Before we came, we read blog after blog that sang praises about Korea, describing it as an almost utopian place. Well folks, it is not utopian or perfect, but there are many things to love about living here. We've had frustrating moments, but have also had many times where we've admired the "Korean" way of doing things. Our life is pretty darn good here, and we wanted to share a few of the reasons why.
- Public transportation-
- Holy cow Korea. The public transportation here is incredible. You can pretty much anywhere in the country JUST using public transportation, and it's cheap. We took a two hour ride into the country on a clean, comfortable, air conditioned bus, and it cost us $8.00 each. To get to our school that is 45 minutes away costs about $1.15 by bus. Taxis are more expensive than buses or the subway, but they are still inexpensive compared to the States. A 20 minute car ride costs about $9.80. You can also get "bus cards" and load them with money. These can be used for buses, subway, and almost every taxi in Gwangju. We love them.
- From our apartment we can see a beautiful mountain range. Actually, from most places in our city you can see mountains, if they aren't blocked by sky scrapers. About 80% of the Korean peninsula is mountain range, making for spectacular views. Even though we live in a city with hundreds of tall building, we are just a short bus ride to the beautiful, green countryside.
- Incredibly wonderful people-
- A few minutes after we arrived in Gwangju, we were supposed to call the man who was taking us to our hotel. However, we could not figure out how to use the payphones since they are totally different, and we weren't sure what to do. A taxi driver happened to see us struggling and came over to help us. Not only did he help get the phone working, but he also stayed and made sure we got through to who we needed to talk to. Once we were set, he walked away, not expecting anything in return. He didn't even work there, and was kind enough to come help us. This kind of thing happens to us constantly, and we have countless stories of people gladly helping us just because they were nearby and we had no idea what we were doing.
- Rich history-
- Coming from a country that is still a babe in the scope of history, it's incredible to see temples that have been there for literally hundreds of years, and see traditions carried on from before Christ was born. Our students are proud to talk about Korean traditions and Korean traditional food, and we love hearing about it!
- Country that never sleeps-
- Cafes- Coffee lovers will appreciate this one. There is literally about 5 cafes on a block, and they all stay busy. It is very much a social thing where you meet up with friends and talk.
- From our apartment we can walk to the store, the market, the movie theater, and cafes. While we use public transportation to travel longer distances, we still walk from bus stop to our destination. It can make grocery shopping a bit of an adventure, but we're forced to get outside every day and get some fresh air!
- This is one thing that we read about a lot before we came, and have found to be absolutely true. Korea has such a tiny rate of violent crime that it's pretty hard to feel unsafe here. Students of all ages walk home late at night by themselves with no problem, women walk freely in the evening, and we have seen so many children navigate public transportation with a friend or two. After I go to an ATM, I don't feel the need to hide my money, and can literally get it out on the bus and count it if I want. Robbery and other violent crimes just do not happen like they do in the States.
- Markets and small businesses- Korea does a great job of protecting its small businesses (from our perspective). In fact, a chain grocery store wanted to open up a store in our area, and the city said no to protect the small grocers that are here. We already have two "marts" here, and they felt a third one would be too much. Also, by law the big stores are required to close every other weekend to give the little stores a chance to attract more business. Things are also bought from specific stores instead of a huge department store. For example, if you want paint you go to a small paint store. If you want furniture you go to the furniture store. Markets are also a big thing here and we love it!
- Importance of respect
- Due to Confucian ideals and influences, respect is a valued trait here. Bowing is more common than a handshake, and this also applies to our jobs as teachers. We bow to parents when we see them, and they bow to us. We were also surprised when we first met our students and they bowed to us and then kept walking down the hall. This mannerism works for thank you's, apologies, greetings, and goodbyes.
There are so many things we like about living here, but those are ten that come to mind on a regular basis. We are still learning the ropes of living here, but are really enjoying the culture and country.
Have you ever visited a foreign country and learned to love its quirks? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!