Yesterday marks exactly one year since I first landed in Korea.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Same Interview, One Year Apart interview with Billie Eilish, but that’s what originally inspired me to write this blog last year when I moved to SK – purely so I could have a personal record of how I felt then vs. how I felt a year after the fact.
Let’s jump in!
1. Why South Korea?
I feel like my original answer was something light and fun like “why not South Korea?” Well, standing on the other side of my year here and having committed to another year in the Land of the Morning Calm, I can answer with perhaps more clarity. I love Korea. I don’t consider it a utopia, however—the country is far from perfect, with narrow “traditional” ideals, rampant classism, damaging beauty standards, and so on. Still, I am immensely grateful I have the opportunity to live in this country and experience life as an ex-pat in Korea.
South Korea is not only full of beautiful natural landscapes to explore, it is also home to some of the kindest and most generous humans on this planet. Of course, I have battled the stressors that come with being a foreigner, but no one in Korea has ever made me feel anything less than welcome.
2. What are you most excited and/or nervous about?
Like I mentioned above, I’ve signed on for another year in Korea. Starting in late August, I’ll be teaching in Busan. Though it is the second-largest city in Korea, every time I’ve visited Busan I have been surprised by the seemingly relaxed atmosphere. Seoul can feel incredibly rushed and busy at times. (This is coming from the person who lived just outside of Atlanta for about five years and pretty much only ventured there for concerts, so take this opinion as you want.)
Either way, I’ve always felt so energized and refreshed from my outings there. I’m aware that living somewhere is different from just visiting, but looking forward to the changes that will come with moving to a bigger city. Plus, I’ll be closer to the beach!
3. What’s the one thing you packed that you couldn’t have lived without?
In 2019, I started to truly invest in a hair routine that worked for my curls, so I’d say my Not Your Mother’s Curl Talk conditioner and microfiber hair wrap. Just curly girl things.
4. What about the one thing you definitely didn’t need?
The first aid kit I purchased specifically to bring with me to Korea, including the 5,000 band-aids inside. I’m not *that* clumsy.
5. What was the best food you tried? The weirdest? Any food from home you can’t wait to eat?
As far as sweets go, there are a ton of desserts I’ve tried and loved in the course of this year. One of the first things I ever had was a melon-flavored convenience store ice cream, it’s still one of my favorites though I’ve since realized that it’s more popular with ajummas. Another favorite of mine is ssiat hotteok, a popular street food. As for savory, some of my top fave dishes are jjimdak (braised chicken stew) and Korean fried chicken with fries and fried tteok.
When I first landed I was determined to be adventurous with food, but I’m still a recovering picky eater. So while it’s not entirely weird, for me, trying Korean fish cakes was pretty outside my comfort zone! In terms of what Americans might find “weird,” one of my favorite traditional snacks is a sticky rice cake with red bean paste.
Right now, the food from back home that I miss most is good Mexican food. Favorite daughter answer: my mom’s cooking, like her brisket and twice-baked potatoes, for example.
6. What is the most touristy thing you did?
I think it’s safe to say that wearing hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) while touring Gyeongbokgung Palace is the most touristy thing I did. Renting hanbok for the day is a common occurrence in Korea and, done respectfully, it is a special way to appreciate the richness of Korean cultural heritage.
7. What was the hardest adjustment?
Adjusting my expectations. I had a picture in my head of what things would be like for me and of course, it wasn’t like that at all. Plus, it was a major adjustment to go from living with a roommate to having to figure out living alone in a foreign country.
8. What’s the first thing you’re excited to do when you go back?
See my family! With COVID-19, it’s hard to say when my first trip back home will take place, but I’m looking forward to that reunion whenever it can safely happen!
9. What’s one piece of advice you would give?
Step outside your bubble. You can always find a new perspective and get out of your comfort zone, whether you teach abroad or not. Speaking from experience, it is so much easier to stick with whatever is comfortable. But “easy” doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” You can’t know what’s out there for you until you take those first uncertain steps away from your safety net. Question everything and don’t be afraid to fail. Okay, that’s more than one piece of advice, but you get the idea.
10. Use five words to describe your current state of mind.
Grateful, self-assured, hopeful, contemplative, and contented.
That’s it for now! As always, thanks for reading 🙂