It’s easy to get in a comfortable routine at home. We get used to doing everyday things in certain ways, paying seemingly normal amounts of money for expenses, and putting up with some inconveniences that we assume are totally normal pretty much anywhere. Sometimes we don’t realize that the everyday things we take for granted might be a little bit different or even a whole lot better in other parts of the world. Here are a few awesome things that I found quite impressive about Korea when I first moved here from the States.
I’ve traveled a good bit up and down the Eastern United States, and I’ve stayed in quite a few cities. Some were cleaner than others, and overall they were quite tolerable. In the States we almost expect certain cities to be fairly dirty, and we don’t really think much of it. If you live in a rural area, you might be a little surprised by how dirty a place like New York City can be, but for the most part, we’re all pretty used to some level of filth on the streets. After visiting New York City and Boston several times, living in Pensacola for my college years, and traveling up and down the East Coast a couple times a year, I was pleasantly surprised to see how clean Korea is. The cleanliness and order were some of the first things I noticed when I got to Korea. Even taxis in Korea are clean, and they don’t even smell like cigarettes inside! Sure, it’s not spotless, and not quite as pristine as somewhere like Japan, but Korea’s cleanliness is impressive and much appreciated.
Korea’s cleanliness and orderliness are not only limited to tourist destinations like Seoul and Busan either. I live in a relatively small city, and even there, people are committed to keeping their hometown clean. Several days a week on my short walk to work I pass at least one city worker sweeping the sidewalks and medians and hear a street sweeper truck pass by outside my workplace every morning. Korean cities also have programs to keep senior citizens active and involved by organizing meetings to pick up trash, pull weeds, and sweep sidewalks and parks. After a lengthy stay in the cleanliness of Korea, your home city might seem surprisingly unsanitary when you get back!
Besides actually being clean and not making you feel like you’re going to get lung cancer from breathing the air inside, taxis and buses in Korea are plentiful and affordable. Taxis are everywhere and can even be easily requested by an app on your phone. Buses and trains make traveling around your city or between cities affordable and easy. Even a somewhat more expensive and comfortable bus line is surprisingly cheap. I frequently buy bus tickets to get to Incheon International Airport, and I only pay about twenty-five dollars each way. Taxis are also very cheap compared to prices you might be used to. Within my city I can get almost anywhere I want for under five dollars. Korea’s infrastructure and well-organized public transportation systems make it quick, convenient, and affordable to get just about anywhere.
Besides convenient domestic travel, living in Korea also comes with some great opportunities for international travel. Incheon International Airport is a major hub for international travel. Living in the States, traveling all the way to Europe or Asia is dauntingly expensive and often seems out of reach for many of us, but once you’re over there, international travel can be surprisingly affordable. Plus, budget airlines in Korea such as Jeju Air and T’way Air make travel to many popular destinations even cheaper. Living in Korea makes it easy to go on awesome and affordable international trips during your time off whether it’s just a long weekend or a full summer break.
You might be used to handing over an additional ten- to twenty-percent at restaurants or leaving a few bills on the table at hotels, but you don’t have to in Korea. Wait staff in Korea are expected to do a good job simply because it’s their job. Wait staff are even expected to do a bit more in Korea. Korean customers often call a waiter or waitress from across the dining room whenever they need something rather than waiting until the next time one comes to check on their table, and staff are fully expected to respond promptly and politely. Korean wait staff do not demand or even expect a tip for simply doing what they are already supposed to be doing. In fact, they might even be offended by tipping and think you are being arrogant. Coming from a culture where tipping is demanded even for poor service, this sense of responsibility for doing one’s own job without expecting extra payment can be very refreshing—for you and your wallet.
Wi-Fi in Korea is fast and affordable. There are a few big providers for Wi-Fi, cable TV, and cell phone service, and they usually offer all three in a bundle for a surprisingly reasonable price on one easy bill. And when you’re not at home, there are cafes and restaurants everywhere, so you can easily find Wi-Fi on the run. Some places offer free public Wi-Fi, while at others you might have to ask for the password or buy something first, but either way, Wi-Fi is always readily available, reliable, and affordable.
