5 Reasons I Don’t Like Living in Korea

I don’t like living in Korea. There, I said it. No matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve never really been able to feel comfortable here. I moved here without much expectation other than knowing that I would be able to save up a decent amount of money to put toward my dream of traveling – a goal I’ve been able to accomplish.

Some aspects of Korea will always hold a special place in my heart as this is somewhere I’ve called home for two years. In all honesty, living in Korea has changed my life for the better – it’s a place that has enabled me to grow and learn about myself more than I thought possible. This isn’t to say that I do not appreciate some aspects of Korean culture; this country is just somewhere that I couldn’t possibly imagine living long-term. If you’re reading this and getting mentally defensive, understand that this isn’t meant to be a dig at the country or its culture, but rather an account of my experience in Korea.

I don't like living in Korea

HALP.

Disclaimer: By no means do I hold America on any higher of a platform than Korea. There are things America does better than Korea and there are things Korea does better than America. I have met some wonderful people here. I value honesty in all facets of my life, which is why I’m writing this opinion piece.

Okay, so I’ve admitted I don’t like living in Korea. Why is that?

There are several cultural norms that I’ve had difficulty connecting with. Am I closed minded? I don’t think so, but that’s for you to decide. There are just some things that have grated on me over time and have tainted my opinions of Korea. In no particular order, here are some of the primary reasons I don’t like living in Korea:

1. Korea’s vain culture

This aspect has to be the number one thing that digs at me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the occasional selfie, but Koreans take it to the next level. It’s not uncommon to sit in a coffee shop next to a table of adult women staring into their front-facing cameras, moving the device around to various angles for long periods of time. The goofiest part is the fact that they aren’t always taking photographs – they’re sometimes just staring at themselves in silence for minutes on end. My mom put it best when she came to visit and said, “I don’t know who they’re staring at more: me or themselves.”

Everything you do in this country depends on how you look. If you meet your new students’ mothers, they’ll tell you how big your eyes are and how small your face is. If you’re like me and don’t like to wear makeup that often, your boss and Korean colleagues will constantly remind you that you’re looking sick or tired. This isn’t Korea’s fault, it’s just the way of life here. Most people in this society are under a lot of pressure and vanity conquers all.

I don't like living in Korea

This is the same person.

Covered in mirrors, just walking through the cities makes it easy for people of all backgrounds to not feel good enough. Seoul, Korea is internationally known as the plastic surgery capital of the world – and not in a good way. It is estimated that one in five Korean women have had some sort of plastic surgical procedure, which grosses me out and breaks my heart at the same time. A certain image is desired so strongly that it’s almost as though people here are trying to delete their Korean identities when they fail to recognize their natural beauty. While people are certainly image obsessed in America, it’s a bit more of a taboo subject compared to Korea. It doesn’t help that I’m in the heart of it all: My apartment is in Apgujeong, the country’s plastic surgery hub. No thanks.

2. Korea’s stress culture

Korea’s known for its…intensity. Starting at a young age, many children are forced into this hurried culture and there’s no turning back. A lot of kids are made to study at what I refer to as pressure-cooker academies, more commonly known as hagwons. They’re raised to study multiple hours a day at cram schools of all kinds: art, English, math, science – you name it.

It wasn’t until 2013 that Korea’s Constitutional Court mandated that hagwons within Seoul and Busan must close at 10 p.m. Prior to the ordinances, private academies stayed open until as early as 3 a.m. There are ways of getting around these laws, however. Have building, will study, if you will. After studying for nearly their entire day, high school students often find themselves in private, rented out study rooms which are allowed to be occupied all night. While the kindergarten I work for is certainly not a cram school, knowing that I’m in some way perpetuating this sort of culture for the sake of a larger paycheck is – to me – morally corrupt.

If you’re interested in watching the typical day in the life of a Korean teenager, check out this 20 minute documentary by Judy Suh, aptly titled ExamiNation.

 

Once they grow up and out of the hagwon life, adults are expected to work long, grueling hours, often unable to escape the stress that’s been placed upon them their entire lives. It all seems fruitless though, as Korea has the worst productivity rates in the world.

3. Korea’s lack of individuality

Korea is certainly what’s known as a collectivist culture. What this means is that Korean nationalists generally put families and what’s best for the community before their own needs – amazing, right? Sort of. In order to achieve this type of mentality, people often sacrifice their critical thinking stills or personal desires. Rather than questioning something, people here often mindlessly swim with the other fish because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do.

I recently asked my co-teacher why Korean people wear top of the line hiking gear or dress similarly on a day to day basis and she gave me a simple explanation:

“People like to wear the fancy clothes so other people don’t think they are from the countryside.”

After hearing this, I couldn’t help but be brought back to my elementary school days. I grew up attending Catholic school, which meant I had to wear a uniform. One of the popular kids in 8th grade purchased khaki pants at American Eagle, which trickled down the line. Before I knew it, my mom was taking me to the mall to purchase the pants so I could look “cool.” I eventually grew out of that ideology once I entered middle school when I began to find my own identity – something I’m forever grateful to my country for encouraging.

This isn’t to say young Koreans aren’t branching out and speaking for themselves, but it certainly isn’t the norm. This mentality applies to all facets of life. I can’t imagine it’s super easy for creatives to thrive here and it’s one of the primary reasons I don’t like living in Korea.

4. Korea can be highly discriminatory

Koreans tend to believe their race and nation is superior to others. With that said, a lot of people here take what they call their “tanil minjok” (단일 민족), or “pure-blooded racial community,” very seriously. Despite the fact that the country has seen a large amount of immigration since the Korean War, some people here still find difficulty with “foreigners.”

