Many people (mostly Koreans) have asked me why I chose to come study in Korea. So, I’ve decided to make a list of the Top 10 things I love about Korea. To follow, I will also have a list of the “Top 10 things I Don’t Like about Korea”, just for the sake of balance 😉
Korea LOVES freebies. Above is a photo of all the free stuff I’ve gotten here. Most stuff is from cosmetic stores. If you buy some skin cream or makeup, usually the cashier will hook you up with some free face masks, skin cream/serum samplers, or cotton pads. Other times, two products – they can be the same or completely different – are taped together and have a “1+1” (which means “buy one, get one”) label on it.
I also got a free neck rest and world map from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) event I recently attended at Sookmyung Women’s University with some other CAU students. Other than that, most of the freebies I’ve gotten have been cosmetics (as you can see in the photo) or food, which you can’t see because I’ve already eaten it 😛 Many convenience stores do the same “1+1” or “2+1” promo on food. Ex: buy two cans of ice coffee and get a third one free. That’s the most common one I’ve taken advantage of 😛
The video below explores Korea’s culture of freebies in more depth:
#9: “Work Hard, play hard”
Wow – Korea really loves to party. However, Korea really loves to work insane hours as well! It’s not uncommon to see men dressed in business attire stumbling out of the bars at 5:00am on a weekday, only to have to return to work in a few hours.
This is also attached to Korean office culture, where an important part of staff bonding includes going out and getting wasted with the boss. One important thing to note is that it is INCREDIBLY rude to turn down a drink from your superior (boss, professor, someone older than you, etc). Many Korean fathers like to use this tactic to get their daughters’ boyfriends drunk upon first meeting them – what better way to see a young man’s true side is there??
Hungover? No, they’re probably still drunk!
This applies to Korean students as well, who are known to pull 14-hour days studying for exams. But after exams are over, the party begins! Maekgu (beer), anyone??
I’ve consistently been blown away by the amount Korea has invested in tourism. The Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) is constantly putting on different promotions to try and attract foreigners to “the Land of the Morning Calm”, which is sadly often overlooked while many tourists choose to instead flock to more familiar destinations, such as China or Japan.
Korea has had a long history of being trampled over by foreign powers due to its strategic geographic position in East Asia. Barely a generation ago, Korean children were forbidden by the Japanese from speaking their mother tongue at school, and had to submit to worship of the Japanese emperor. Korea’s national animal is the tiger, although you won’t be seeing it at all nowadays – the Japanese exterminated them during one of their many lengthy occupations of the Korean peninsula.
Korea has been jerked around too much through the centuries. Now, as it rises as a formidable economic power on the world stage, this too-often underrated country is using its culture’s values of hard-work and perseverance to proudly present its touristic appeal to the world.
One of the KTO’s best practices is the “Free Postcard Service for Foreigners”, which is exactly what the name implies: foreigners can visit any one of the multiple KTO stations in Seoul, and mail up to seven postcards back home for free. This attraction serves not only as a fun activity for tourists, but also seems to be a clever form of marketing, as on the back of the postcards the KTO has strategically placed a number of its logos.
People back home can see how much fun their friends and family are having in Korea, and may even consider making it a destination the next time they go abroad.
The KTO and Seoul Tourism office also make fantastic use of social media. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to events or attractions simply because I’ve read about them on the Seoul Korea facebook page. They give you a local’s perspective into the many restaurants, shops, attractions, and other hidden gems that are around this energetic city.
So many great tips can be found on the Seoul Korea facebook page ^
Yeaaaah… What can I say! When you produce a hard liquor that’s cheaper than water (no, seriously) and is available in every single grocery store and convenience store in the country, it’s going to be on a foreign student’s list of Top 10 Things they Love About Korea 😛
For those who aren’t familiar with the bottle of liquid blackouts that is soju, allow me to describe it for you: only costing about a dollar, soju tastes like death and turns you into the sexiest, most talented, funny, and desirable version of yourself that you could only wish to be. The side-effects? Dancing horribly, singing worse than William Hung, and yes, quite often, vomiting everywhere and anywhere.
Korea is a shopper’s dream world. With so many different styles of shopping to choose from, and with so many stores being open 24/7 some say that Korea is the best place to shop in the world.
Above is a photo of the luxurious Lotte Department Store.
If your budget isn’t big enough to allow more than “browsing” at the Lotte or Hyundai Department stores, then Myeongdong is the next-best-thing. Crowded with flashing lights and blaring music, this shopping district is always crowded with both Koreans and tourists alike. Be sure to go after sunset though; that’s when things really get going. You can find familiar international stores here (like Lacoste, Foot Locker, H&M, Uniqlo, ZARA, Polo, etc) as well as smaller Korean stores. This is the best place to go shopping for cosmetics, as many of the shops here have better sales (at least this is what I’ve found).
