I feel this is the perfect time to look back and see what has changed from when I first arrived in Korea to the present.
Throwing manners to the wind
Using “excuse me” and “I’m sorry” when you need people to move or accidently bump into someone is not commonly used in Korea. When I first arrived I had heard from other foreigners that Koreans would probably bump into me in crowded places and never excuse themselves or apologize, but it was entirely different to experience it for myself.
There are days in the beginning when I kept telling myself that it’s a cultural difference so that I can stop myself from getting angry when it happened 15 times that day, but things changed. It didn’t come to my attention until my sister visited Korea and it was irritating me how she kept apologizing and excusing herself whenever she needed to get through. It was then that I realized I threw my manners away. After living in Korea for 2 years I realized that I act no different than people who live here. I don’t really think it’s due to being rude. It might be that Koreans don’t think you need to be so apologetic or sensitive when others are in a rush. Just keep it moving.
Kpop be Gone
One thing that might be surprising is that after a few months of living in Korea, I lost almost all interest in Korean pop music. You would think that being in the country where the music does play in coffee shops, stores and around the streets that I would have loved it but that stopped pretty quickly.
I started losing interest when Koreans asked me what about their culture I liked the best and then would try to answer for me by suggesting Kpop, and Kdramas. And if I agreed they always follow up with “foreigners like that stuff” or “foreigners like it more than Koreans haha”. Kpop also isn’t as popular as people abroad would think.
Usually the only Koreans that I know for a fact know a lot about Kpop were my elementary school students. At that, not all of my students would know or be as excited as I was.
Places where people in their 20’s hang out seem to play a variety of music ranging from Korean ballads to American hip hop. Every so often they play K-pop but it’s not a type of music that they constantly play. So, ironically I ended up liking popular American music and many indie genres. Strange
I had read a lot of both horror stories and good things about living in Korea as far as confidence goes.
From the instant I met my coworkers at my elementary school I knew my confidence would change. I wasn’t sure if it was for the better or for worse. Luckily for me, it was definitely for the better. The first thing my school’s principal said was “Wow! She is so pretty”. I was thoroughly shocked. Most of the attention and comments I received while living in Korea, had been positive. There were times when I heard some rude comments but they were definitely isolated incidents.
I am not going to lie, a lot of the comments always involved my weight and my face based on whether I looked rested or not, which can be annoying on the days you don’t want to hear it, but I can’t complain. All of the compliments have caused me to change my fashion style, haircut and even the way I do my makeup. It really boosted my self-esteem but I try to keep it in check every so often. I can definitely say I am more comfortable in my skin now, more so than I ever was.
Learning to be positive:
This has been the first time I have lived abroad and alone, so naturally there have been a few ups and downs in Korea. Korea is a wonderful country and Seoul is a fantastic place to live but there are moments that just beg for you to go back to what you know and love. Sometimes the cultural differences, rough days at work, the language barrier and homesickness seem to ruin a good time.
This is when I learned to start being positive.
Life isn’t always great and I know my parents couldn’t do anything for me, I made the choice to live so far from my comfort zone, so I had to take matters into my own hands. I decided to join a gym, go out window-shopping, chat with my friends and visit interesting coffee shops. I made sure to have plenty of hobbies and never spend a full day inside my house.
I like to remember the advice that the English teacher before me left written in a note to me, “It’s easy to get depressed and feel bad but don’t blame it on Korea. “ As I saw many people become bitter and really dislike Korea the longer we stayed, the more I thought I didn’t want to end up that way. Finding the positives in every situation is difficult and may seem impossible, but that will be the only thing that keeps you from becoming miserable. I like to think that I learned and I grew.