I don't like living in Korea

A Korean news program.

I get it. It happens in my own country, too. Some people mindlessly despise those from Mexico or cast a generalization upon every human being from the Middle Eastern region of the world. Why? Because racism exists literally everywhere. The only difference is that American children weren’t taught as recently as 15 years ago that they are the “master race.” Yes, that’s a thing in Korea and it’s very real. A woman in a jimjilbang once openly talked about how my friends and I were “ruining the purity of the water” whilst we were sitting in a sauna – something I wouldn’t have known had I not been with a fluent Korean speaker. Whatever, lady.

I don't like living in Korea

A Korean television show.

A common issue for non-Koreans is being denied cab service. I can’t begin to count how many times a cab driver has slowed down, saw my face, and continued to drive away. This is such an issue that the Korean government mandated a “three-strikes” law for Korean cab drivers who deny service to foreigners. The law came into effect on January 29 and will be a game changer for those living here.

If you’ve ever attended public events here, I’m sure you’ve noticed that many have closed off sections for non-Koreans and Koreans. This isn’t unique to events; it has been attempted in public spaces as well.

In May 2015, the Korean government announced that it had plans to segregate Busan’s famous Haeundae Beach into several sections: a “China Zone,” a “Kid Zone” and a section of beach 50 meters away from the “Korean Zone” labeled the “Foreigner Zone.” When the government experienced a lot of public backlash (imagine that), it refuted claims, alleging the original terms to have been “misunderstood.” Right.

I don't like living in Korea

 

5. Korea cultivates childish behavior

Imagine you’re out for the evening with your significant other or friends. You’re walking down the street and you see a purse flying through the sky and watch as it lands on the ground. You look up to see an adult woman standing, fists clenched with a pout on her face while stomping her feet. You watch a man walk solemnly walk over to the woman. The woman stomps her feet a few more times, curtly turns around and walks away. You continue to watch as the poor guy – TOTALLY DEFEATED – picks up the purse and hurries toward her.

This isn’t a scene from a K-Drama. This is a real life situation that took place on the streets of Itaewon.

From a very young age, Koreans expect to be coddled. Dating here is often based on extremely superficial factors (reference the first bullet point of this post) and the relationships seem a bit reminiscent of my middle school days. With that said, it’s very acceptable and culturally welcomed for adults to throw temper tantrums in public spaces as well as in private.

The term for it is called “aegyo,” which was largely popularized by Kpop. Often described as something a woman “uses to get what she wants,” these whiney mini-tantrums are bizarre and when I encounter them in public I feel like I never left my kindergarten classroom. Like a child begging for a piece of candy, Korean women who play this game rely solely on those in power – a man or their parents – until they can be awarded the item they’re crying over. If they’re denied, the tantrum will most likely escalate and continue until the adult in the relationship gives in. Weirded out by this? Me too.

On the contrary, older women in Korea are absolutely incredible and resilient. They are hard working and climb mountains well into their elderly years. They’re tough, they’ve experienced immense changes and they’re fearless. I view this “aegyo” communication as a direct slap in the face to all the Korean women who worked so hard in the past and continue to do so to this day.

While there are a few more reasons that I never felt comfortable in the country, these are the primary examples. I guess it doesn’t help that I caught a man filming and/or taking photos of me while I was sleeping – a situation all too common in Korea. While I’ve highlighted some of the horrors of living in Korea above, it wasn’t always that bad. If you’re interested in a more positive posts, I’ve written about a few topics such as 3 reasons I like living in Korea, the quirks I’ve developed living in Korea as well as the kindness of Koreans. Thanks for reading!

I don't like living in Korea

Pin me!

 

Have you ever lived in a country where you never felt at home?

56 Comments

  1. January 29, 2016 / 11:36 am

    I am moving to Seoul next month and I’m already so nervous. I’m dreading people pointing out that I’m overweight all the time! 🙁

    • January 29, 2016 / 12:19 pm

      You’re lovely. They won’t stare at you for being overweight, but more because you have blond hair which they are very intrigued by as it’s not very common. There are great aspects of Korea, but I’ve just mentally overstayed my welcome for two years too long. The culture certainly isn’t for me that’s for sure!

      • January 29, 2016 / 4:15 pm

        Where are you based? If you’re in Seoul, we should go for a coffee or something!

        • January 29, 2016 / 4:36 pm

          I’m in Gangnam! When do you get here? I’ll be leaving March 2.

          • January 30, 2016 / 5:54 pm

            I’ll be in Mok-dong! I think I’m going to be arriving before the 25th so if you’re around, let me know 🙂

  2. January 29, 2016 / 12:44 pm

    I found this post very interesting, thank-you. I think the vanity would wind me up too. I hate the whole selfie thing here too! Acting like a baby and stress culture probably wouldn’t do it for me either, though I’m sure there are plenty of exception to that. I’m a bit too lazy I think!

    • January 29, 2016 / 12:54 pm

      Thanks! At first none of these things got to me. I found them endearing and sweet. Then I started seeing the way women behave toward men and it gave me the heebie jeebies. I can’t fathom acting like a baby to my boyfriend or stomping my feet and crying in public to get something. That’s just me, though! I’m looking forward to leaving in a month!

  3. January 29, 2016 / 1:02 pm

    These observations are spot on. I lived in S. Korea for a year and half. It was one of the best experiences of my life but wow was I ready to move on. The culture is so different from our own culture so it is difficult to live there long term, at least I couldn’t do it! I did find that I really liked older Koreans a lot and I made a few really good younger friends from work that I am still in contact with today. It takes a while to make Korean friends there, but when you do, they are loyal friends for life. I do miss Korea and want to visit again someday, but I could not live there again.

