30 things Korea taught me

As you know (or may not know), this is my second year living in Korea. For many reasons, I have chosen not to renew my contract and thus, will be leaving Korea for good next year. As I begin to countdown the months, I reflect on the things I have learned here in Korea. Today I share them with you:

1. Eating live octopus is normal.

2.You can get 100% on a karaoke machine even if you sound terrible. This is all about continuing to sing, even if you can’t follow the lyrics, just sing whatever comes to mind. The trick is to be as loud as you can.

3. You can make anything in your microwave: from brownies to homemade cheese.

4. No matter what, if someone who is older than you said it, it is the truth that you have to live by; there is no arguing.

5. You won’t be told things unless you ask.  You must also ask the right question.

6. People will rub their hands together when asking you for something.  “Teacher, please give me candy! *rubs hands together*”

7. When in doubt, eat the kimchi. Show respect for local stuff in front of locals. What you do or say when they’re not around is fair game.

8. Korean’s don’t say that they are single. For e.g. “Do you have a boyfriend?” Answer: “Not yet…”

9. You can have anything delivered, even McDonald’s.

10. You can have anything delivered anywhere…. Including the top of a mountain.

11. There is exercise equipment at the top of the mountain and people use it.

12. Korean chopsticks are very slippery creatures with a life of their own. However, taming them is not optional.

13.You’ll be underdressed for just about every occasion what with Korean barbies in high heels all the time. Come beach or mountain…

14. It doesn’t matter what you have or where you are, you can’t escape how you feel.

15. It isn’t strange for girls and boys as young as 12 to have plastic surgery.

16. Expect to get a lot of free stuff, unexpectedly, with random purchases (especially if you are a girl).

17. Despite the other advances in technology made by Korea, you will go back in time to Internet Explorer 6. And then add a good dose of Hangul text to make navigating the internet even more challenging.

18. The masks you see Asian people wearing while walking down the street in pictures are sometimes just used to keep the face warm rather than protect from diseases like SARS. I prefer a scarf but hey; to each his own.

19. Teaching children forces you to get in touch with your inner child. Whenever I am lesson-planning, I have to stop and take a minute to think how to make this lesson more fun for a 10-year-old.

20. It is entirely acceptable for a man to use make-up, wear pink, and have their own man purse.

21. There is no such thing as personal space in a public place.

22. Forgetting how to spell a word halfway through writing it on the board, in front of a class, is super awkward.

23. “Korean English” lessons consist of English textbooks in Korean with repeat-after-me exercises. Don’t be alarmed.

24. Being an amateur stock exchange junkie has many benefits. As the South African rand gets weaker, my Korean salary gets more lucrative.

25. South Korea has a 6 month winter. Deal with it.

26. Koreans will comment about your appearance. Every chance they get.

27. Being surrounded by cute things (hair accessories, clothes, jewelry, stationery (oh, the stationery!!!), pictures, advertisements, wallpaper, etc) greatly improves one’s quality of life. I love cute things!!

28. From impotence to insomnia, Red Ginseng does it all! (Or so they say).

29. When I’m having a bad morning, my students can sense it and will hug me or try to make me laugh. And just when I am ready to kill them all, one of them bursts into song or does a funny dance and I want to squeeze them and take pictures. Not too many jobs come with this sort of free entertainment.

The last and perhaps the most important things South Korea has taught me is…

30. How to Be a Better Student

That’s right…I said how to be a better student. I am going to be finishing my own teaching degree next year and I now have a greater understanding of what teachers want from students since I have been on the other side of the relationship. I truly understand that there are no dumb questions, how much teachers appreciate participation, and how much it means to be attentive and possess a great attitude in class because I love the students who do all those things.

So that’s the list. I really do feel confused some days on who the teacher is and who is the student. I suppose that is the beauty of teaching English in Korea.

If you liked this post, you might enjoy my earlier one about interesting sights/things in Korea: You Learn to Love the Weird & Different.

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11 thoughts on “30 things Korea taught me

  1. I am an ESL teacher myself to Korean students and everything you said is right on…You should have included – instead of writing LOL, they say kkkk.

  2. Having lived and taught school in Korea for a year, I LOVE your list! And don’t forget that in Costco, onions & ketchup & mustard are not considered condiments but are eaten as a whole meal! I especially love #5, 13, 17, 20, 21, 23 and 26!! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. One of my adult dance students is in love with Korea and I will be sharing this with her on Facebook immediately. I don’t blame you for preferring a scarf to keep your face warm. That makes more sense to me, but to each his own with the SARS masks.

    I love what you said about teaching…”I really do feel confused some days on who the teacher is and who is the student.”

    As a fellow teacher I must say we all most certainly give to one another. And, it’s a beautiful thing.

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