5 Things I’ll Miss About Seoul, 5 I Won’t

After three and a half years, I’m leaving Korea. It’s time to start new chapter, so my husband and I are heading to America. Our current plan is to spend 1 year (2 max) in America before making our next international move.

I’m very excited to start the next chapter, but I know there are a couple of things I’ll miss about Korea. So here’s a mini-catalogue.

I’ll miss… the simplicity of my life here. Living in Seoul lets me live without a car. Public transportation is amazing, affordable, and easy to navigate. I’ve lived in four apartments in Korea, so the constant moving has made me pare down to my necessities. When I think about my friends and family back in the States with their houses full of stuff, I feel overwhelmed. I like keeping my possessions lean, so that when opportunity knocks, you can follow it. It also encourages you to save your money and buy investment pieces instead of cheap throwaway items.

I won’t miss… the occasional lack of creature comforts. Perhaps growing up in America spoiled me, but I always feel a sense of dread using public bathrooms in Korea. Will it have warm water? Soap? Paper towels or a hand dryer? More often than not, washing your hands is just giving them a cursory blast of icy water in a bathroom that might not even be heated in the middle of winter. Apartments are made of concrete that is often unsealed. In the summer, the humidity can seep through your wallpaper. In the winter, your walls are always cold to the touch. And unless you’re living in an apartment that’s brand new and quite expensive, you won’t have a bathtub if you live in the city. I miss baths.

I’ll miss the safety. Korea has a very low crime rate. I had my own brush with danger at the end of my first year here (more about that at some point), but school children can walk themselves to and from school in the middle of a busy city without much worry. America has a much higher crime rate and I can’t help but have concerns about the perception people will have of me and my husband. He’s mixed race and I’m white. Here, we’re both just considered American (in spite of his Korean mother), or even the broader sweep of “foreign,” but in America, prejudice is alive and well. That’s not to say that prejudice doesn’t exist in Korea. Korea can be quite xenophobic, but since we exist outside of the mainstream society, Korean people aren’t offended by our relationship. We are categorically the same to them; we’re not Koreans.

I won’t miss… the lack of diversity. Only about 2% of the population of Korea is not Korean. This can lead to many misconceptions about non Korean people. All white people are assumed to be American, or at least English speakers. All black people are assumed to be from somewhere in Africa. I swear, if another person expresses shock that I can eat Korean food and use chopsticks, I might scream. Things tend to be over-generalized. It’s either Korean, or not. Though everything that isn’t Korean is quite a wide band. For example, Korea is certainly not the only culture with spicy food. It’s not even the spiciest. My friend’s mother is Sri Lankan and her “toned-down” curry was much hotter than anything I experienced in Korea. Cultural ignorance is rampant all over the world, but at least in some countries there is a bit more diverse population to learn from.

I’ll miss… all the cute coffee shops and fun places to go. Being in a big city comes with the advantage of having a lot of options for entertainment. From a handful of nice parks to escape rooms, you can usually find something cool to do. Coffee shops are plentiful and some are really cozy. Now that drip coffee has become trendy, coffee shops that roast their own beans are becoming more common. Nice drinks and a pleasant atmosphere at a local coffee shop can be a lifesaver. Most Korean apartments aren’t sized for entertaining, so meeting with friends, having a casual date, or even getting work done, are all coffee shop activities.

I won’t miss… fighting for space. Any area that has trendy cafes or entertainment is inevitably flooded with people, particularly on the weekends. Festivals and events in the city will have you getting pressed by possibly millions of people. In such a big city that has developed so quickly, most people are numb to it, just seeing other people as obstacles to wordlessly shoulder past. Rush hour on any of the main train lines is a similar nightmare of people wedging themselves into others as tightly as possible so they don’t have to wait for another train. Sometimes I really miss personal space and people saying “excuse me” in any language.

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I’ll miss… the food. I really like Korean food with very few exceptions. And I love that eating out can be quite affordable if you don’t mind sticking to Korean staples. Kimbap shops and noodle places can get you a filling and relatively healthy meal for about $4 usd. Side dishes are refilled for free giving you extra value, which is great when you’re saving up for something (e.g. a wedding and an international move).

I won’t miss… grocery prices. Weirdly though, sometimes eating in isn’t much cheaper that going out. Things that are basic kitchen staples to me are priced luxuriously here. Fresh produce can be easily 2-3 times the price I paid in America. Basic vegetables like carrot, cabbage, and potato are not unreasonable, but most fruits are absurdly expensive. Buying off local fruit trucks can get you a better deal, but they aren’t usually as consistant. Beef is so expensive that I’ve only bought it a handful of times since moving here, substituting for more economical meats (such as pork). Nuts are priced like they’re stocking a hotel mini-bar. Canned tuna is about 3 times the price I’m used to as well. Keeping a stock of healthy snacks and ingredients can be a challenge.