    One thing I’d add to the list of dislikes is the drinking culture in Korea. I could not believe how ridiculously drunk people would get! Some of the men would get violent. They would try and pick fights in bars with male foreigners and I saw several men aggressive with their girlfriends.. I once saw a man kick a Korean woman in a bar in her chest. -Many study martial arts at least as children. Then I saw another guy drunk on the street punch his girlfriend in the face. I saw so many people carrying their drunk passed out girlfriends on their backs from bar to bar. I grew tired of having to step over passed out business men on the sidewalks as well as human vomit. Ewwwwww! Now I am not a prude at all, but I have never in my life been to a country where this behavior was acceptable and so regular. 🙂 It was a little shocking.

    But the good outweighed the bad and overall my experiences in Korea were positive. I learned a lot about myself and their country and people. I made really great friends. I wouldn’t change anything. But I also wouldn’t live there again. 🙂

    • January 29, 2016 / 3:50 pm

      Wow I feel for you and your friend! I hate domestic violence and that fact that police are so unwilling to do anything about it. It does not surprise me at all that the police told the couple about the foreigner that reported them. Privacy does not exist in many places. Ugh. I like you, think living in Korea made me a stronger person. For that alone I would not change a thing, and also because of some of the amazing people I met and wonderful friends I made. Would I ever live there again? No way! But I would visit and avoid the bar scene now that I’m older and it doesn’t appeal to me as much as it once did. 🙂

      FYI I know the 7-11 you are talking about. I think I went to a dance club across the street and the drinks were so pricey we walked to the 7-11 to get a few cheap beers before going back in to dance more. That was a fun night. Sorry yours was awful!

      It’s so refreshing to see bloggers posting the good as well as the bad about places they visit. It is opinion after all but I like to see all sides of a story, not just the rainbows and unicorns! Thanks for sharing this story!

  4. January 29, 2016 / 4:44 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It was really insightful to hear these (American-non-exceptionalist) points of view about life in Korea. I initially wanted to teach in Korea, then figured I’d rather improve my Chinese than learn a new language from scratch, so I’m gearing up to go to Taiwan. But I’ve been trying to keep an open mind lately about Korea, since you can make twice as much money there.

    Anyway, while pondering these thoughts, it was really helpful to read this entry. Thanks!

    • January 29, 2016 / 4:58 pm

      Glad to help! Certainly keep an open mind. Many people love it here, many people hate it here. It’s a very niche culture and it’s just a place that I never meshed well with. I think it’s a great country regardless and encourage anyone to take the leap. It’s a great place to save money if that’s your goal and there would certainly be people here to practice your Chinese with. As I said, I’ve had positive experiences here so it’s not always all bad! I just don’t like it. Let me know if you have any questions!

  5. January 29, 2016 / 10:09 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this! These are some of the reasons I decided to move to Taiwan over South Korea… After a lot of research, it seemed to mesh a lot more with my values. Though South Korean culture is fascinating and I’d love to explore it more while visiting, I do think it would be draining to live in a place that doesn’t coincide with your personal beliefs. Congratulations on toughing two years and making the most of it!

    • January 29, 2016 / 10:41 pm

      I think you’ve made the right decision if you’ve done your research. I’ve often found that people who left Korea after 1-2 years and went to Taiwan were instantly happier. I haven’t been to Taiwan yet but I am looking forward to the day I go! Yes it’s certainly been draining and I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to leave somewhere in my entire life. Thanks for your kind words of encouragement.

      • February 3, 2016 / 6:14 am

        I just visited Taiwan for a four day stint and was immediately so much more in love with it than I ever have been with Korea.

        • February 3, 2016 / 7:45 am

          Funny as I’ve actually met a number of people here who’ve traveled to Taiwan and were immediately obsessed with it. In the same vein, I’ve met people who moved there from Korea to work and had similar experiences there.

  6. January 29, 2016 / 11:46 pm

    A very well researched post. I enjoyed reading it. Like you, I never felt at home in Japan. Japanese women do something similar to the aegyo but they use high pitched nasal voices when flirting and that absolutely drives me insane. It makes my skin crawl. I also hated that they weren’t very affectionate, something that I find Koreans are.

    Also, the woman with the plastic surgery looks a lot better in the second photo because it looks like she had a pretty bad underbite and plastic surgery helped her. I have an acquaintance back home who did something similar because it was affecting her daily life. While I do agree that a lot of people are vain here, sometimes plastic surgery isn’t such a bad thing, especially if they’re doing it for themselves to feel and look better. To please others is a different story.

    And let me tell you, if anyone thinks they’re racially superior, it’s the Japanese (in the past) who went about conquering shit and thought they should be the head of all Asian nations. (Yes, this was actually published in a journal and translated.)

    Personally, I’m a little troll. I once witnessed a girl bawling her eyes out because of something a guy did. Like full on wailing, and I found it entertaining. I stared until he shut her up which was hilarious to me.

    Also, I’m not a fan of the 빨리 빨리 culture. I think it’s the worst and causes them a lot of stress. I also think it’s part of the reason for the low birth rate.

    I’m curious how you became fluent in Korean. Any tips?

    • January 30, 2016 / 12:03 am

      Thanks! Koreans are known for not being very affectionate as well, though. I think the similarities between Japan and Korea are quite large in that regard. I think it’s changing for younger Koreans, but they’re usually in high school or very young in college.

