South Korea is not an obvious travel destination, it has no true iconic landmarks and its only recent, distinct cultural exports are kimchi and an amazing horse riding song and dance. When I told people that I would be moving to Seoul, their first question was either “North Korea?” or “….where?” But Korea is a place rich with destinations: immense cities, ski resorts, popular beaches, as well as renowned film festivals and fashion events. It has a history spanning thousands of years, including warring kingdoms, Japanese colonization, ancient temples, rapid industrialization and funny hats.
The capital city of Seoul is a destination unto itself. Less than five decades ago, much of the city was barely even farmland. But today, it is a modern metropolis with cultural assets that rival Tokyo or Berlin. There are world-class restaurants with food from all over the world as well as cheap street food. Dozens of construction projects are underway that will make some of the world’s largest and most beautiful buildings. Seoul is also one of the few truly 24-hour cities in the world. When the nightlife in Tokyo has already died down, Seoul’s countless nightlife districts are just getting started.
As Korea has become prominent in the global conscience, the traveler and expat community has grown. Its central location in Asia makes it a great pit stop for those traveling deeper into the continent. Others stay longer, and often for work. I have met people from all over the world working in Korea as models, computer programmers, writers, actors, bartenders and, more often than not, English teachers.
Korea has an insatiable demand for English education. It is a big part of the college application process and with Korea’s growth in international business, it is often seen as a necessity. That demand, coupled with decent pay and a relatively cheap cost of living (especially compared to Europe, North America and Japan) leads many native English speakers with a penchant for travel to find themselves in Korea.
I also came to Korea to teach English, and like many, it wasn’t a direct route. After I graduated college, my love of traveling influenced me to look for work abroad. I ended up spending a year teaching English in Japan at the foot of Mt. Fuji. I surprised myself by falling in love with teaching, but I hated the monotony of the small town I lived in. Korea is my chance to get back to teaching while living in an energetic mega-city.
Ever since moving to South Korea almost a year ago, I have been amazed so much by everything around me. Its truly unique culture and ridiculously fast-paced lifestyle are like nothing else on the planet. Moving forward with this column, my journey will take you through the life of an expatriate, from the insane spicy foods on the streets of Seoul to deeply rooted Confucianism in everyday culture to journeys around the Asian continent. I hope you enjoy all of its facets as much as I do.