Migliore is a chain of giant indoor shopping markets. Each stall is owned separately. You need to be prepared to barter, especially if you’re a visible foreigner – like so many places in the world, merchants have one price for locals and another (much more expensive) price for foreigners.
The crappy part? You can’ try anything on, and most pieces are “free size” or, “one size fits all”.
You can even go shopping in the subway stations! How awesome is that?
People say Korea is the most-wired country in the world, and I don’t doubt that for a second. Here, you can see a monk using his tablet (a Galaxy Note?) to take a photo of a map.
I love technology and I love how wired Korea is!!
People are also saying that Korean schools will soon be paperless…
I found this picture of a street photobooth on another blog. Basically, it’s a really cool concept: you take a photo of yourself on the street, edit it, and send it to yourself via email or text. Kind of random, but really cool!
This photo of a free cellphone charging booth is actually from an airport in Singapore, but they’re common in Korean airports nonetheless. You select the cord that corresponds with your cellphone model (iPhone, Galaxy, etc) and plug it in for it to charge. This machine is very secure, as it lets you actually lock your phone in there while you keep the key until it’s finished charging.
Oh yeah, and there’s WiFi EVERYWHERE! It’s so awesome.
Check out this ABC news report from 2010 on how wired Seoul is:
#4 – K Fashion
Another thing I love about Korea is its fashion…
In short, Korean fashion (for women) has the following qualities:
- It’s fairly conservative: shoulders are rarely ever shown, cleavage is pretty much never shown. However, legs are almost always shown.
- Heels are often worn to accentuate the legs, regardless of the occasion (ie: Western women normally just wear heels in the office or at the bar, while Korean women will wear them anytime they please, ex: with a pair of denim shorts and t-shirt to school).
- Muted/neutral colours are favoured.
- Few accessories are used – just a nice pair of shoes and “designer” bag will do the trick.
- Layering is essential. If it’s hot outside, the AC will be blasting inside, and vice versa.
- Perfect skin is seen as being the most important part of looking good. Everyone can have their own style, but having a clear, slightly pale (or very pale) face is the most desired part. Having a small chin, pointed nose, and large eyes is good too, but that’s now venturing into Korean beauty – a whole other topic unto itself.
This is quite a bright colour; I think most Korean girls would wear this tunic in white, grey, or black instead.
So Korean! I love it..
Also very Korean – clean, neutral, and very preppy. Note the 2.55 Chanel bag she’s carrying – understated elegance. I love Korean fashion so much.
#3 – Everything is cute!
This is kind of a random topic, but yeah, most Westerners will understand me when I say that everything in Korea is just so gosh-darn cute! Above is a photo of the sheep café I want to visit in the Hongdae area of Seoul.
Look at these cute kids in their hanboks!
Airport mascots! The KTO facebook page just posted this photo earlier today; I guess these mascots are at the airport welcoming people as they arrive. How cute!
The interior of an Etude House shop, a Korean cosmetic chain. SO CAAAYUUUUUTE!
Cute Korean policemen!
Hell, even poop (“unko”) in Korea is cute! This is slightly weird to me, though..
#2 – Korean food!
Okay, I won’t even get into Korean food right now, as it will take WAY too long! I’m saving it for another blog post.
Basically, eating in Korea is delicious, cheap, and a very social experience! Normally involving beer and soju, too 😉
This photo shows a bunch of Korean foods, and is from Clouddancer blog.
#1 – Korean PEOPLE
While this list was supposed to be “in no particular order”, I must say that Korean people are the #1 thing I love about Korea. I have been treated like royalty since I’ve been here, and haven’t really done all that much to deserve it!
Somebody once told me that once you make a Korean friend, you make a friend for life. While my life is far from being over (at least as far as I can see!), I’ve found this to be incredibly true. The friends I made at Seoul Women’s University last summer have been so kind to me in helping settle in here.
My roommate is Korean, and her and I have been getting along so well. Her friend – who I’ve never even met before – recently gave me a present for Korean Thanksgiving (“Chuseok”) because she heard I was a foreigner and thus probably wouldn’t be getting many gifts! They were some tasty, chewy, crunchy, sweet things; I have no idea what they’re called but they were delicious. In fact, she gave me so many that my roommate suggested that I share them with some friends… Yeah, sorry friends, I am keeping them all for myself 😛
Above is a photo of a Korean girl that I met a few weeks ago at a party – she studied abroad in New Zealand and had the cutest Korean-Kiwi accent ever! We got along really well and will probably party together in the future.
I will never forget my awesome roommates from BIP last summer ❤
So, that’s my list of the best things in Korea! I will expand on the food section in a later blog post, and will also follow up with a list of the 10 things I dislike about Korea, although I imagine it will take me a while to find 10 things that I don’t like about living here!
To any other foreigners who may be reading this, I’d be interested in hearing what your favourite parts about Korea are!
For now, I’m off to do some homework… Yes, in the middle of Chuseok! My professor is so cruel 😥