      As far as that woman in the photo, if she was doing it just to feel better about the underbite, unfortunately I don’t think she would have gotten face contouring, a smaller forehead, a smaller nose and bigger eyes. I think people don’t realize that fixing themselves on the outside doesn’t act as a bandaid for the turmoil they feel inside. It’s a cultural norm and I find it appalling and depressing that parents pay for their children to receive new faces. Again, this isn’t something that is necessarily Koreans’ fault. Their parents are very critical of them from a young age and this culture perpetuates this “perfectionism in all aspects” mentality. Most people are interested in what’s on the outside rather than on the inside, and this affects every aspect of the wheel of life here.

      Koreans have the “han” which is mainly directed at the Japanese. Regardless, they’re determined to be the best of the best which they usually fall short of. This is where the “pure blood” comes in, as it’s something they’re proud of (understandably so) after the Japanese invasions. It’s a sense of their pride, so I can’t compare to Japan as I’m not Japanese or Korean (thus not having the han that all Koreans claim they have.) I’m not sure if Japan has segregated sections for foreigners or continues to do black face for comedic purposes, but I would be interested in knowing that.

      Yes, Korean women are often crying on sidewalks and in public until the boyfriend coddles them. It’s strange and I also unabashedly stare because I’m an adult and I don’t think that sort of behavior by anyone over the age of 4 – err, Korean age 6 – should be merited.

      I’m not fluent, my friend is as I stated I wouldn’t have had any clue had I not been with her =) I agree as far as the low birth rate, but I also think that has a lot to do with the fact that people here get married later in life as they’re expected to provide so much before marriage and a lot of people get married as a last resort type thing rather than for love. Hope you enjoy the time in Korea. I think you’ll find over time (you’ve been here a relatively short time) just how similar Japanese and Korean cultures are!

  7. January 30, 2016 / 6:46 pm

    Thank you for putting things which are amazingly different. I am an Asian and I truly respect your views on this. People, mostly from Eastern Asia have the mentality which you have perfectly pictured it out. Even, my parents and my school wanted me to learn every 16 hours a day. Though they never realized that I like coding in computers rather they wanted me to complete things which I didn’t like. I am truly happy to realize that it is more like a DNA defect in Asian people. Thank you for your post. I hope you have a better time.

    • Ann
      February 11, 2016 / 1:18 am

      Daniel, I hope you will find (or have found) a way to pursue your own interests and talents. Gaining new perspectives from learning how other cultures and people approach life is so expanding, and valuable. All the best to you!

  8. January 31, 2016 / 9:30 am

    This post was extremely well written and supported with external information. I’ve gotten used to all 5 of these reasons of why you don’t like living in Korea, but they still do bum me out from time to time. I find myself being able to cope with these things better by recognizing I’m only here temporarily, I don’t think I could ever live here long term even though there are alot of things I find myself loving about Korea. What’s funny is that I find public toilets, street puke, and street trash to be the three things I find most unacceptable about living here.

    I get really sad when I hear my students talk about how they can’t wait to get plastic surgery because their mom tells them they’re ugly or how stupid they are because they got two answers wrong on their vocabulary test …it’s really heartbreaking.It makes me feel grateful for the childhood I had.

    I find humor seeing grown ass adults using the “egyo” technique – if that’s what they like, to each their own… It makes me realize how dry my dating life would have been had I lived here as a single. haha

    Anyways, thanks for the honest post.

    • January 31, 2016 / 11:58 am

      Thanks! It’s funny how different things bother others that some find revolting. Humans are interesting. I don’t really mind the public toilets here aside from the weirdo dildo-esque soap because it’s so dirty. The vomit is gross but I don’t see that as much. The spitting bothers me but that’s cultural and something they don’t find rude, so I’ve just sort of accepted it.

      I was once borderline obsessed with Korea and none of these five things bothered me at all. I had a similar mindset as you, which I think is great. However, over time the superficiality and stress has been chipping away at my soul and I just need to move on. I’ve mentally overstayed my welcome as I was ready to go 1.5 years ago but stayed for the sake of love – a decision I’ll never regret.

      The aegyo is certainly pathetically funny but I still don’t find it enjoyable listening to an adult woman beg for things in the same way my kindergarten students do when they really want something! As I said, it’s my opinion so while some people agree with me, it’s understandable that others may not!

      • February 1, 2016 / 2:41 am

        Haha, those soap bars- I can’t use them! I think you live in a bit nicer area of Seoul than we do, the puke piles are everywhere. Gotta watch your step! I completely agree with how you feel though, After our first year teaching I was so ready to leave and never come back – I really needed a break from all of these things. Then after taking 8 months away, we decided we could do it one more year.(but that’s it!) I feel like since we came back we have a different perspective. We had the much needed break that we needed to recalibrate. The one week vacations are not enough here, especially in a place where the culture is completely different than your own.

  9. January 31, 2016 / 12:34 pm

    Wow, you hit the nail on the head here. I’m also coming up to the 2 year mark and this is exactly how I feel. There are so many things I love about this country and so much that I’ve learned while I’ve been here but I know that me and Korea have never exactly fit. I think I’m open minded about the culture and am always respectful but there are things that I will never accept, like the aegyo culture, the close mindedness and shallowness. I know there are definitely things about my culture that Koreans find strange and can’t accept too, neither culture is right or wrong but sometimes a place is just a wrong fit for you! Hope your next adventure is amazing Laura 🙂 x

  10. February 3, 2016 / 6:19 am

    I LOVE this post! I’ve read so much about how great Korea is and how much expats love it here and I was starting to think there was something wrong with me (and my husband) for hating it. I agree with everything on this list and would add my personal frustration of produce in Seoul costing the same amount it does in New York but mostly being of terrible quality with very little variety AND treatment of dogs in Korea. We rescued two huskies here, which I know means we brought more stares and dirty looks upon ourselves, but how could we not with all the shelters here so underfunded, under-regulated and overflowing?

