Posted on January 1, 2022
I moved to Seoul in the summer of 2015, back when I was just a college student looking for adventure. What I found instead were countless life lessons about culture, language, and food. Here are 11 things I learned living there:
1) Be aware of cultural differences
The way people interact with their elders is very different from the United States. Many times my friends would have to pull me aside to remind me not to be so forward or outspoken around older relatives who they had grown up with. In Korea it is customary for people greet each other by bowing and saying “AnnyeongHaseyo” which means “hello.” Contrary to what you might think this does not mean that they want nothing more than to be on your good side, and instead they will simply ignore you if you don’t greet them.
2) There is a lot of pressure to succeed
Koreans are highly educated and many view success as the key to happiness. This means that there is a lot of competition in everything from school to work. It can be difficult to find friends who don’t care about grades or rank, but when you do they will become some of your closest confidants.
3) Koreans are some of the most generous people you will ever meet
If you go to a restaurant with friends it is customary for each person to pay an equal amount, even if they only had one dish. This means that sometimes we can end up paying more than their fair share when dining out in groups. It’s always good practice to ask your friend how much a meal costs before ordering anything so everyone knows what they’re going to owe at the end!
4) The language is not as difficult as it seems
Korean has a unique alphabet that you don’t really need to know how to read if your goal is simply to speak the language. In fact, most people in Seoul will know how to speak at least some English. With that being said, learning a few basic phrases can go a long way and Koreans are always happy to help you out if you’re struggling.
5) Koreans love to eat
Food is a huge part of Korean culture, and if you’re looking for somewhere new to try there’s always some restaurant specializing in one type of food that will have lines out the door. Don’t be afraid to try anything, since many Koreans will tell you that the best food is usually served at a little shop with one table and no English menus.
6) The subway is the best way to get around
Seoul has one of the most efficient subway systems in the world, and with a T-money card it’s easy to get around. There are also buses, but they can be more difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with the city.
7) There is a lot of history and culture to explore
From palaces to temples, Seoul has something for everyone. You could spend days exploring all the different neighborhoods and each one has its own unique charm.
- Insadong is a great place to start if you’re interested in traditional Korean culture, with its many art galleries and souvenir shops.
- Bukchon Hanok Village is a neighborhood of traditional houses that has been preserved since the Joseon Dynasty.
- Gangnam is home to some of the most luxurious shopping districts in Seoul, as well as Korea’s version of Times Square – COEX Mall.
- If you’re looking for something more modern and trendy Hongdae is your best bet. It’s full of bars, clubs, and restaurants and is always alive with energy.
- Lastly, Namsan Tower is a great spot to get a view of the cityscape and it’s also home to a cable car that you can ride up to the top of N Seoul Tower.
8) The cost of living can be expensive
Seoul is not a cheap city to live in, and especially if you’re trying to live like a local. Expect to pay more for food, transportation, and rent than you would in most other parts of the world.
- That said, there are always ways to save money if you’re willing to get creative. For example, many people buy their groceries from street vendors or discount stores like E-mart instead of supermarkets.
- Another way to save money is by using public transportation instead of taxis
- Finally, one of the best ways to save money while living in Seoul is by learning how to haggle! Most locals will tell you that it’s an art
9) Seoul is a great city for young people
If you’re in your 20s or 30s and are looking for a city with a lot of energy and excitement, Seoul is the place for you. There’s always something going on, whether it’s an exhibition at one of the art museums, a concert at Olympic Park, or simply people-watching in Hongdae.
- It can be difficult to meet people when you first move to Seoul since most Koreans are quite reserved until they get to know you. However, once you do make some friends they will quickly become like family.
- One way to meet people is by joining one of the many expat groups that exist in. This can be anything from a book club to a sports team.
- Or, if you’d prefer something more casual there are always Meetup groups that meet at local restaurants or bars on Friday nights. The possibilities are endless!
10) Seoul is an amazing place for foodies
There’s no shortage of delicious foods in Korea and it certainly rivals some of the best cuisines around the world. Whether your favorite dishes revolve around noodles, rice cakes, spicy soups, barbecued meats or anything else you can imagine there will be somewhere nearby where you can find it all. For example:
- Bibimbap (mixed rice bowl): mixed with vegetables, meat & hot chili pepper paste served over steamed white rice & topped w/a fried egg
- Samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup): a whole young chicken stuffed with rice, ginseng, garlic & jujube fruits served in a clear broth
- Kalguksu (knife noodles): handmade wheat flour noodles served in a beef or anchovy broth
11) Seoul is always changing
As one of the most populous cities in the world and the capital of South Korea, Seoul is constantly evolving. New neighborhoods are popping up all over the city, while others are disappearing as people move to newer and more fashionable districts. This means that there’s always something new to explore, no matter how long you’ve been living in Seoul.
There are so many things I could say about my time living in Seoul, but I’ll leave you with this. If you’re looking for an amazing city with a ton of culture, energy, and excitement then Seoul is the place for you. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
The content is based on the experiences and stories of Alvin. You can share your own Korea-related experiences, thoughts, and sentiments in any field or category you want. Connect with Sense of K and Inspire others by submitting your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.