This week we are very fortunate to have Christina from Littles, Life, & Laughter guest post for us. She is a military wife currently stationed in Alaska. She spent a year in South Korea and fell in love; with the people, the food, and the culture as whole. Below is her story of how she adjusted and what it took to learn to love a culture that wasn’t her’s.
I didn’t move to Korea by choice. In fact, when my husband first got military orders that would send us and our newborn to Korea, I was so upset that I cried. I thought about uprooting our lives in Las Vegas to spend the next year in a strange and foreign Asian country.
“I don’t even like Korean food! I’m going to starve,” I remember telling him in my typical overdramatic fashion. However, the more I began to research our impending move, the more open-minded I became. People generally seemed to like it over there. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.
Despite the fact that I have lived all over the United States, I was not prepared for the culture shock that is Korea. A shock because that year ended up being the best year of my life.
My absolute favorite thing about Korea isn’t the food (which I ended up loving, by the way), and it isn’t the endless shopping or amazing beauty products. It’s the people.
Korea has a tight-knit sense of community that seems hard to find these days. They are welcoming and generally accepting towards expats with a sort of humorous curiosity. This is seen in so many ways.
Walk down any street on a typical nice day, and you will find neighbors sitting, laughing, talking, and just being with one another. You can walk home alone at night safely without having to look over your shoulder as crime rates in Korea, especially violence, are very low. Cars are often left with keys inside of them and personal belongings left outside, a testament of the trust only found in these types of communities.
In addition, Koreans have an enormous love for all children and babies. There are endless “kid cafes,” or indoor playplaces; they’re all over the country. We would often get stopped when walking with my infant daughter down the street in Seoul so that people could take their picture with her or stop to try and make her smile. It is common in Korea for shop owners to give out little trinkets and toys to any children who find their way into their stores.
Of course, some of their kindness takes some adjusting. The first time that my husband and I went out to a traditional Korean restaurant in Songtan, my daughter, who was two months old at the time, began to cry. Immediately, the restaurant owner came over and took her out of my hands. I began to object but the owner stood nearby and rocked and shushed my daughter back to sleep.
We were later told it is common in Korean culture for the women to help out in restaurants with babies to allow the parents to eat in peace. Eventually, this became our norm every time we went out to eat. Not only did it allow us some time and the freedom to go out more with a small baby, but sharing our daughter in this way brought happiness to our new and helpful friends.
I can go on and on to anyone who will listen about my love for Korean culture, but as with anywhere, living there was not perfect. There were plenty of shocking adjustments I was not too fond of as well. A lot of these center around the household appliances.
We had to live without a dishwasher for an entire year. The washing machine/dryer combo that Koreans seem to be so fond of do not actually dry your clothes and laundry would take several days. (Although the Korean “wet bathroom,” a shower without a curtain and a drain in the floor, almost made up for these mishaps).
I can’t continue the bad without one of the worst culture shocks: the toilet situation. Korea is strange in this regard. In some places, you will find heated, cleaning thrones of loveliness with buttons that do things you didn’t even know you needed in a toilet. In other places, mostly rural and train stations, you’ll find yourself squatting into a hole, questioning your life decisions. The weirdness continues with a toilet theme park complete with statues of poop and a toilet museum in Suwon.
It’s been two years since we’ve left Korea and it’s been two years of trying to figure out how to move back. If you ever find yourself with an opportunity to live or visit there, go with an open mind and a preparedness that you might have to poop in a hole.