South Korea, TRAVEL

10 Things You Will Love About Living In South Korea

I was fortunate to live in South Korea for more than 3 years, and during that time I was able to peel back the layers of this beautiful, quirky onion of a country. What originally began as a ‘5 things’ post quickly morphed into ’10 things’ as more and more charming tidbits of Korean life popped into my head. Below are all my favourite things about Korea that give me serious pangs of nostalgia on a daily basis!

The Style…
Who needs magazines when you can people-watch on the streets of Seoul! In a place where external appearance is everything, the Korean dedication to looking good knows no bounds. I was constantly inspired by Korean girls (and guys) who were able to work any outfit from perfectly preppy to scruffy chic and still look impeccable. Prepare to feel very under dressed upon arriving in Korea, but never fear because cutting edge fashion is cheap and plentiful there. Head to any university district or fashion mecca like Myeongdong in Seoul, and you can come away with armfuls of amazing bargains to koreanify your wardrobe!

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Korean street style – Image source: huffingtonpost.com

The 24 Hour Life…
Now that I’m living in HCMC, I can fully appreciate the insanely buzzing nightlife of Korea. Almost everything is 24 hours there including hairdressers, restaurants, cinemas and coffee shops. As soon as the sun goes down, the polite, respectful Korea becomes a virtual carnival of neon hedonism not for the weak of heart…or stomach. A typical night out for me involved a mix of bars, nightclubs, drunken shopping, karaoke and definitely more than one dinner.

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A street bar in Hongdae

The Stationary…
I have been suffering withdrawal from my addiction to adorable Korean stationary ever since I left! My stationary paradise was ‘Hot Tracks’ in Gangnam’s Kyobo tower. I spent countless hours there pawing the notebooks, pens, stickers, washy tape, letter sets, etc. in every style and design imaginable. I’ve never had so much fun being organised!

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Korean stationary store – Image source: seoulistmag.com

The “FIGHTING!” Spirit…
I have no idea how the word “FIGHTING!” (pronounced “hwaiting”) penetrated the Korean social consciousness, but I can understand why it is so widely used. Korean work life is inherently stressful, so this Konglish word of encouragement is needed almost hourly! If I was ever feeling down while surrounded by Koreans, I could count on at least one “FIGHTING!” coming at me from somewhere. It was like an instant shot of reassurance. I would often say “FIGHTING!” to my students as I gave them their homework, but I’m not sure it had the same effect…

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Image source: Pinterest

The Sharing Culture…
Before I arrived in Korea, I was definitely not a big sharer of food. The idea of everyone digging into the same dish and sharing their germs made me cringe! However, I definitely grew to love the Korean mentality of ‘sharing is caring’. This belief is enforced by the strong societal fear of appearing selfish, but what it has produced is lovely. Watching my tiny kindergartners sharing their snacks with each other was the most adorable thing to behold, and I was constantly touched by the warmth of coworkers who would insist on sharing their lunches with me.

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Digging into a Korean feast

The Drugstores…
Olive Young, Watsons, Boons Apothecary, LOHB: these are the beauty meccas of Korea where I became obsessed with all things skincare! Each drugstore has a great selection of imported brands but also tons of universally-acclaimed Korean beauty products. Endless shelves of cleansers, balms, toners, ampoules, essences and lotions will leave you wondering how you ever lived without sea algae eye masks, fermented ginseng facial mist or the ambiguously-named ‘beauty water’. Placenta sheet masks also make great souvenirs for friends back home!

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Quirky Korean skincare

The Ajummas…
Love them or loathe them, ajummas are an unforgettable part of Korean society. Urban Dictionary perpetuates the rumour that they may be Korea’s third gender. They are in fact middle-aged women with certain distinguishing features. These include bright, mismatched clothing, a sun visor, a perm and (most importantly) a wildly rude, overbearing, stink-eye attitude. They usually power walk in groups, and heaven forbid anyone get in their way. Personally, I admire these women. They paid their dues growing up as a female in Korea and now they get to do whatever the hell they want!

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Spot the ajummas!

The Seasons…
Never have I seen such violently vivid seasons as in Korea. Spring brings fresh, warm air and millions of cherry blossom trees bursting into bloom. Summer is sweltering with intense monsoons. Autumn is crisp with incredible displays of fiery-coloured trees. Winter is bitingly cold with heavy snowfall. Despite frozen extremities or chronic sweating, people will gather in their thousands to celebrate the seasons with festivals and traditional foods. A must-do activity during autumn (my favourite season in Korea) is a trip to Nami Island which is famous for its stunning autumnal foliage.

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The Festivals…
One thing that should be on everyone’s Korea bucket list is a festival. You don’t have to try hard to find one as Koreans love to celebrate! Turn any corner and you will inevitably stumble upon some kooky celebration for green tea/lotus flowers/decorative masks, etc. One of my favourite days in Korea was spent at the Jinju lantern festival; an unbelievable event where, for a few days, a town is turned into a magical lantern-lit land. Frolic among giant lantern dragons, a lantern forest and a castle full of lantern soldiers! Other favourites include the Boseong green tea festival and the Jinhae cherry blossom festival.

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Jinju lantern festival

The Free Stuff…
Korea has a wonderfully generous spirit evidenced by the boatload of freebies you receive upon purchasing anything! I once bought a new phone and received a five-pack of laundry detergent. When my boyfriend bought his phone, he received a month’s supply of toilet paper. Go beauty shopping and watch your bag fill up with a year’s supply of free face masks and BB cream samples! I admit, I have been ruined by this awesome aspect of Korean culture as now I can’t help but feel cheated when stores don’t automatically give me free stuff!

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Typical Korean freebies

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