Expat Expectations in Korea

I came across this post on The Hedonista about living in Dubai and what expats can expect when they live there, I thought I’d give a two-year view of what expats can expect in Korea. I think I’ve been here long enough to offer a succinct opinion. If there’s anything I’ve missed or something you disagree with, add it in the comments.

What you’ll miss when you move to Korea:

  • Your favourite food from home – Everyone has one or two foods they miss terribly from home, because it’s just not available in Korea. There are ways of obtaining these foods (sometimes you can order them online, sometimes they can be found in the foreigner food market in Seoul, sometimes someone from home mails it to you) but for the most part, there are things you have to just do without. For me, these are ketchup potato chips, Fuzzy Peaches candy (and Twizzlers! And Reese’s cups!), Swiss Chalet chicken, and canned salmon. And even if you can find many things in Korea that you would get at home, a lot of the time you’re going to have to hunt for it. For example, my favourite tea is orange pekoe. Last year my mom sent me a tin full of Tetley tea bags, which was amazing. It was because I couldn’t find orange pekoe anywhere. This year, I decided to let her save the money on shipping and just find some black tea. Tastes almost the same, right? So I’ve gone almost an entire year drinking black tea, which has been okay. FINALLY, however, I was looking in the new E-Mart at the Daejeon bus terminal, and found Twinnings Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea in the International food section. I could almost swear I heard angels sing. Sometimes it just takes a while before you find the food you’re looking for.
  • A proper bath tub – While there are benefits to a Korean bathroom (easy cleaning is one that comes to mind), girls especially will miss having an actual bathtub. Korean bathrooms and showers are just that – a shower head attached to the sink in your bathroom. No shower curtain or door, just the shower head. EVERYTHING gets wet, so be sure to leave your towel outside the bathroom. The only hope of actually getting a bath is by heading to the jjimjilbang (public bathhouse).
  • Clothes shopping – Unless you’re a size 2, 5’4″ and under, with no bum and no hips to speak of, finding clothing in Korea is going to be hard as anything. Yes, there are a few random stores that will have clothing for a bigger person (I’ve been able to find shirts I like in the mens dept of Home Plus, and on trips to Seoul to Myeongdong and Itaewon), but the majority of the expats living in Korea are going to be stuck with the wardrobe that they brought with them in the first place. This goes for shoes too – a girl can only dream of walking into a regular shoe store and finding sizes bigger then a US 7.
  • English TV – There are a few channels that have English shows on them, but if you don’t like CSI/NCIS or the Transformers movie, you might be out of luck. It is getting better (I’ve seen new shows like Suits, and Modern Family, and they even showed The X Factor, albeit a few weeks late), but for a TVholic like me, I miss being able to flip through channels mindlessly and be able to understand everything that’s being said on every channel. Oh, and I have never been able to find a regular TV schedule, so your guess is as good as mine as to when the TV shows you want to watch will be on.
  • A clothes dryer – Every once in a while a kind-hearted boss will purchase a washing machine/dryer combo (same machine, just different cycles) for their foreign employee, but this is very rare. Most Korean households, and subsequently waygookin apartments, will only have a washing machine. (Most of the time, it’ll be in your bathroom.) You’ll have to hang your clothes to dry. Be prepared to plan out your outfit days in advance in the spring and summer (and fall too) because it will take your clothes a couple of days to dry. (The winter isn’t so bad, with the ondol heating your clothes should dry overnight.) What I wouldn’t give to be able to wash my clothes and take them out of a warm dryer 2 hours later.

What you WON’T miss when you move to Korea:

  • Slow internet – Korean internet is the fastest in the world. No other country beats it. Simple as that. And the beauty of it all – it’s cheap and unlimited. You’ll never get a call from your internet provider saying you’ve gone over your bandwidth limit (I had that done to me COUNTLESS times in Canada). Downloading stuff from home gets done in a few minutes instead of a few days. It’s amazing.
  • Vices – Depending on your vice, you’ll find it here. Cheap. Cigarettes cost 2,500 won a pack (approx $2 USD), alcohol is cheap (especially if you develop a taste for soju), and there are girls a-plenty (from what I understand – something about double barber poles).
  • Exercise options – There are gyms all across the country, ready and waiting for waygookin to join. There is at least one in every neighbourhood. If you can’t find one, ask a Korean friend to help you. They can look it up on Naver. There are also yoga studios, taekwondo/hapkido schools, and more mountains to climb then I can count. If you want to stay fit while you’re in Korea, it can be done.
  • Sweet things – I’m talking candy, pop, chips – all the treats you can wish for. You might have to settle for the Korean alternative (I was addicted to shrimp flavoured chips last year for a while, to help with the ketchup chip cravings), but if you have a sweet tooth, you won’t starve. Things to try – hoddeok, the sweet pancake you’ll find at the street vendors, and the multitude of donuts found at Dunkin’ Donuts. There are some interesting kinds!

There are so many more things to add to this list, I’ll edit it when I think about it… but for now, if you think of anything, add it to the comments!

xo nicole


About Nicole

I'm a Canadian, married to an American, who has lived in South Korea for two years. How's that for around the world. I'm also addicted to zebra print. Check our our experiences - https://rossandnicole.wordpress.com

Posted on February 2, 2012, in Around Korea, General, K-Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. nice post…if i can add…one thing you will definitely miss is american cheese! oh, how i miss it! LOL

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