Learning From Life in Korea

I’ve lived in Korea now for 2 years and lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I’ve learned living here.

  1. Clean air. Truthfully I never thought much of clean air living in Minnesota or the USA. I always knew that China had bad air pollution but didn’t think much of it until I moved to Korea. On average Minnesota has an air quality in the green of around 20. That’s basically perfectly clean air. In Korean it averages around 70 and goes up to around 170. When It hits the high numbers I 100% feel the effects. My eyes burn, my throat hurts and my skin becomes extremely dry and I even break out. It often comes with strong winds from China and will last a few days. Normally when the air is really bad the skies tend to be a hazy blue and I always leave my windows open for “fresh air” forgetting that the air is really bad. Then a thin layer of black or yellow dust forms in my apartment so I have to clean everything. I will NEVER take clean air for granted again.air quality
  2. Access to healthcare…and CHEAP healthcare at that. Going to a doctor and hospital takes about 15 minutes in Korea. You’re checked in and checked out with medicine and you’re finished. And the check up at the actual hospital costs 3 dollars and the antibiotics cost about 4 dollars. And this isn’t a doctor’s office or clinic…it’s a real hospital. I hate the healthcare system in the USA and I never realized how much I did until I moved to a country that has amazing and affordable healthcare.
  3. Hugs – it’s just not a cultural norm for people to hug here…ever. It’s shocking when Korean friends hug us and we try sometimes but it can be awkward. I miss hugs so much.
  4. Understanding that living and traveling to a place are completely different things.
  5. How long it takes to truly understand a culture. The first 6 months I really still knew so little about Korean culture. It took over a year for me to start to connect pieces and understand little things. After 2 years I’d say I have a really good grasp on the culture although at times it’s still hard for me to understand because American culture is so different. I have done my best to understand it and gain as much knowledge as I can and I’ve loved every minute of it. My Korean friends joke often that I am Korean now. I take it as a huge compliment as I’ve done my best to immerse myself here. 한국 사람!!!!
  6. Not speaking the same language doesn’t hold back from having a connection and chemistry with someone which I’ve come to realize and found fascinating and wonderful. But you can only go so far in a relationship with lack of communication. People make it work all over the world and learn languages for each other and I think it’s so great but I can imagine the challenges that come along with it. Congratulations to the couples who make it work!
  7. I miss seeing big dogs. Everyone has small dogs and they carry them most of the time. Recently I saw my first ever lab here! It’s a black lab puppy and I was so excited.
  8. There’s such beauty in diversity. Korea has a very basic one standard of beauty but I find diversity so beautiful. Whether it’s diversity in Koreans or diversity across people of the world. We’re all so different and should embrace who we are. Koreans are so self-conscious and critique every single thing about themselves and others. There are so many things that I had never even thought about before I came here. and have products for every single thing possible. “High nose, double eyelids, the bald spots near your hairline, small face…” It’s endless and truthfully it’s made me somehow feel better about diversity and I’m happy the USA is trying to embrace differences in each other. It should be that way.
  9. In America floor heating is considered a luxury but in Korea every home has floor heating. It’s their Korean traditional heating system called “ondul” and back in the day they use to heat boiling water under the floors. Obviously now it’s modern but it’s based off of that and it’s AMAZING. Here’s a picture to show the old traditional method of ondul heating…and that’s what I look like when I come home on a cold winter’s night.1
  10. Toilet paper, soap, paper towels – I constantly keep tissue on me, even at school. I get excited when I go to the bathroom and there’s real soap (not a bar of soap) paper towels and toilet paper in the stall. (In the trendy new fancy restaurants and cafes they tend to have all them.) Here’s a picture of the bar soap I’m talking about…it’s at all my schools and many restaurants and public bathrooms. We have a nickname for it but I don’t think it’s appropriate to say..but you can use your own imagination 🙂download
  11. Having to ask for help. Being a really independent person has been difficult at times to reach out and ask for help but I think it’s important to become comfortable to do that and to know it’s okay.
  12. Ordering food on the phone. I once tried doing this in Korea and it was terrifying even with my little Korean I know. Never again. Can’t wait to order Jimmy Johns asap.
  13. Deep conversations with people. I can only have real deep conversations with my closest American friends here but it’s so hard to have a deep conversation with my Korean friends because of the language barrier and cultural barrier. I miss them. It’s possible but it’s much harder and I know there’s so many things that I want to say or they want to say but it’s just hard if you aren’t fluent in both languages. but I’ve become a mind reader which helps a lot 🙂
  14. Missing family and friends and missing important dates, birthdays, holidays, weddings, etc. It’s always hard. Or losing a loved one back home. I think it changes you every time and that’s the moment you feel most far away.
  15. Not every moment needs to be shared with the world. There are so many memories in life that are precious that a picture can’t perfectly re-tell. Not everyone is going to understand or even care because you’re the only one in that moment. So write it down for yourself if you want, but know that maybe it’s only important to you and that’s okay.

I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about some of the things I’ve learned here. I feel like I could write a book on everything so it’s fun to share a few points I’ve thought about recently. Hope everyone has a safe Memorial Day weekend back home ❤

Love and a huge HUG from Korea,


One comment

  1. Caroline this is beautiful! My favorite sentence: “So write it down if you want, but know that maybe it’s only important to you and that’s okay.”

    I can’t wait to see you again.


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