Yesterday marked three months since we left the UK and I couldn’t help but be amazed at how quickly the time has passed. It’s so strange to think that when we arrived we were bundled up in coats and scarves and walking through snow flurries when today it’s due to hit 30 degrees Celsius with glorious sunshine, and it’s still only spring!
I sent my mum a message to tell her it had already been three months and she asked if we had made a good decision. I replied that I don’t think there’s been a day so far when I haven’t stopped for a second and thought to myself “I’m just SO happy right now”. There are so many things we love about living here and it still feels really exciting, but that’s not to say that everything is perfect. There are, of course, things we miss from the UK and fleeting moments of homesickness. In the interest of balance I thought it might be interesting to write about the three things I absolutely love about living in Korea, as well as the three things I miss the most.
Top 3 things about living in Korea (so far)
I feel so relieved about this one. We were both really worried about settling into the role of a teacher but it ended up happening much quicker then either of us had anticipated. A huge part of this is that we were lucky enough to end up at our particular school. Our teaching hours are low, the students are kind, sweet and funny and our korean co-teachers are lovely (case in point – mid way through writing this post we got taken out for lunch by our co-teachers to celebrate Teacher’s Day). I feel like we get enough freedom to be able to teach in our own style while also being given enough support whenever we need it.
We definitely appreciate that this isn’t always the norm when teaching (especially compared to the UK but also within other schools in Korea) and are so grateful that we ended up here at Songwon. I’m not saying that every lesson is perfect and there are definitely times I have felt completely and utterly out of my depth, but the feeling you get with a good lesson or just a nice interaction in the hallway is so, so lovely. It’s also made me think more about what I might want to do when we eventually do return home, and there are so many ideas running round in my head at the moment!
So far during our time here I’ve spent an afternoon naked in a Korean spa with a load of strangers (and one friend!); hiked around a beautiful island with a group of wonderfully friendly Koreans; learned how to play more American drinking games than I can count on both hands; been to a baseball game (and bought the cap to prove it); visited a new city for the weekend; stayed in a hostel for the first time; hiked our local mountain trail; danced in a club with friends until 5am; hung out with people from Manchester, Korea, Ohio, The Netherlands and Finland and so much more.
In the next few weeks we’ll also be taking a day trip to Seoul to attend a vegan festival, hiking around Jeju for a weekend and then going back up to Seoul to see Nick and Sarah and show them what it is that we love so much about this fantastic country.
There are so many new and exciting things to do here and meeting new friends to experience all of this with has been one of the absolute best parts about moving. With that comes sadness too as we know most people don’t stay for too long, and I know I’m going to be really tearful when we start having to say goodbye to people. That said, thanks to the internet we’ll all be able to keep in touch and it’s amazing to know people from all around the world. Bring on the reunions!
When I asked Jod what his favorite thing about living in Korea is, he said “that most days feel like being on holiday” and that’s so true. The weather definitely helps as it’s just been gorgeous and warm for the past few weeks, but there’s also all the free time we have now. We have every weekday evening free along with the energy to actually do stuff which is so alien to me! Weekends stretch out just waiting to be filled with fun activities, and random days off seem to crop up all the time. Not having to pay rent and the reduced cost of eating out and drinking also means we have more financial freedom than in the UK, and for the first time since graduating uni I’m actually paying debt off instead of building it up. All the stress I was carrying around about so many things has melted away and I catch myself randomly smiling as I walk down the street. It sounds so cheesy but it’s true, we both feel incredibly lucky and happy to be here.
The 3 things I most miss about the UK
Family and Friends
This is definitely the hardest thing about living so far away. A couple of weeks after we first started teaching I got a horrible cough and cold, and knowing that I was thousands of miles away from being able to get a hug from my mum was just horrible. Sometimes I wake up thinking “Wouldn’t it be nice to go round to mum and dad’s tonight and sit outside if the weather’s nice”, and then get a little lump in my throat when I realize we can’t. I feel guilty that my parents have to deal with the stuff at work that I used to do as part of my job, and that’s no fun at all.
If we had moved here ten years ago I’m sure I would have found it really, really horrible and probably would want to come home a lot more. However thanks to the internet, the ease of using apps like Kakao Talk and free video calls, I still speak to my parents multiple times a day and keep in touch with everyone else through Instagram and Whatsapp. I can send people pictures and videos of everything that we’re up to and that does make the world feel a lot smaller, and makes it much easier to be so far away.
UK supermarkets/cheap produce
When I boarded the flight to come here, I certainly wasn’t thinking “goodness, I’m really going to miss Tesco” but i genuinely do! While eating out can be really cheap here, particularly traditional Korean food, we’ve found that cooking at home can quickly get expensive. Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are all expensive and there’s no equivalent of budget supermarkets like Aldi or Lidl, the prices tend to be similar everywhere. Most fruit and veg can only be bought in quite large quantities and everything is wrapped in so much plastic. As in, a single banana sold at the convenience store or a coffee shop will be in a plastic pouch – crazy! My environmental guilt is definitely through the roof.
Some of my favorite staples for cheap and healthy meals like oats, couscous and wholewheat pasta are either very difficult to find or expensive so we’re having to think more creatively when cooking and completely base our meals around what’s in season, which is a good thing at least. We don’t have an oven here either although we are planning to buy a toaster oven in the next few weeks so hopefully that will make cooking cheap, healthy meals at home a bit easier, and I think meal planning will help us make the best use of our grocery budget.
Understanding how things work
Although the sense of freedom and adventure that we have here is great, it was really tiring at first to feel like a toddler in every situation. Gwangju is quite a small city (compared to Seoul or Busan) and there’s a lot less English used here, obviously. That means that the first time catching a bus, getting a taxi, going to the bank, buying garbage bags and all the other things that we could do in the UK without having to think, felt really challenging. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be for people coming to the UK who can’t speak English, and it’s certainly given me a lot of empathy for people in all sorts of different situations. Personally I’m always worried about embarrassing myself and painting foreigners in a bad light so I tend to panic and get in a flap. Jod is much more logical than me so he usually takes charge, thank God! In any case, people are generally more than happy to help out when we look lost and it’s getting better with every passing week. I think in a way we’ll feel sad if we ever get 100% comfortable here, because then it won’t feel so exciting any more!
I’m really curious to see if I still feel the same way about all of these things once another three months have passed, and considering how quickly time seems to be passing I’m sure I’ll be writing my next reflective post in the blink of an eye…