Living in Seoul, South Korea
It has been 6 years since I left my life in South Korea to return to the United States for grad school. Leaving Seoul was incredibly bittersweet. I still have such a love for South Korea that I don’t think any other country will be able to quite match it. Travelling to Seoul was my first big adventure away from my small rural town in Pennsylvania. Also, this was my first time on a plane. I was so excited, partially terrified that I had just made an insane mistake, and yet so ready for something new. Turns out that it was the best decision I had ever made.
If you are new here let’s get you filled in, I taught English with the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education (SMOE) from August 2013-2015. These are yearly contract positions for expats typically with the option to renew each year. I was recruited by the English Program in Korea (EPIK) and then hired by SMOE. For more information about teaching in South Korea, be sure to check out my 5 Best Programs to Teach English in South Korea blog post for detailed information about the available programs.
What do I miss the most about Seoul, South Korea?
1. Making Friends From All Over the World
Probably the best part of participating in the EPIK Orientation are the friends you make along the way. Not to mention the friends you make while joining your place of employment. There are quite a number of expats in Korea that are so open to meeting new people. You will have quite the circle of friends in no time. It is incredible opportunity to form relationships with people from all over the world. I dearly miss going out multiple times a week to check out a new event, café, or just to go for a fun walk with my friends.
2. Seoul Always Has Something New
Building off of outings with friends, there is always something new to see in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea is a stunning country. Both in its natural beauty and its urban cityscapes. Due to being so densely populated, there are so many festivals, pop up events, concerts, exhibitions and more. You can find weekly updates regarding upcoming events by visiting the Visit Seoul website.
3. Cafe Culture
There is nothing quite like spending an afternoon in a cute café in Seoul. South Korea. The local culture has such a friendly approach to visitors taking their time in cafes. Most of the cafes are very laptop friendly with high speed internet and outlets for charging your devices. I never felt the slightest pressure to leave a spot I was relaxing at. Sometimes you get the vibe that you should drink your coffee and go in the United States. Korean culture is pleasantly different in this regard and there are thousands of cafes in South Korea.
More importantly, these cafes aren’t your average café in the United States. Most cafes in South Korea have a particular theme, style, or specialty. For example, you can find cafes themed with Hello Kitty decor, cat/dog cafes, raccoon cafes (nope, not kidding), book cafes, game cafes, reptile cafes, etc. Cafes in South Korea are very conscious of the style and vibe as well. I really miss seeing that attention to detail. Plus the unique drinks and pastries are delicious.
4. Impecible Public Transportation System
Oh my goodness, how I miss the public transportation system in Seoul. Boston’s transportation system isn’t too bad. However, it doesn’t come close to Seoul. The transportation system in Seoul is easy to track, reliable, and fast. I can’t say enough good things about it. Plus, they have a high speed rail system called KTX that can take you from Seoul, all the way to Busan in less than 2.25 hours. Boston just can’t beat that in my book.
5. Crazy Affordable Healthcare and Overall Low Cost of Living
One setback I had with my health in South Korea was my body’s reaction to Hwang Sa or yellow dust. I have always been prone to allergies so it really wasn’t a shocker. What was a shock to me is the affordability and efficiency of the healthcare system in South Korea. Seriously fantastic! Gold stars all around.
The cost of living in South Korea is quite low in general compared to major cities in the United States. As I am currently living in Boston, I desperately miss the low rent in South Korea. Plus the cost to go out is so low that most of the time it makes more sense to eat at a restaurant than to cook at home.
6. No Tipping Stress
Tipping simply isn’t customary in South Korea. It can even be considered slightly rude to tip someone because it may come off as presumptive regarding someone’s economic status. So don’t stress out over how to tip while in Seoul. The price you see is what you get. No surprises! Interested in the history of the no-tip culture? Check out the Expat in Korea guide.
7. Incredible Food
There are so many incredible dishes to try while living in Seoul, South Korea. In the picture you can see our outing to the seaside for some steamed seafood. Delicious! One of the things I love about Korean food are all the banchan 반찬 (side dishes) you get with your order. I’ve always loved sampling.
Some traditional Korean dishes you must try are Samgyeopsal 삼겹살 (Korean BBQ), Kimbap 김밥 (Seaweed Wrapped Rolls), Kimchi Jjigae 김치 찌개 (Kimchi Stew), Dakgalbi 닭갈비 (Spicy Stir Fried chicken with Cabbage) and Tteokbokki 떡볶이 (Spicy Stir Fried Rice Cakes).
