Yay for me – I made it through the first month without any major hassles. And by saying that, I am of course not acknowledging that little immigration hiccup that caused the 10 most terrifying days of my life so far!
Man, what can I say? I’m sitting here all jittery with excitement. I wish I could simply dictate everything I wanted to put into this post and it would magically appear on my screen. I’m so scared I might forget something. How do I fit a month into one post?
By saying this:
That about sums it up. I haven’t regretted a single moment. Everything is exactly as it should be.
I’ve decided to put together a top 10 pros/cons list of life in Korea. Well, I can’t really speak for all of Korea, but I can speak for the lovely countryside town of Munsan.
Now, please, I don’t want to come across as one of those people who move away from their hometown and suddenly believe that they are somehow superior for having “finally broken free”. I also don’t believe that “everyone should do this once in their life”. Well, I do, but truthfully, not everyone would enjoy it. Or cope. Moving away from home has merely given me the opportunity to experience something completely the opposite of what I’m used to. I love to share my observations, though at the same time I realise that I was once perfectly content in the situation I was in, and one day I’ll have to return. Keep this in mind when I rub in what a good time I’m having. 😉
Top 10 things I love:
1. My own apartment. It’s my first time living alone, so it’s quite something to be allowed to leave the dishes to rot away, should I so wish. (FYI, I don’t.) I’m still a domestic apprentice, but I’m getting the basics right. I’ve always had freedom and privacy at home (I was an easy teenager, hope my kids pay it forward!), but this is something completely new. Initially, it felt weird to come and go as I pleased, but I’m slowly getting used to it.
2. Korea is safe. Someone described it as “South Africa in 1975-safe”. That put my mom’s mind at ease, so it must mean something good. Burglar proofing? Alarm systems? Unheard of! I could write a book on the stories I’ve heard of people having lost items returned to them (I’m talking wallets full of cash, Kindles, etc.). I mean, can you imagine?! I love that I can walk around late at night, and not feel threatened. When I’m at the supermarket, I can safely leave my bag in the trolley while shifting my attention to deciphering labels. Munsan still has that small-town feel to it, which makes it even better. I can’t describe how good it feels to not have to be constantly on edge, waiting for the next strike. I was talking to another South African about this very thing. We don’t realise just how bad things are in SA, until we remove ourselves from that situation. It’s sad really, that people have to live in fear and anticipation of their personal safety and security being violated so often, and that’s it’s just OK. Sadly, I’ll have to return to that life one day, but for now, I love what I have.
3. Western food! I can’t be grateful enough that Korea caters for the gazillions of expats. Some Korean foods are great… some. I’m not exactly a very adventurous eater, but here, everything tastes exactly the same. It smells the same, it looks the same, it tastes the same. Especially the school lunches. There are enough fast food places around, and the supermarket stocks enough familiar items for me to survive with my limited culinary skills. And if that isn’t enough, Itaewon (the foreigner district in Seoul) has what is known as ‘foreigner markets’ – little shops that stock all sorts of imported items, like Ceres juice, Colgate gel toothpaste, Milo (!!!), jelly, Pop Tarts, and many other things with English labels! Itaewon also has a tempting selection of restaurants with foods from around the world. South African, Greek, Mexican, Irish, Filipino… just name your craving! Korea is also huge on pastries. These things will be the death of me. I can’t say no to an apple tartlet, or a cherry donut, or any of the other mouthwatering items on offer all over the place.
4. Working conditions. Don’t even get me started! Imagine having any resource you may need at your fingertips, and if it isn’t available, you just say the word and the school makes it happen. Am I dreaming? This is an exact one-eighty from my previous job, where we regularly ran out of basic stationery and had to fight for our salaries every month. Yes, it gets pretty lonely at work when you’re surrounded by people who are speaking to everyone but you, and you can’t take part in the conversation anyway. But all things considered, it’s worth it. I work at a wonderful school and haven’t had any problems with the principal or other teachers. I’ve read some horror stories on blogs, so I’m ever so thankful to have landed at a school I’m really happy at. I’ve befriended the school nurse, who lived in Australia for three years and has genuine compassion for the huge cultural adjustment, and with whom I can openly discuss Western as well as Korean things. I would have gone nuts without her company and helpfulness.
5. Situational friendships. Korea can be a lonely place if you’re not Korean. At least there are many foreigners around. I’m lucky to be surrounded by people my age, and they’re all awesome people. Back home, we probably would have overlooked one another because we’re so different, but here, the variety is refreshing. And because everyone was new and scared when they first arrived, they are so helpful. I’ve noticed in the bigger cities that foreigners tend to just pass each other by. Us small town kids however, we stick together!
6. Friends from home who have kept in touch. To my dear close friends and family who have gone to the trouble to check in regularly over the last month – you have no idea what that meant to me. I know that contact goes both ways, but FFS, I moved to another country. Thank you for acknowledging the difficulty of my situation, for sending encouraging messages and virtual hugs, for taking the time to type decent length e-mails with news and updates, and for doing a little more than clicking ‘like’ on the odd status update. Settling in has been pretty darn tough at times, especially for someone like me who’s used to being surrounded by people, but you’ve supplied a lifeline that’s kept me going. For that, you get Top 10 acknowledgement.
*For PC reasons, I’ll refrain from putting any pics here.*
7. The subway. Ah, the subway. Munsan is well, the end of the line. Literally. The subway station is within walking distance of my apartment, and there’s a line that goes straight to Seoul. It’s a cheap and really cool way to get around. I especially love watching the people. If they can stare at me, why can’t I return the favour?
8. There’s always life. Convenience stores are open 24/7, with bright lights and constant movement. Many of them have a few tables and chairs outside. They sell booze, so the locals will meet after work and have a few drinks. And by after work I mean any time until well into the next morning. They work until late at night (I’m talking 22:00-late), then grab some dinner at one of the ten thousand galbi restaurants scattered all around, and afterwards they chill out on the sidewalks. There’s one such convenience store across the street from my balcony. I love leaving the windows open and having the jovial sounds drift into my apartment.
9. Cultural quirks. Don’t even get me started! I was properly warned about the culture shock I’d experience in Korea. I must be honest, I’m not that shocked. I came here with an open mind and I had done my research. Koreans have a much different way of doing things. I love observing their habits! Many things make a lot of sense. Others, well, OK.
10. Last, but not least – the money. Let’s face it, no-one who comes here doesn’t at least think about all the money they’ll be making. That’s not why I came, but it’s definitely a plus. Not only is my salary quite a bit higher (if converted to Rand), but the cost of living is only a fraction of that in SA (within reason – fruit and veggie prices are astronomical, but I don’t pay rent, petrol, tax…). I’m able to live comfortably and save, and soon I’ll have enough saved up to start travelling around the country, and eventually all over Asia.
And of course…
Top 10 things I don’t love:
1. I have wash all my own clothes.
2. I have to do all my own ironing.
3. I have to clean my own floor.
4. I have to make my own bed.
5. I have to cook my own food.
6. I have to take out my own garbage.
7. I have to wipe my own countertops.
8. I have to do all my own dishes (and pack them away!)
9. I have to clean my own toilet.
10. I have to deal with my own clogged up drain.
Now you’re probably thinking, “Wow, she’s spoilt”. U-huh! But I think you can see where I’m going with this. I think that, in a way, I really am living the life. Kimchi and all!