Top 5: Difficult Things About Living in Korea

November 12, 2015



Last month, I wrote about the best things about living in Korea. Life, as you may know, is not always sunshine and rainbows regardless of where you live. Without the pure intention of being negative, I simply want to express some of the challenges I have faced while living in Korea.



Korea's concept of personal space and time is something that differs from what I'm used to. With a higher population density, it is only reasonable to expect that the view of personal space in Korea is a bit more... narrow. People are more squished together. Cars are more squished together. More on that later. What has affected me more than personal space is the concept of personal time. Korean employees' personal time is not always valued as highly as I was used to. I grew up with the mindset that work time is work time, and we go home after work to enjoy our personal time (depending on the profession, of course). In Korea, employees often have a rough estimate of a quitting time where they will just stay until their work is finished. Many companies/organizations also involve themselves in "extracurricular" activities outside of the work day: dinners, membership training, overnight trips. I can see the merit in these bonding activities but it is certainly something that even after 4 years I have trouble unbitterly going along with.

While Korea boasts a great menu of its own, food choices of an international scope are limited and/or fusioned. While things are improving and becoming more diverse, it is particularly difficult to find non-Korean foods especially outside of Seoul. To this day I've yet to find my favourite Canadian beers.

Driving in Korea is something that I've gotten used to but still struggle with accepting. The rules that exist are hardly enforced and are thus hardly followed. Read my previous post about driving in Korea. 

Not sharing a language of those around you is an obvious struggle of living in any country. Although I've been studying Korean and I can usually get by on my own, I am nowhere near perfect and often find myself misunderstanding situations and/or needing a little extra help from a Korean speaker.

All coming together, one of the most difficult things about living in Korea is not fitting in. Korea is a homogeneously Korean place. Foreigners in Korea account for only about 3-4% of the population, the majority of which come from China and other Southeast Asian countries. My foreignness is something that I'm faced with daily and while sometimes entertaining ("Can I touch your hair?") and flattering ("Your face is so small"), it does tend to get old and exhausting day after day.

If you live in Korea, what are some challenges you’ve faced?
If you don’t live in Korea, what are some difficult things about the country you live in?

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