    • February 3, 2016 / 7:44 am

      There’s certainly nothing wrong with you guys. It’s hard living here. It’s easy to make money but…no. Yes the cost of fruit here is out of control, but I don’t think that’s as terrible as some of the other things that bother me as I knew that ahead of time. The treatment of animals is horrific but that’s just Asia in general not necessarily unique to Korea. It doesn’t mean it makes it any easier to see some dogs chained up here the way they are. It’s pretty terrible but I hope that’s something that is changing among younger Koreans. At any rate, thanks so much for reaching out. I’m glad I made you two feel a bit more at ease – you aren’t alone! How much longer do you have left here? I hope it’s not too long!

  11. February 9, 2016 / 7:17 am

    I could not imagine dealing with the discrimination as a foreigner, the segregation thing is crazy. People will make comments here about foreigners but thankfully it is not too often. And the childlike behavior of the girls, that would drive me insane. Super interesting to read this!

  12. February 9, 2016 / 12:01 pm

    Oh wow, amazing reading this. I have never visited Korea but now I can totally get an idea of their culture and society. The movie about the egyo is hilarious, I never imagined something like that has a word for it and is actually common to ‘use’ as a tool and they admit it as well. Wow, culture differences:)! Thanks for this amazing post Laura!

  13. February 9, 2016 / 2:59 pm

    I had known about Korea’s peculiar obsession with plastic surgery, but I hadn’t realized how glaringly different Korean culture can be. To be honest, I had a huge KPOP and kdrama phase and that really glorified the country in my eyes. I eventually grew out of it, but I still had many friends who were so tuned into that world that I couldn’t have a decent conversation with them unless it was about the latest SHINee single or whatever. I realized how the entertainment industry perpetuates a certain ideal image for girls and guys. It’s not exclusive to Korea–for example, Hollywood perpetuates its own image of the ideal American man and woman–but the homogeneity of Korea, the lack of individualism, and the dominance of Korean pop culture all cultivate in the unhealthy obsession with being ideal.

    The “aegyo” thing would drive me up a wall! I like how you put it–“as a direct slap in the face to all the Korean women who worked so hard in the past and continue to do so to this day.” Would you say it’s thoughtful manipulation from the woman’s part, or do they honestly think that’s an appropriate way to get what you want? Either way, jeepers creepers!

  14. February 9, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    What an interesting post. I would still like to visit Korea but it isn’t somewhere that appeals to me for living. I’m ‘living’ in Nicaragua for 6 weeks, a temporary stop to work and save some money but I know I could not live here full time. The heat, the cat calling, did I mention the heat?! Going to save that short film for later. Thanks for sharing, I hope you get some respite!

  15. February 10, 2016 / 1:49 am

    NIce post! I’ve certainly experienced this when I went on a vacation in Korea with my friends. A guy, probably in college pushed me in the subway. He did not even say sorry to me. He acted pretty normal when passing long fellow Koreans though.. Haven’t seen the no-foreigners allowed restaurants. Thank goodness because that would make my positive thoughts about Korea crumble,.

  16. February 17, 2016 / 3:17 am

    Wow, there’s an incredible response to this post from people who feel the same way.

    I’m also one of them. I’ve been here for almost 2 years and just don’t like living here. I’m done and I’m glad to be moving.

    The obsession with looks thing bothered me so much when I first came here but it wasn’t until I went on vacation last month and started wondering where all the mirrors were and checking my own compact to see if my make-up/hair were okay that I realised how ingrained the looks thing has become. It’s horrible. I came here on top of the world and full of confidence. My self-esteem was at an all-time high. Now, 2 years later? It’s taken a battering. I’m so self-conscious and have some major body image issues. Will definitely be needing to work on that when I leave.

    I’m always glad that I got to work in a vocation school where there’s no pressure on my students to go to university. None of them will and that’s why they come here. They just have to learn the practical skills they’re taught and the school will help them get a job when they graduate. There’s no pressure on them to pass the English exams so they can relax in my class. I don’t know how I would have coped working at a hagwon or an academic high school.

    I also put a dead stop on the childish behaviour in my class. During my first semester, so many teenage girls (age 16-17) would whine and throw full on tantrums. I told them straight that in my class you acted like young ladies or get out. I didn’t sign on to teach babies in a high school.

    These cultural differences are a pain in the bum but, yeah, there are still things I do enjoy here. I’m not sure if I’ll miss living here though.

    • February 17, 2016 / 4:42 am

      Thanks for your comment! I definitely used to think that I was an odd one out for not liking living in Korea. It’s not like I dislike the country itself, but I just cannot imagine ever having to be here for longer than I have. After awhile, I realized I was not abnormal and I’m no longer afraid to admit that I really hate living here. I leave in a little under two weeks and really look forward to moving forward. I’ve gained a strong sense of self here but it came from being so absolutely stressed all the time. For example, this morning I had to push past at least five people on my way out of the train without apologizing simply because they just don’t move out of the way. It’s like moving a rock. I thought to myself, “no wonder people here are so stressed out all the time!”

      It’s really taken a toll on my sanity. My school does not push children at all, but my first job was a doozie. The children were expected to write five paragraph essays each week by age 9. It was really unfortunate. I will look back on my time here fondly, but like you, I certainly will not miss living here for the most part.

      • February 18, 2016 / 11:43 pm

        Girl, I can’t even begin to explain how much I resonate with you. You leave in just under 2 weeks; I leave in just under 5 weeks. If you have time, we should have a coffee/lunch meetup.

        • February 19, 2016 / 1:16 am

          Are you in Seoul? I would love to meet up!

