Things I don’t like about Korea

A little over a month ago, I wrote about how difficult it can be to move to a different country. This is sort of a follow-up post. It’s interesting to hear what it’s like for a foreigner in the US. A week ago, a friend on Facebook posted an article called “16 People On Things They Couldn’t Believe About America Until They Moved¬†Here”, and it gives you an interesting view of the US from the outside. The article is here:¬†http://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-koh/2013/11/16-people-on-things-they-couldnt-believe-about-america-until-they-moved-here/#QVCi2tDAywsOrL2r.01. It’s long, but it’s worth the read. Or even just read some of it. People who came to the US as foreigners describe their thoughts about America, specifically things that surprised them (most of the things that surprised them were negative). Some of the things that people said surprised them were things that I’ve never thought twice about, and I never realized how strange some of the things we do seem to people of other cultures. There are many times in Korea where I’ve heard foreigners talking about some sort of incident, then they just shake their head and say, “Oh, Korea..”, and now I wonder what kinds of things make foreigners in the US do the same. So I’ve thought about some things in Korea that annoy me:

1. More often than not, when Koreans are walking, they just stop suddenly. Like for no reason. It could be on the sidewalk, in a store, anytime, anywhere. I don’t get it.

2. Coffee shops. Koreans don’t seem to understand the concept of coffee shops. I lead a small group, and we meet on Wednesday mornings every week at a coffee shop. Every time, the music is BLARING like it’s some kind of rave. They don’t seem to get the idea that the whole reason people come to coffee shops is to talk, which is very difficult to do when you feel like you have to yell to talk to the person on the other side of the table.

3. The obsession with appearances. I thought this was bad in the US, but it is nothing compared to Korea. Every woman is dressed up all the time, and they all have a little mirror with them to make sure they still look perfect. It’s not necessarily a bad thing… Korean women always look very classy and I really like that, but stop looking in your mirror every 5 minutes. Plastic surgery is also a big deal here. People want big eyes and white skin.. so I guess it’s almost sort of normal for someone to have had surgery. One of my friends (an American), has gotten stopped in the subway a few times to get asked for directions, because she has been thought to be Korean. She doesn’t look Korean at all, but she does look like she could be someone who is Korean but had a lot of surgery, so people think she can speak Korean. She can’t.

4. Taxis always honking at me. I can be just walking to the bus stop (which takes less than 2 minutes), and a taxi will drive by and honk at me. I’ve heard of this happening to other foreigners, too. It’s like they think foreigners don’t know how to hail a taxi. Update: America has taxis, too.

5. Cigarette smoke everywhere. The public smoking ban in Illinois is wonderful, but in Korea, you can’t walk anywhere without getting cigarette smoke in your face.

6. The education system. Kids don’t have time to be kids. They always have to study and go to academies. I work at a private English academy (they’re called hagwons), but my students don’t just come to my hagwon. A lot of them have to go to math academy, or history academy, or piano lessons, or Chinese class.. or all of the above. The suicide rate in Korea is extremely high, and it’s because there’s so much pressure on kids, who should be outside playing with their friends. Many of my students have a “big test” coming up that they keep talking about, and they’ve been studying for months for it. That’s not an exaggeration. It makes me sad.

Even though there’s a lot of things that annoy me about Korea, I still really love Korea. There’s many other things I could probably list, but I’m not here to bash Korea. There’s a lot of really good things that Korea does right.. and maybe I can write about that later. Korea is a wonderful country, but like every country does, it has its issues.

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