As several topics discussed so far have not-so-subtly hinted at, convenience is a big deal in Korea. People in Korea are often busy and in a hurry and expect prompt professional service for just about everything. A lot of locals will even openly admit that Koreans are not very patient people because they are so used to the countless conveniences in modern Korean culture.
Convenience stores in Korea especially live up to their name. Besides being everywhere and usually open late, they sell all kinds of things you might need in a hurry from toiletries to full meals. Convenience stores offer an impressive array of drinks and foods, hot or cold, and they even provide microwaves to heat up food and eat it right in the store for no extra cost.
Even picking up your prescriptions when you’re sick is convenient in Korea. Anywhere there’s a clinic or a hospital, there’s a pharmacy right next door or even in the same building. You might not even have to wait to pick up your medicine. Pharmacies are so efficient they sometimes have it ready by the time you get there.
Perhaps one of the most convenient things about Korea is the delivery service. Tons of restaurants offer delivery—even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s. No wonder some people can become so impatient in Korea!
Affordable Medical Care
Medical care in Korea is extremely affordable. When moving to Korea from another country, you might find yourself getting sick more often for a while as your body adjusts to the new environment, but clinics and pharmacies are everywhere and won’t cost you hundreds for insurance copays and prescriptions. The full cost of a doctor’s visit and medication is often cheaper than an insurance copay alone back in the States. Any trip to a clinic or hospital back home in the States gets expensive fast and often comes with a sizeable copay depending on your insurance, but medical care in Korea is refreshingly affordable.
Medical care might be very affordable in Korea, but hopefully, you won’t be needing it too often. Korean culture encourages healthy living, so it’s a little easier to keep a good diet and exercise regimen. Korean meals make use of lots of rice and vegetables, and even a lot of snacks and refreshments are designed to be at least relatively healthy. Many of the snacks and sugary beverages we often buy in large containers at home in the States come in smaller packages in Korea and are often individually wrapped. Drinks like soda and sweet tea come in smaller cans and bottles, and cookies, chips, and ice cream often come in much smaller containers. Korean culture makes it a little bit more inconvenient and expensive to eat too many sweets, even if you want to.
Besides encouraging healthier eating, Korea also encourages exercise. With everything being so close, it’s easy to walk or ride a bike just about anywhere you need to go. Korean schools often have picnics and outings to get students outside, and many parents also put their kids in taekwondo classes to keep them active and help them grow strong and stay limber. Public parks and playgrounds are almost always equipped with free exercise machines. Even the elderly stay very active in Korea, and you will often see them out walking, riding bikes, or volunteering to clean up parks and sidewalks. Korean culture does a good job of encouraging diet and exercise habits for people of all ages to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In addition to encouraging healthy living, Korean society also encourages safety. Overall there is much less fear of walking around the city at night. Many Koreans work hard and late, so it is not uncommon to see lights on and a few people out and about even during the wee hours of the morning. Streets are clean and well-lit, and there are CCTV cameras everywhere that discourage crime. Korea also makes heavy use of CCTV cameras to watch traffic and establish speed monitoring zones to effectively keep people driving within the speed limits for safer highway driving. Whether you tend to be out late by nature or are just looking for a safe town to settle down in for a while, Korea is a secure and comfortable place to live.
Beautiful Scenery and Culture
No list would be complete without mentioning Korea’s beautiful scenery and unique culture. Korean culture offers a wonderful mix of the old and the new. You can experience old traditional Korean villages only miles away from bustling modern cities. Koreans are sure to keep up with modern fashion and style while also holding on to and still making us of the traditional Korean hanbok. The Korean people are equally proud of their rich history and their modern advancements and achievements. Korean culture is an interesting mix of old traditions and philosophies and modern comforts and technology. In addition to the rich culture, there is also some great scenery to take in. Korea has beautiful mountains to hike, beaches to relax on, islands to visit, and cities to explore. No matter what you’re into, you can always find plenty to enjoy in Korea.