of these battles have to be fought in my head or keyboard in hand on my blog.  If you want a debate, to write, or to be intellectually stimulated, there can be few better places to be in the world than in Korea with so much up for discussion.  This more than makes up for the stresses of clashing with the culture sometimes.  If you want a stress-free life that doesn't challenge your principles, go home or stay away.  If you want a bit of spice and interest and have your worldviews challenged, come to Korea and enjoy the ride.
People are Genuinely Interested in you

A year or so ago I took a trip to Indonesia and I was constantly disappointed by how many times someone would start a friendly conversation with me that always, in the end, turned out to be an emotional blackmailing tactic for me to buy something off of them.  You just never experience this in Korea, people are genuinely interested in you and where you come from or they want to practice their English with you.  It leads to many unexpected and pleasant conversations that can put a little smile on your face.  I have always felt a touch of innocence in many of the people in Korea in this regard and it is a very charming trait about them.
These are my own personal joys about living in Korea.  If any of my readers would like to add to this, by commenting below, I would be really interested to know if I have left anything out.

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