  17. February 21, 2016 / 6:53 pm

    I lived in Korea 10 years ago and, while I personally really loved it and have been vack to visit a few times since, there were certainly aspects that I didn’t like. I think discrimination was actually worse then as well. But I imagine the beauty/vain aspects are even worse now than when I was there. I swear Korea was actually the first time I started seeing girls take selfies of themselves. I live in California now and it’s rampant here and everywhere else now, I guess- but yeah, all that plastic surgery in Korea is crazy. It really is hard to live in a culture so different to your own. Like you say, there are things in your own country you don’t like but, somehow, when you live in another country the undesirable aspects seem to stand out more. I’m British and, while I love California, there are things in the US that make me so annoyed! It almost seems worse here- I’ve lived overseas a few times but it was always temporary. I’ve moved to the US permanently and I think knowing I’m here forever makes all the annoying things worse haha! I hope the things you don’t like about Korea don’t sour it for you though. I’m sure you had a lot of great times too. One thing I have found useful is to think of the things I wouldn’t have/be experiencing if I wasnt living in the US (or one of the other countries I’ve lived in). For example- I might get annoyed at how I have to drive everywhere here when in the UK I can walk or take public transport (this is definitely not the worst thing but it does annoy me). But then I remind myself that if I was back in the UK it would be cold and rainy anyway and I wouldn’t live next to a beautiful beach. Hope that helps and good luck with your next adventure.

    • February 21, 2016 / 8:15 pm

      Thanks! I think an important thing to remember is not to generalize the US. For instance, driving everywhere in a city is very unique to California (er, Los Angeles) rather than the entirety of the MASSIVE country. I lived in Chicago for 7 years and walked everywhere and took public transportation. I used my car for out of town purposes. Same goes with New York City. My experience here is certainly not spoiled, but yeah it’s just not a culture for me. I went out with friends the other night and the table of women next to us didn’t speak to one another all night but rather just took photos of themselves. It was really sad that it’s the norm here and it’s almost to be expected! I’m grateful for the memories I’ve made here – good and bad – but it’s time to go. Thanks for your comment!

  18. March 22, 2016 / 8:15 am

    I thought about teaching in Korea, then found out there is serious age discrimination there and I was wayyy too old to even be considered for a teaching job. I ended up in Taiwan and it’s great! Glad you figured out Korea wasn’t a good fit for you and are moving on!

  19. sabi
    July 30, 2016 / 4:18 am

    Gosh i completely agree with you. I DO NOT LIKE this country for the reason you stated as well as you are supposed to be conscious of everyones elses opinion . Ur parents in law dictate the way you get married etc. Im 27 and i get treated like a kid. Hate it. Not to mention somehow old ajummas think they can somehow touch my body wtf. I have a hard time deciding whether to stay or go simply cuz I meant a very western thinking Korean guy. But this country is making me into such a pessimistic person…

    If u still in Seoul id love to meet up.
    sabicoat25 is my kakaoid

    • July 30, 2016 / 4:40 am

      Hey, Sabina! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Korea really does suck, eh? I wrote this from a very dark place, one of which I’ve totally escaped since leaving that country. I can’t imagine ever feeling like I did before I left. I am so sorry you’re going through this and please know it will get better. I’ve dropped you a line on your email in case you don’t read this. Keep you head up.

  20. Althea
    August 8, 2016 / 1:28 pm

    Thank you for your post. This is very informative and different from the You-Tube videos I have watched 😊

  21. Patricija
    October 1, 2016 / 3:12 pm

    Hey Laura! I am a student from Lithuania studying in the UK. Thank you so much for sharing your prospect and your view of Korea and korean people. I was always facinated by korean culture and their way of living for quite a bit of time. Therefore, I always wanted to visit South Korea and see how much my expectations meet the reality. I am planning to move there after I finish University or at least go there for a holiday and see how things are there. Your post did make me concerned on how will I deal with all the flaws you pointed out, because they seem pretty severe 😀 But I find their culture and heritage so interesting, and aboslutely love their language and I wish to be fluent in it, as I love learning new languages. Even after reading your post and how hard can it be there, I still have hope to find something so beautiful in there that will make me stay. Do you think its worth to try?

    • October 4, 2016 / 4:23 am

      YES! It’s definitely worth it to try!

  22. Jusitn Song
    October 19, 2016 / 2:14 am

    Thank you for your detail pointing out on Korean life and I have to admit that it’s true.
    I was born in Korea and immigrated to Canada when I was 30. I may have the same reasons and they brought me to out of country. However, after living in US(NJ, OR) now I am back to Korea for working in company.
    Here is the tip. If you want to be away from the reasons, find the right people who live out of Seoul and well educated in oversea country, but do not get along with stupid and no-manner Koreans. It’s hard to find because they are not exposed to public, but it’s worth. They have their own community, respectful, well mannered and open to foreigners.

    I am sorry for your unpleasant experience living in Korea, but many good people normally hide…
    At New York city, many people could claim several unacceptable reasons like aboves.
    I was born in Seoul and stayed for 30 years, but I don’t like to live in Seoul either. And these days, the stupid government drives stressed Koreans crazy too. Away..

    • October 20, 2016 / 7:00 pm

      Hey, Justin! Thanks for reading and commenting. I definitely agree that these types of issues could be had in any major city across the globe. I sometimes wonder how different my experience would be if I’d lived somewhere smaller in Korea. In my neighborhood in Seoul (Sinsa/Apgujeong) there wasn’t any grocery store, but there were hundreds of plastic surgery centers. It was a bit overwhelming. Within six months of living in Korea, my boyfriend and I caught a man watching us sleep and filming/taking pictures from my bedroom window. It took my school/employer EIGHT MONTHS to fix the window and not one of them ever asked if I was okay. After that, it was hard for me to ever feel comfortable in Korea. I no longer live there and am much happier and feel more like myself again. It was not the best experience, but I’m sure there are plenty of people who love it there.

