Well, I’ve been back in the Great White North that is Canada for 10 days now and there hasn’t been a moment where I’ve doubted my decision to leave Korea after 10 years. Of course I’m still in the honeymoon phase of reverse culture shock, so I’m sure some difficult times are still ahead. But, mostly I just feel happy. Really, really, really happy. Here are 10 things that I most certainly don’t miss about Korea:
#1: The Pushing and Shoving
Korea is a small, small little country with a ridiculous number of people in it. I get that. But, it’s not an excuse to be all pushy and shovey and rude. Gone are the days of fighting to get off the subway while rude people are pushing on before they should. Gone are the days of fighting off some ajumma or ajjoshi in the line for the bus. Gone are the days of getting totally taken out while walking down the street and no apology.
#2: Ridiculous Prices for Fruits and Veggies
I’m all about eating fruits and veggies. Seriously. All about it. Probably 90% of what I eat on a normal basis consists of these two food categories. Except in Korea, they’re all so expensive. I get that most of them are imported so maybe that’s why? But, even the stuff grown in Korea is too much! Canada: 10 pound bag of potatoes = $3. Thank you very much! Bunch of banana = $1. Don’t mind if I do. Small bag of onions = $2. Put that crap into my cart right now.
#3: Scary Drivers from Hell
Seriously. How did I not die on the road during my 10 years in Korea, initially as a pedestrian and for the last 5 years as a driver? It’s scary road hell out there. Running red lights. Blowing through cross-walks. No shoulder-checks. Bali-bali craziness. Drunk taxi drivers. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I’m a bit surprised I’m still alive. Be careful out there old friends. Never trust the green walking man, okay? You gotta check, always. It’s how I’m not dead right now.
#4: The Communication Barrier
Now it’s totally and completely my own fault for only speaking basic Korean after 10 years in Korea. It’s kind of embarrassing, but I also thought it’d be an utter waste of my time once I left so I didn’t bother and instead focused on other pursuits.
Anyway, I got pretty tired of having to get help for anything beyond the basic stuff. Here in Canada, a quick phone call to wherever and all my problems are solved, by myself. Self-reliance = killer.
March 1st is rolling around soon enough and I’m so, so, so glad that I’m not going back into the university classroom. Korean university students are generally sweet, and eager enough. But, teaching ESL is kind of mind-numbing when you do it year after year. Brain rot ain’t a good thing so I’m happy to make a break and challenge myself with new things.
#6: The Stares
I felt like an animal in a zoo sometimes. The stares have decreased over the years and it’s also not so bad in the big cities, but still, it was annoying. I like just being an anonymous person here, going about my business and doing my stuff, minus all the little eyes following me around.
#7: The Hordes of People Every Single Place You Go
In Korea, I often couldn’t even be bothered to leave my house, especially on the weekends. Sure, I’d love to have gone for a walk around that famous temple, but I never felt like doing it with 1000 other people. Yeah, I like the road trips most definitely, but the gridlock on the highways that is a weekend in Korea? No Thanks. I like me a chilled out coffee shop. But, not when there are 20 shout-talkers within 10m of me.
#8: The Lack of Variety
Korea is an extremely homogeneous country. Don’t want to pollute up that Han blood with the dirty foreigners, you know? Canada is a land of immigrants. I like that. A lot. It means different languages. Fantastic restaurants. Differing viewpoints. Acceptance of things that are different.
#9: Noise + Light Pollution
In Korea, there is no sense of noise or light pollution. It’s always in your face. Canada is quiet and I feel like I can breathe, relax, be calm. Living in Korea means living with this low-level stress all the time. It’s really hard to unwind. So far in Canada, things are chill. Real chill. I’m surrounded by goats and chickens and little cabins in the woods and it’s dead silent all the time mostly.
#10: Depressed People
Koreans are not happy people. They’re mostly studying and working zombie robots who have very few choices in their lives. There have been a few reports in the news recently (including this one) about how young Koreans would basically cut off their pinky finger in order to be able to leave.
Not to be all patriotic or whatever, because I actually think that crap about sewing a Canadian flag onto your backpack when traveling is so, so ridiculous, but in Canada, you’re free. Free to be out of the closet. Like protected by law against discrimination. You’re free to do any sort of job you want. Trades. Okay! Small companies. Sure! Entrepreneur. Killer! Hippy on a farm. Why Not?
Let’s Sum This Up
Just this very morning, I talked to an old friend of mine who was in Korea for 12 years and left a couple years ago. I asked him if he regretted leaving. Not for a second he said. He wakes up each day and feels thankful that he busted outta there. I kind of feel the same way.
Not happy in Korea? Make your break. It’s far, far easier than you might think, even things like bringing pets home and shipping your stuff. Need some help in figuring out what life is going to look like for you, post-ESL teaching in Korea? Then you need Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning Home. I interviewed 55 people who’d gone back home after teaching abroad and the book is based on those results, plus a ton of other research I did about job options to consider and how to make the transition home successfully. It’s a lotta awesome for not a lotta cash.