Street food in Seoul, South Korea is top notch compared to the United States. It’s a whole experience to watch them prepare the food right in front of you. Tteokbokki was my typical go-to order while out at night with friends.
Interested in attempting to cook some Korean dishes? Check out Kimchimari! She has a filtering system on her site if you happen to have any food allergies. Korean food is delicious. You must give some of her recipes a try!
8. Aspects of Korean Culture
I love the unique aspects of Korean culture. South Korea has a rich history that you can learn about via KoreanCulture.org. Things that stand out to me are the fun social culture, you can enjoy an alcoholic beverage outdoors since it’s legal, restaurant staff call-buttons, respect of others and elders, the arts, shared meals, and the commitment to health and fitness. It’s quite a different experience.
9. Warp-speed Internet
As of 2017, Seoul had that fastest average internet speed in the world at 28.6 mbps. It is no wonder, with a city as technologically advanced as Seoul. I really miss being able to download and upload files within a few seconds. In the United States, it would take me far longer to do the same tasks.
Fun fact: South Korea is home to a number of PC rooms where people go to game for an hourly fee. There is a fun social aspect to gaming in a PC room as well. You don’t have to game though, you can simply pay to spend an hour or so of your time. Learn more via Seoul Insider Guide.
10. Adorable Kiddos
The best part of my job were the adorable elementary school kids that I got to teach. They were so respectful, funny, and sweet. I loved every minute of being with them each day. They always had something hilarious to share. I still keep in touch with a number of my students that have a Facebook. I can’t believe how fast they have grown up since I left back in 2015. Feels like just yesterday that I was helping them learn English!
11. Sense of Security Walking at Night
One thing I love about South Korea is the sense of calm walking home in the evening. No one besides the police have access to guns, so you don’t have to worry like you do in the States. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use proper travel safety while in another country. I’m only saying that I never felt unsafe being solo in the evening in Seoul.
Would I walk alone at night in Boston? Not unless I could help it. That’s just me. In South Korea, people simply have more respect which is a part of Korean culture. Seriously, people have been known to pass out in the street and they still wake up with all of their belongings. Shop owners with outdoor stalls leave their shops as is and no one takes a thing. Plus people leave their laptops on tables in cafes to go to the restroom and it isn’t touched. It’s nice to see that level of respect for others and safety.
12. Gorgeous Outdoor Spaces in Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is nestled into the mountains so there are plenty of stunning hikes nearby. During the first few months, some of my friends and I hiked up to the top of Dobongsan. It’s a rough hike but the view from the top is totally worth it. While South Korea is committed to building a world class city, it is just as committed to preserving their history and stunning natural landscapes. You won’t be at a loss for pristine places to enjoy the outdoors.
13. The Genuine Kindness From Locals
Koreans are extraordinarily friendly and open to talking with expats. I’m not saying you won’t have negative run ins on occasion. It is just simply not the majority.
I experienced so much kindness from the locals I met during my time in Seoul. From the adorable grandmother that would offer me lemonade to the kind seafood restaurant owner that made sure I got home safely to my apartment each night.
My students that made me laugh each day. Plus my amazing co-teachers that guided me through the tricky transition period starting out at my first teaching position. I can’t thank them enough for all they have done for me. Sending lots of love your way!
14. Cute Style and Modest Fashion Options
South Korea is known for being stylish yet still somewhat conservative. They don’t show a lot of skin on shoulders or bust areas but you will see people wearing short skirts or shorts in the entertainment industry. My friends and I were all teachers of course, so we were used to covering up.
I really enjoyed the cute style in South Korea. You won’t see people going out quite as casually as we do in the United States. People tend to put more effort into their appearance. I loved all the modest fashion options in the shops in Seoul. It made it really easy to find clothes for teaching.
15. Mix of the Old and the New
Seoul is unique for it’s ability to seamlessly combine the historic landmarks with the modern city. You will be wandering in the city only to stumble upon Gyeongbokgung Palace 경복궁 or the remnants of the original city walls of Seoul 서울 한양도성. Seoul and South Korea overall has such a rich history that must be explored during your time in the country. I miss the vast list of destinations this country has to offer.
When the pandemic is over, I look forward to being able to revisit my old stomping grounds in Seoul. I can’t wait to see my friends that still live there and see all the beauty South Korea has to offer. I hope you will visit and learn all that you can about this stunning country!
If you have any questions about living in South Korea, feel free to comment below!
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Hello everyone! I am a Boston based blogger that loves all things travel and lifestyle. You can usually find me working away at my university job, snapping pictures, thrifting, or trying out some new recipes.