Living in South Korea has its challenges. (Calling them “challenges” shows a lot of restraint on my part and a testament to my will power.) The last 15 months have been a learning experience unlike any other; however, I am thankful my family is together — regardless of the growing pains encountered due to living in a foreign country. I wanted to compile a list of the top five “misunderstandings” people seem to have about South Korea in no particular order except the order I think of them in.
South Korea is a third-world country. Not so much. We live in Seoul, so I can’t tell you about anything outside of Areas I and II (for a breakdown of the sixareas in Korea, click here) but here’s a brief synopsis of the thriving metropolis that is Seoul — There is an extensive public transportation system that rivals the DC Metro and the New York City public transportation system, and it is being expanded every day. The amount of taxis you see on the road at any given time remind me of New York City. (I’m from NY, so I will probably reference it a lot, since it’s what I know.) My apartment is something of a technological marvel. There’s an intercom in the bathrooms so you can answer the door from the toilet, which, by the way, has a built-in bidet. The intercom in the living room is set up so I can see who is at the door via camera. If I decide I want to answer it, I press a button and the door magically unlocks. My vacuuming system is in the walls. My microwave is also my oven, which truthfully is more annoying than you’d think. The apartment is wired for surround sound. The heating source is the floor, and the walls are marble. Really. Does any of that sound like a third-world country? This isn’t representative of all living in Korea, as I live in a recently-constructed apartment building, but from what I gather from people living in other areas (off post), their apartments aren’t too shabby. Oh, and my apartment is not the hole in the wall people said we’d get. It’s a spacious four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Really. That picture of our apartment and the view doesn’t really do it justice! And, can I just tell you, I’ve never seen more Bentleys in my life. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen an actual Bentley in person until we moved to Korea.
Our intercom! (That’s my son and our realtor playing with it.)
People ride in rickshaws, live in pagodas, and eat dog. Okay, so only one of those is true. The rickshaws I’ve seen in Seoul haul cardboard, not people, and I’ve not seen pagodas that weren’t historical. About the dog… Well… Please see the picture. Bear in mind, though, I’ve only seen dog being served once, and that’s why I took this picture. (Honestly, the food here is delicious more often than not. Check out that honey bread. Nomnomnomnom.)
Military families can’t come to South Korea. Well, that’s not entirely untrue. There are nearly 30,000 service members here in Korea, and over 4,000 command sponsored families. There are also many families here non-command sponsored, but I couldn’t find data as to how many. Whether or not you are able to accompany your service member on a tour in Korea is largely based upon your sponsor’s MOS and the Army’s “needs.” (Don’t you love that? The Army, your soldier’s mistress, has “needs.”) If your sponsor is stationed at the DMZ, chances are good his tour will be unaccompanied. With that being said, if you have the opportunity to come to Korea, do it. Whenever you have the chance to travel on someone else’s dime, do it.
South Korea is dangerous. Nope. Granted there is crime here like there is crime in the states, but it’s no more dangerous here because North Korea is right there. (You can’t see me, but I’m pointing north.) I’ve gone midnight shopping — oh, yeah, shopping at midnight for perfectly-executed knock off purses is FUN — by myself, and I was never in fear for my safety once. We aren’t cowering in fear, waiting for Kim Jung Un to miss his meds, lose his cookies, and attack us. We are living our lives and enjoying ourselves every chance we get. The pictures are proof!
All anyone does in Korea is go to clubs, drink, and hire the occasional prostitute. Okay, so here’s the thing — there are a lot of young, single soldiers fresh out of high school who find themselves with more freedom than they can sometimes handle. As a result of a few bad apples, there is a curfew that has been implemented for service members. However, that doesn’t define the service members as a whole or what there is to do in this country. There are more things to do here than I could even write about. Between the palaces, the shopping districts, museums, cafes, and general sight-seeing, if you are bored, it’s just because you’ve not gone outside.
If you find yourself PCSing to Korea, don’t fret. It seems scary at first, and it was to me, too, but look at it as an adventure. The food is different, but delicious. The people are sweet and adore children. The site-seeing is endless. Take it for what it is — a new experience. If you go in with an open mind, I think Korea will surprise you.