      Thanks so much for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your future!

  23. Evelyn
    October 19, 2016 / 9:43 am

    Hello Laura! I enjoyed reading your post; you tell it like it is but in such a respectful and honest manner 🙂 I’ve never lived in Korea and have only travelled there thrice. I’ve experienced the 5 things that you’ve listed and have always wondered how do people from outside the culture actually manage to live there in the long run. Those things would really get to me and affect me overtime.

    I’ve also always found it strange that out of the three times i’ve been there on holiday, on two of those trips i felt this immense sense of gloom for no apparent reason. I just felt very down and kind of “hopeless” just walking around, visiting the various places. I still can’t figure out why I felt that way there (and the minute i was at Incheon airport on the way out of Korea my mood lifted) but there’s something about the atmosphere i feel; just the surrounding vibes, people and environment.

    The vanity culture really got to me and it’s the only place on earth where i felt the constant need to check if my makeup was ok and to re-apply it (on the train no less!). It just came so naturally to me and felt so normal cause everyone was doing it. Also – the open blatant comments on one’s appearance – most of them were positive but I just found it so in-your-face and kinda shallow after awhile.. It’s like ppl compliment you either to get you to buy something or for some other sort of motivation that I couldn’t quite tell.

    I also really dislike the drinking/smoking culture here too (seems like there are a bunch of men smoking on every street corner) and this is a random point but i feel like Koreans love to eat ALOT which results in a lot of food wastage all the time. The communal eating thing also bothers me (though I’m half-Chinese and communal eating is very common in the Chinese culture too) as I always only travel to Korea with another friend/my mum and we would be unable to try out the food in various restaurants cause the portions were just too huge. Also, I started to get really bored of the food after awhile. I love fresh things – fresh vegetables and fruits in particular but found it very lacking in the cuisine. I felt so constrained by the food that i didn’t really look forward to meals there lol.

    And omg the stress of riding the subways and the shoving/pushing, throngs of people everywhere you go, walking miles somewhere only to realise it’s been shut down, the lack of dustbins, the unsanitary situations in most public bathrooms. I’ve been in places where I was absolutely horrified at the absence of soap or like you get those communal bar soap thingies which is sooo gross.

    Also, is it just me but i find romantic relationships here to be really….fast-paced and quite shallow with alot of co-dependency and neediness? Like, I find that couples behave in a very childish manner – couple t-shirts, aegyo-ing with each other etc. And like things seem to progress so fast in romantic relationships here that sometimes I wonder what are they going for? It’s like there’s no stage of dating and getting to know whether you are a good fit for one another and then deciding to get together. It’s just like boom – meet a member of the opposite sex, get together and start acting like a couple who’s been together for 5 years. I dont know if i make sense but i find it extremely bizzare. I always wonder how much do couples really know about each other and what is it that made them want to get together. Do they share the same values and goals and all those deeper things or is it simply getting together cause both parties are single and available? Hmm.

    • October 20, 2016 / 6:53 pm

      Korea made me feel extremely depressed, which is where my mind was when I initially wrote this. As far as the smoking culture, I don’t mind that as much because I find many places in Asia (and my own country in some cities) are quite similar. I’d say Koreans are more respectful regarding smoking habits than other places I’ve traveled in Asia, actually. With eating, I think it’s a nice way for them to gather together and enjoy conversation and have fun, so I never paid any attention to whether or not they were finishing their meals.

      I certainly don’t miss having to ride the subway there; so much pushing made me feel really uneasy. As far as the dating culture goes, yes I definitely noticed that. It’s so foreign in comparison to my own culture where we like to get to know one another first before committing. I think it all depends on the individuals, but I did notice things moved very quickly there (even in my own experiences, which turned me off a bit.)

      Overall, my negative feelings toward Korea have shifted into oblivion as I no longer live there and won’t be returning any time soon – if ever. Some people love it, some people hate it. I happened to dislike the environment quite a bit but did meet many foreigners and locals who were great. It does get hard every day to live somewhere where people say, “what’s wrong?” or “are you sick?” every day upon walking into work. It really takes a toll on one’s psyche. Thanks for reading and I hope you don’t let the vanity bring you down, lovely!

  24. Taehee Kim
    October 23, 2016 / 3:02 am

    I want tell you something about number 4.
    I am korean.
    I can’t speak English well but I hope you read.

    About taxi
    Some taxi drivers alot~~~~~of time ignore to Korean also too so oneday i was waiting 4hours for taxi.

    And section divided foreigners and Korean reason why korean section workers can not speak English.

    And last one why some event area korea and foreigner. Actually foreigner areas facilities better korean areas facilities. Because you know they like good looking forappearance and they want get for more money.
    Korean doesn’t help exchange that’s reason why.

    Other things I agree specially 1 and 5 🙂
    Thanks for reading

  25. Solan Hellmann
    October 26, 2016 / 8:24 am

    Dear Laure,

    I find me in your writing. Ich felt the same way like you.
    Don’ t make you sick because of all you think.
    Just live and enjoy and thank what you have.
    Believe me, your korea living time is one of the best expierience in your life which you bild up and need.

