9 Reasons Why I Was Excited to Leave Korea
To this day, both in the States and in Korea, I have friends and acquaintances who are not aware that I've left Korea. I was there for so long, people just got used to the idea of me being there and assumed I would be there forever. What's also crazy is that I'd sworn I had spoken about leaving Korea on my blog, but looking back now I see that I haven't. Even though I've left The Land of the Morning Calm, I have an insane amount of photos, videos, and things I want to talk about with regards to my time in Korea. I learned so much, and had so many experiences both in Korea and abroad, that I would like to share, and in the future I would like to continue to share as well as I visit my second home to see old friends and my Korean nieces and nephews. This being a lifestyle blog, I also intend to share my adventures in the U.S., and future travels. After all, this blog is Alex in Wonderland, and wonderland is wherever I go.
Korea will always hold a special place in my heart, but to be completely honest, I was really looking forward to coming home my last year in Korea. Here are 9 reasons why I was excited to leave Korea:
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Korean food. Korean friends and acquaintances were always surprised that I loved to eat everything, well . . . everything except 번데기 ("beondegi") and 비빔밥 ("bibimbap"). What can I say, I like to eat, okay? But one thing I missed was the diversity in international and western foods available both in restaurants and at the grocery store. I didn't realize how unique the fact that Mexican food and ingredients are commonplace in America, and that that was sadly not the case everywhere. There are plenty of good international restaurants in Busan, but it's not always the version Americans are used to from home. It can also be really disappointing hunting down a specific type of ethnic food, only to find out liberties had been taken, and kimchi has been put places it has no business being, lol.
2. VPN Freedom
Besides using a VPN for security purposes, I was tired of having to jump through hoops in order to see TV shows and series that would be available to all my family and friends in the U.S. Can a girl watch Netflix in peace, without having to find a dedicated IP address that will get her to the movie she wants to watch? It can in the States.
3. Emphasis on Relationships
In Korea, there's a lot of pressure for both Koreans and foreigners alike to be in a constant stream of relationships. It's harder to keep a mindset that is more career or independence-centered, when people you don't even know are asking about your relationship status, from friends and coworkers to taxi drivers. The pressure doesn't just come from students asking if you have a boyfriend with curious, inquiring eyes, but even from national holidays! On Valentine's Day girls give guys chocolate, on White Day guys give girls candy, on Pepero Day you give pepero to your significant other, Christmas is largely a couple's holiday, and on April 14th which is called Black Day, singles go to Chinese-Korean restaurants to eat 짜장면 ("jjajangmyeon") alone.
4. Banking Woes
Banking can be frustrating and confusing enough in your native language, so imagine how much more headache inducing it can be in a foreign language, in another currency with more decimal points. Understanding all the terms and conditions of your bank, cards, and banking apps and navigating issues with your bank can be difficult. Add to it the extra restrictions placed on foreigner accounts, and you're guaranteed hours of fun thinking of ways to jump through hoops to accomplish things that regular Korean people can accomplish easily. On that note, I definitely recommend KEB or Korea Exchange Bank as a bank of choice for foreigners (more on that on my old blog post here). Things were getting better slowly over the years, and I can only hope they've gotten even better since I left last year. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Another thing I realized that is very American, is being able to buy a n y t h i n g you want, basically anytime! Amazon is a perfect representation of that American right. I think the point when I realized this the most is around Halloween in 2018, the last Halloween I spent in Korea. I had lofty plans for a costume/contraption, that I will not name in the hopes I can make it a reality someday. I scoured Korea for materials, things that can easily be found at any home supply store or online in the States, but that I could not buy in Korea, either because they were not commonly sold, or because I was not a construction company. Yes, you can use 3rd party import companies like Malltail, but it's not the same as having everything at your fingertips. Basically, I missed being spoiled.
6. Emphasis on Appearance
Korean culture is all about 첫 인상 or first impressions. What also plays a large role in first impressions? Appearance. There is a lot of pressure on Korean people in Korean society to look a certain way all the time. Hell, there is so much pressure, South Korea is considered the plastic surgery capital of the world. When I reacted with surprise when one of my best friends told me she had gotten double eyelid surgery aka blepharoplasty, she said brushing my reaction off saying that it's not real surgery because it only takes 15 minutes. Even though most of the pressure is on Korean people, some of it spills over onto foreigners as well.
Black hairdressers. Need I say more? When my hairdresser back home ran her fingers through my hair once when I'd visit, she would look so sad. My hair was pretty epic before Korea, and hopefully I'll get it back to that point. There are black hairdressers in Korea, but they are mostly unlicensed, and don't have access to salon grade products. I love being able to get my hair done whenever I want, and not have to take a train for 2.5 hours and pay for accommodations for the weekend every other month.
I missed having more people in my life who had a mindset that was more similar to mine. My best friends Korean and foreign alike of course understand me, and we share common ground on most things, but dealing with people and situations in my everyday life in which I would interact with people who didn't was taxing. I'd get really frustrated with the actions/behavior of others, and their inability to see my viewpoint or empathize with someone who was different from them. Whether it was my role and scope in society as
a woman, my experience being Black, or the fact that I saw another way to do things than the way things have always been done, there were times where it would lead to me butting heads with people. When you second guess yourself and your opinions on things because you don't fit the norm, it may be time to go home. Things are pretty polarized here in America right now, but at least there is room for more than one opinion in society, and even if your voice isn't one of the loudest ones, you can find a lot of people who agree with you. And you can also find a lot of people who disagree, and are willing to discuss their difference in opinion with you (am I being too optimistic? Lol). I feel like I didn't have as much room for that in Korea.
9. Family, Friends, & Bebe's
Being away from home for so long, it goes without saying that I missed all of my family and friends so much. I visited more often at first, but as time went by and I saw how much I was spending on trips home, I visited home less and less. I didn't like seeing how much my parents aged between longer stints without visiting, and of course there was so much going on back home that I could not be there for: weddings, funerals, celebrations, and births. I was worried everyone's kids would be too old to remember be by the time I came back. I wanted to cherish that valuable time with friends and family back home while I could. They were definitely what I was looking forward to the most.
**This post is dedicated to Leah. It's a little late, but thanks for holding me accountable, and giving me a reason to post!**