As my year in Korea comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on my time in this strange, foreign land. Here I’m focusing on the positive aspects; what I’ll miss most when I head back to the UK. These are the 5 things I love about living in Korea.
1) The Price of Eating Out
Anyone who has read this blog before will be aware that I am no great fan of Korean food. However, the cost of eating at restaurants in Korea is undoubtedly one of my favourite things about this country.
At Korean restaurants, you can get a filling and nutritious meal for less than £4/$5. It’ll cost you more for Western food, but it’s still usually less than £8/$10 for a meal (and that’s including the nibbles and side dishes that’ll be brought to you with any food.)
To make things even better, there’s no tipping in Korea, which shaves even more off the price of a meal out. Never before (and I assume never again) have I been able to afford to eat out more times a week than I eat in. This must be what it feels like to be part of the 1%.
2) Public Transport
Getting around in Korea is incredibly cheap and easy. Even outside the main cities there are frequent and efficient buses to take you from A to B.
In my city (Jeonju), one journey will cost you 1,350₩ (90p or $1.20), even if it takes over an hour and involves changing buses. Even better, you can pay with your prepaid T Money card. Gone are the days of frantically fondling for change at the front of the bus.
In between cities, there are what can only be described as the best buses in the world. I’m talking reclining leather chairs, foot rests, and enough leg room for the BFG. Solo travelers can even book a single seat, away from all smelly old men. What more could you possibly want?
3) Minor Stardom
Being a foreigner in Korea has its ups and downs. Korea is an extremely homogenous society, so anyone who doesn’t look Korean will stick out like a sore thumb, especially outside of the main cities.
The plus side of this is that foreigners (particularly Westerners) receive a lot of special treatment. Fascination from locals, ‘service’ (free) food and drinks at restaurants and audible gasps in the street are a sure way to feel like a minor celebrity, even if it is very superficial.
As shallow as it might make me sound, I will miss this constant attention when I leave Korea. Who wouldn’t love being showered with compliments and affection 24/7?
When looking to move abroad, one thought will cross anyone’s mind: how safe is it? What’s the risk of theft? Am I going to die a horrible death in this country? In Korea, you’ll probably be alright.
Korea has lower rates of crime than most developed countries, and it’s often very noticeable. Countless times I’ve walked past an unattended shop, food van, or even a motorbike with the keys in and engine running. A more criminally-minded version of myself would have seized those opportunities to wreak havoc.
Koreans seem to be far more honest. Theft is fairly uncommon here, and murder is very rare. I’m not advising you to completely let down your guard while you’re here, but generally I feel a lot safer in Korea than I did living in the UK or Canada.
5) Convenience Stores
This one might be a little surprising, but the abundance of convenience stores in Korea has definitely had a positive impact on my life. Wherever you are, whatever the time, there will always be some unfortunate 7/11 worker awaiting your custom.
Yes, the selection can be pretty limited (unless you’re looking for ramyeon, of course.) But you can always find snacks, toiletries and most importantly beer, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There’s even a microwave to heat up anything you buy, as well as a seating area for you to use while you eat.
During the warmer months, the tables outside convenience stores become a hotspot for keen and penny-pinching beer-drinkers. I never expected to spend so much time in and around convenience stores when I moved to Korea, but I’m definitely not complaining.
Besides, there’s nothing quite like the sense of peace that comes from always being within 200 metres of a tuna mayo kimbap.
And there you have it: the 5 things I love the most about Korea. What are yours?