As the holiday season begins I can’t help feeling gleeful as I start planning for winter trip. So many places and so many things await as soon as I disembark the plane. My visit to Korea will not be too long as I must return back to work and family life, however, it will not be time wasted. Me, my boyfriend, and my Korean and expat friends, will be spending our time traveling, eating, adventuring, celebrating, and meeting up at local favorite & new shops. On some days we will all hang out and on others it will just be me and the BF. Either or I can’t wait to start working through planned and unplanned excursions, as well as, seeing some old stomping grounds completely changed or still the same.
Since I have been away from Korea for most of 2016 I sat down & made of list of 5 things that I have missed the most. Let’s begin!
1. My BF & friends: Like a fish out of water my life has been more work focused and less play oriented. Though I do still see my old college friends from time to time the majority of them live outside NY and are more busy with their daily lives. Due to this my closest friendships are more aligned with my recent friends who live in Korea or other countries. For me & my BF and me & my friends Korea was our meeting point. It is a place we all hold in our hearts and view as a home in someway.
Living overseas for graduate school and some time after I eventually started to have strong separate life. A boyfriend, close grad-school friends, Korean & expat friends, etc. Nowadays, I still have a few friends residing in Korea and remain close with the others who have left. For the ones who have stayed I look forward to seeing and reconnecting with them again.
2. Cheap/Affordable Spending Budgets: Living in Korea as a student I was surprised by the amount of cheap/affordable housing that was available (i.e. goshiwons, hasuk-chibs, homestays, hostels, etc.) Thankfully throughout my grad-school days I was able to save a lot of money on housing, food expenses, etc. In addition, living in Korea provided me with the opportunity to save up lots of money I had earned while teaching.
While Korea is an OECD country its GDP and GNP ranks 11th in the world. When evaluating Korean prices with USD($) currency the value of housing, schooling, products, and services in Korea are all quite cheap. Due to this many expats, primarily from Western countries, see high-saving value in living and working abroad in Asia and in countries such as Korea. I, too, enjoyed being able to travel on a low-cost budget and treating myself to what I would consider 3-4 star: meals at restaurants, hotel stays, and spa treatments for a much lower rate compared the same services provided in the U.S.
3. Korean Food: Living in NY and very close to Queens (*where there are a few mini Asia-towns) I am not too far away from NY-based Korean restaurants. However, I still have not visited a single Korean restaurant since I’ve been back home. A main reason for the lack of interest is due to the my ‘Korean mindset’ of eating in large groups or with my BF.
Many times when eating out while I was living in Korea I would eat out with 1,2, 5, or 8 friends. While eating out we would share lots of dishes in-between one another and spend hours enjoying ourselves. Wanting to maintain the same practice, I have avoided visiting Korean restaurants back home.
4. Public Transportation: Public transportation efficiency is one of the biggest perks to living in Korea, especially in Seoul. After my first month in Seoul I found it quite easy to learn about what sort of transportation was available for me to commute within the city(i.e. bus, train, subway, taxi, etc.). In addition, you can be illiterate to Hangul, the Korean language, as many transportation services provide English written information and free language translation services.
After my first month living in Korea I quickly became familiar to Seoul’s convenient subway transportation system. As one of the most efficient transportation systems in the world you should not be surprised by the number of Koreans, foreign tourists, and expat residents who utilize the transportation system on a daily basis. Compared to the U.S. where commuters rely more on their own transportation(i.e. personal cars) Seoul is an easy-to-travel commuter city. However, as for the rest of Korea some areas mostly rural require securing one’s own transportation. But, nowadays public transportation has been steadily expanding out to all regional areas.
5. Korean Festivals, Temples, Palaces, Mountains, Landscapes: As mentioned in my blog posts Hiking Spirit (하이킹 정신), and My Top 5 Favorite Cities in Korea (한국에서 내 5개 좋아하는 도시), I love Korea’s mountainous landscapes and all the historical remnants from former kingdoms that still exist today in many areas around the country. In addition to these things I also love attending many of Korea’s cultural, seasonal, and holiday festivals & programs that take place throughout the year. A few I can highlight that I have enjoyed the most have been: Seoul’s Fall Lantern Festival(서울빛초롱축제), The Garden of Morning Calm [Spring] Festival(아침고요수목원), the Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival(영등포 여의도 봄꽃축제), the New Years Bosingak Belfry(보신각터), the Damyang Bamboo Festival(담양대나무축제), the Korea Ballet/Opera Festival.
Throughout my life in Korea I have traveled, toured, attended, and witnessed many breathtaking sights and events. Looking back I truly believe that I was fortunate to have experienced as much as I did. But, still there is so much more than the list above that I still want see, visit, and explore. My BF, similarly, like me, enjoys partaking in a few of these types of events.
Whether you are visiting a palace or temple, hiking up a mountain, attending a festival, or simply enjoying the view of a nearby landscape, bring along a friend or a partner. It will make the experience not only more memorable, but allow you to share the experience.
For, me, my BF, and my Korean & expat friends Korea is our meeting point, where we can re-connect and share new experiences. It is also the homeland of all authentic Korean food, which is what I am looking forward to eating as soon as I arrive. Additionally, since Korea is developing as a whole and at a steadfast rate public transportation connectivity between cities and rural areas is growing even more. This is creating easier access to once inconvenient locations for both Korean, foreign tourists, and expat residents.
I welcome the growing connectivity to be able to travel to and visit new cities and towns in areas of Korea that I have yet to visit. On my trip this winter that is one of my biggest interests along with spending time enjoying 3-4 star: meals at restaurants, hotel stays, and spa treatments that meet a low-cost budget and provide me with more spending money for traveling.
Already less than 20 days til my winter break vacation begins മ◡മ
Have you ever been to Korea? What other country or countries have you been to? What are some things that you miss?