    Your Solan

  26. Sara
    October 27, 2016 / 8:37 pm

    Hi Laura
    I am a korean having lived in the states many years. When I lived only in korea, I think I acted same way as you described above and probably would have been defensive even offended by thinking you are generalizing the culture. But now I guess I am assimilated to american culture (be roman in rome. LOL), I can totally understand and agree with you. But the plastic surgeries, looking at the mirror all the time, taking stupid selfies everywhere and aekyo are ridiculous to me and i do get annoyed time to time, But they are passable.
    The things I really have problem with are lack of individuality, no personal space, shoving and bumping, people touching my body part (someone mentioned about it) and the stupid comments such as “you look ill” when you dont wear make up. These things really drive me up the wall. Ah another big thing, the temper tantrum…it is not only happening between couples, Korean people tend to throw tantrums whenever things dont go their way regardless age and gender. You can see people scream, cry, throw things, kick things when they get mad and complain about somethings or when they are drunk. These kinds of behavior are widely accepted and there are not much consequences even when cops are called. And if you dont have guts or whatever to act like them, it is best to walk away unless they break you bone. There are still a lot of stuff I enjoy in korea, but sometimes I just want to scream and that is what i am doing now. So please bear with me. LOL

  27. David Graves
    October 29, 2016 / 3:39 am

    I came upon this post because I’ll be moving to Seoul, soon.
    From your perspective, Korea sounds almost exactly like China- except that in China, people tend to be far less “romantic”- women will gather in groups to take pictures of their faces for 30 minutes and of their expensive food that they never touch, but relationships are purely about money for women in China, whereas in Korea there seems to be an aspect of naive, “prince charming” type shit. Also, it seems that Koreans generally follow the law, rather than completely disregarding it as they do in China. And there there’s the whole thing where China blocks nearly all western websites. And there’s the whole thing where you can’t trust anyone in China because nobody trusts anybody in China. But otherwise, the people in both countries seem to behave in very much the same way.

    So… thanks for your honest review of the place. Korea should be much easier for me to deal with than China.

  28. Evan
    November 5, 2016 / 2:34 pm

    very interesting… I’m totally agree with you even though I was born in Korea

  29. JC
    November 5, 2016 / 7:58 pm

    Laura,

    I have to admit that most of the points you made are completely right. I am a Korean, born and raised there, but now I have been living in the US for about 10 years. How many times I felt the way you felt whenever I visit Korea. Like, Koreans care too much about how you look.

    My parents and friends always greet me with 왜 이렇게 말랐냐 (you look so thin) 왜 이렇게 피곤해 보이냐 (you look so tired). I always tell them not to comment on others’ look, but they just don’t change. It is just Korean culture and I doubt it will ever chance in this generation.

    I also agree with your other points regarding “cultivating childish behaviors.” That is at least partly due to the Confucius culture (men should accept whatever women do since men are responsible for their women at home). It became even worse with movie “My Sassy Girl” (엽기적인 여자) in which an extremely spoiled (but good-looking) girl treats her boy friend unfairly in the name of love. Korean women must have been influenced by the movie. I also had girl friends like that.

    There is one more point I would like to add: KOREA IS AN INSECURE SOCIETY, which I think is the main underlying driver of most other things you pointed out. Koreans get angry when they feel they are treated disrespectfully. In Korean, 쟤가 나 무시하네 and they start fighting.

    Of course, there are many things I miss about Korea– the food, nightlife, and my family and friends. But the culture there is just too much. Korea is now an advanced economy—it took only 50 years to catch up with developed ones. However, it will take generations for the mindset of people to change..

  30. Chris
    December 5, 2016 / 1:32 pm

    I found this blog after trying to process similar thoughts on my first ever visit to Korea this weekend, and it’s helped me understand why I really disliked being in Korea. In fact, I think for the first time ever, and after travelling to many places in the Far East, I experienced deep culture shock.

    I am an ALT on the West Coast of Japan, so naturally I thought a short trip to Korea would make sense when I had time off. Seriously after two days I was ready to return, I was previously interested in Korean culture and history, but the experience was just so off-putting, that I cannot see myself ever wanting to go back. People are so cold, they constantly bump into you in the street and never even acknowledge your existence, even in convenience stores.

    I also noticed the selfie thing in Korea, it is at least 10 times worse there than in Japan, where it is already really common. I just found it so bizarre that girls would just look at themselves, as if entranced like Narcissus, I haven’t noticed that so much in Japan usually selfies are short or especially a bit of fun with friends using weird and wonderful Line filters. In Incheon Airport a group of Japanese girls and a group of Korean girls were sitting next to each other. The Korean girls stared at themselves on their phones taking selfies, meanwhile the Japanese girls commented on how cute their donuts looked (they were pink rabbit faces). It just seemed to me that the Koreans were so joyless, while the Japanese girls were enjoying each others company and the small novelties of life.

    It reminds me of Mary Wollstonecraft’s words on the lives of upper class women in the late 18th Century: “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adore its prison.”

  31. Locke
    February 14, 2017 / 8:55 am

    This article is very genuine and much appreciated!

    Your cultural observations take us (or me at least) beyond the scope of a traveler’s lens – yes, I’d love to hear recommendations for entertainment, food and touristy hot-spots (is touristy a word?)…but we all have different interests, and I probably wouldn’t like what you like.

    You told us what to expect when we’re in a coffee shop, diner or just on the steet watching a temper-tantrum with flying purses- you illustrated the attitudes we need to prepare for with some of the locals.

    Well I’m rambling, but I came here to say thanks! I have spent a long while building up to a concrete plan and if those plans pan out I’ll be walking in prepared (plus I took Korean martial arts here in the States – but that is something I will vehemently deny if anyone were to bring it up). Thanks again!

    I’ll try to hold off on any plastic surgery during my first week…

    • February 14, 2017 / 8:33 pm

      I hope you have a good time! Living somewhere is very different from traveling somewhere for a shorter period of time, so I’m sure you’ll have a positive experience!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *