10 Things I Hate About Life in South Korea
Ok I don’t really hate life in South Korea, I actually quite enjoy it!
But in celebration of it officially being six full months that I’ve lived and taught here, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve come to learn about life in Korea, including the things that slightly annoy me.
Don’t get me wrong, teaching here has been an eye-opening experience, and a positive one at that! And on this Korean journey I’ve not only learned about life in Korea, but I’ve also come to learn a lot about my own American culture and upbringing. Living in a place different from home shines a light directly into the good, the bad and the different of where you’re from and where you are.
And as easy as it was for me to come up with this list of, let’s call them “grievances”, with Korea it’s only because of my own personal American experience. Different isn’t always bad. No matter what I whine about below, moving here was well worth the effort.
Without further ado, my list of Korea related complaints. Check in next week when I go on to share all of the things I do love about life in Korea 🙂
10 Things I Hate About Life in South Korea.
1. The pushing, shoving and squeezing on public transport.
The concept of personal space is essentially nonexistent in Korea. I think the sheer number of people in a small space as well as the collectivist attitude easily makes westerners feel as if there is no respect for personal boundaries – especially on public transport. It’s been interesting learning not to take offense when a busy Ajumma or Ajoeshi pushes on by you to get on the bus or off the metro.
2. Loud open mouth chewing and slurping.
This is like nails on a chalkboard for me. I’m not actually sure if it’s considered polite or impolite here – google searches and asking people has given me contradictory answers – but it just feels so intentional when it happens. The sound is enough to set my nerves on end! Who knows, maybe Korean food is just more slurpy.
3. The heat and humidity.
In the summer you so much as blink and your shirt becomes drenched in sweat. Not to mention due to the conservative nature of Korea, wearing western style summer clothes to school is frowned upon, thus making the heat even more unbearable. People continue to walk around in jeans and sometimes even long sleeves in the ungodly heat and I have no idea how they accomplish such a feat.
4. Lack of “big” people sizes.
Big, tall, wide, long – it’s not available here or it’s extremely difficult to find. As a tall, athletically built, big footed woman this can become quite frustrating, especially because Koreans design such cute shoes! My feet are so big here, that my shoe size is even one size bigger than the Korean ‘plus size shoes’ that are available. My pant size is 6 and it’s typically the largest in the store.
As the world’s second skinniest country, this isn’t totally surprising, but I have seen larger people strolling the streets. I’m curious to know how they feel about the lack of options for them!
5. Smog and air pollution.
After moving to Korea, I’ve learned to be grateful for the clean air at home. It never had occurred to me before to be grateful for a seemingly basic human right. Not only that, but you can’t really see the stars here and blue skies are rare. It’s really taught me to not take the little things for granted – you never know what someone else lacks!
6. How expensive female personal hygiene products are.
I’m not really sure what the deal is, but tampons are insanely expensive and can be as much as $2/tampon at some stores! Deodorant is expensive, razors are expensive and a lot of other beauty supplies are expensive too. For how inexpensive many other things are in Korea, this was such a surprise to me, and an annoying one at that.
7. The lack of REAL cheese.
I’m a proud Wisconsite from a farming community historically known as Cheeseville (I kid you not), so I take my cheese consumption seriously. The quality of Korean cheese is well…poor. It’s essentially just Kraft singles. Finding legit cheese, while possible, is an expensive endeavor and one not to be squandered!
8. Crossing the street.
Traffic rules in Korea are quite different from America. Only one lane of traffic is allowed to go at a time, meaning at a four way intersection when you get a red light you’ll be sitting there for a solid chunk of time. I’ve definitely adopted the “RUN FOR IT” mentality even when hundreds of feet away from a green crossing light. Ain’t nobody got time to sit there and wait for the next one.
It can also be a bit like playing chicken. While pedestrians technically have the right of way, cars and scooters wait for no man! It’s good to keep an eye out because even if it’s your turn, it doesn’t mean others will let it be your turn.
9. Lack of public garbage cans.
Public garbage cans are insanely difficult to find in Korea and often when you do find them, they are small and overflowing with garbage. By nightfall, in the middle of a busy sidewalk it’s not uncommon to see large piles just chilling on the ground.
For a country that is so meticulous about their garbage removal (seriously they have a separate bin for every material), you’d think they would take the same great care to keep the garbage off the streets.
10. Everything is sweet.
I know this might sound crazy coming from a sugar addicted American, but it’s hard to find a snack or meal that doesn’t have sugar on it. Savory doesn’t seem to be in the vocabulary of modern day Korean food and no foods are immune. For example, potato chips, corn dogs, pizza and even garlic bread (garlic bread!) are sweet and glazed in some form of sugar.
Of course, this isn’t true of traditional Korean foods, just the modern day creations. I miss salt on my chips you guys.
Phew, if you’re reading this, that means you made it to the end of my petty complaining! I only have love, and these few minor complaints, about my lovely new home in Korea.
And not everything is bad here! Check back next week to read my 10 things I love about South Korea post.
What bugs you as an expat living in Korea? Share below!