I’ll miss… my friends. I’ve made so many great friends here. Both locally based and others that have moved to Korea from around the world. Of course, many of my friends love traveling too, so seeing them again becomes a greater possibility. And since my husband has family in Korea, the likelihood of our visiting again in the next couple years is pretty high. I’m fortunate to be taking the best friend I made in Korea with me.

I won’t miss… my job. Honestly, I’m feeling quite burnt out by the hagwon system in Korea. This has been a stressful year for me. I didn’t mesh well with the school, and I don’t agree with the educational trends in Korea overall. Chasing kindergartners around all day exhausts me.

Korea was quite a ride. It’s terribly cliche, but I really grew up while I was living here. I lived on my own for the first time, I supported myself, I made amazing friends, I found the love of my life. But, I also know it’s time to move on. I don’t think that staying here will help me grow in the directions that I want to. Korea was a very necessary chapter in my life, but it’s not the whole book.

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10 thoughts on “5 Things I’ll Miss About Seoul, 5 I Won’t

  1. ravenoustravellers

    OMG I can relate to every single one of your points!! Especially the grocery prices and the space issue (in particular personal space!) Good luck with your move back to the States, you’ll be able to eat all of the food you’ve missed! 🙂

  2. I really miss the food and the cafe culture when I leave as well. Even when I’m back home in the States, I still have a jar of kimchi and some gochujang in my fridge, haha.

    I also struggled a bit with the safety difference. I was so comfortable at ‘my’ cafe in Korea that I would sometimes leave my laptop on a table and go use the bathroom. When I went back home, I started to do the same thing without even considering where I was. Luckily, I caught myself!

  3. It’s sad that you’re leaving Korea, but I am happy because you have future plans and you will get to see life outside of Korea. I just think that this article is too personal, but for some reasons, I agreed to some of the things you wrote here. It’s true that fruits here in Korea is very expensive. Coffee shops too are something you should really miss here in Korea, they are everywhere, like, in every corner of the road. And maybe you’ll miss the convenience stores, haha, because they’re everywhere too.

    Don’t worry, you can always come to Korea if you badly miss them all. But I think, whatever happened to you here in Korea, good or bad, are part of your memory now that you will forever cherish.

    1. The personal tone is intentional. I don’t want to sound like a tourism brochure so I’ve been conscientiously trying to put more of myself into my writing. It’s something I’ve been a bit hesitant about before but feel will help me grow.
      I suppose it’s working 😉

  4. I love reading posts with personal touch on it:-)… Good luck on your next move! We will all surely miss Korea when each of our time comes. So many things to like because the country has so much to offer… uhhhhmmm, didn’t you forget about the internet speed? It is always (always) what I miss when I am on vacation.

  5. You bit the nail on the head with these points. We are leaving in the next few weeks, after being here for two years. So many things we will miss, but also some we won’t. Love your sentiment of necessary chapter but not the whole book. Good luck for your move!

  6. I’m also leaving pretty soon- we depart on the 2nd of March and it feels weird that it’s for good this time. I was supposed to leave back in April 2015 but did a u-turn and came back to work in public school! I actually finished my contract in September, went to India to do a yoga course and then came back and have been freelancing as a writer from home ever since. My things that I’ll miss and won’t miss are about the same as yours. Definitely going to miss the conveniences of living here like the amazing (and cheap) public transport but I’m really not going to miss the lack of diversity. Korea is all blending into one for me now. I feel like ever city I visit is the same as the last one. It’s definitely time to go for me I think!

    Best of luck with your move back to The States!

  7. I did a reflection post on the things I miss about Korea having left but it was mostly full of the superficial. I like the juxtaposition between good and bad. Yes to waving goodbye to that hagwon burnout! That is not good for anyone’s health, both mental and physical! Alsoooooo I do not miss those grocery prices whatsoever. I love buying produce that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg (yay to Vietnam and all its fresh affordable bounty!) Good luck with your move back! I’m making my return this summer too after three years of being abroad!

  8. Chelses

    This is so refreshing to read! Especially after just moving back home from Korea and deciding whether or not to sign my life away for another year. I completely agree with everything you won’t miss! I hate most traditional bathrooms, and can’t wrap my head around not having an enclosed shower. But to each their own, right.

  9. I miss miss miss Korea! As an Asian foreigner, it’s not so obvious to Koreans that I’m a foreigner until I open my mouth. This is why I like posts like these, where I can see things from a Westerner’s perspective.
    For example, the squat toilet doesn’t gross me out as much as it would others. It’s more acceptable for me, since my grandmother’s home used to have one. Like you, I also love Korean food and have noticed the difference in spiciness depending on culture. I also dislike the lack of multiculturalism, but I’m comparing that with the expat life in China and not really my own home countries. So yes, it’s different, but your post was a very interesting read for me. 🙂
    Thank you for sharing! Hope you enjoy your trip back home!

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