How long were you in Korea?
What city did you live in?
Why did you choose that city?
My first experience in Korea was in Seoul back in 2010 as an exchange student at Korea University (I participated in a study abroad program through my home university). The second time around, I moved back to Korea a few years later and lived between Seoul and Daejeon. I chose Seoul as my first destination because I felt it would be easy to adjust to the cultural differences in a big city. I was able to experience a lot of festivals, events, and the shopping in Seoul is the best! I was a Kindergarten teacher at a local private school in the Mok-dong area - I loved the area and surrounding communities. I also worked as a freelance copywriter for a local arts/cultural blog in my free time. Moving to Daejeon wasn't really planned, but I'm really glad I chose to accept a job offer there. I met a lot of great people in Daejeon, and left having made friends that I still keep in touch with to this day. My boss at the adult language academy that I worked at was really welcoming and made me feel at home in Daejeon. I also continued to work as a freelancer and did some design/consulting work with some local clients in Korea.
Where were the top 3 places you visited in Korea? What made them special?
The top three? Oh my, it's so hard to narrow it down to only three. These are the most memorable places that come to mind:
1. Jeonju (전주) and the Hanok Village (북촌한옥마을) Jeonju is the capital of North Jeolla Province and it is about 2 to 2 1/2 hours from Seoul (via express bus or high-speed train). It is a quiet, somewhat rural city that sits close to Wanju County - which entirely surrounds Jeonju. It still has a lot of life and an undeniable energy that gives you an idea of what Korea can really be like. The people are more at ease, and live a simpler life. The food is delicious (I recommend Yukhoi Bibimbap, 육회비빔밥) which is the traditional bibimbap topped with a seasoned raw beef. It sounds a bit adventurous and off-putting for those of you unfamiliar with eating raw meat, but it's a treat that must be experienced at least once. The Hanok Village is a must-see and is absolutely mesmerizing. It transports you back in time, as you walk wide-eyed through a gorgeous maze of old buildings, traditional houses and small shops that capture the true essence and energy of South Korea.
2. Hongdae (홍대)/Hapjeong (합정) If you have friends who have visited Seoul before, I'm certain they've spent time in Hongdae. It's a hipster's haven. Tons of shops, kitschy cafés, affordable clothing, innovative street food and clubs galore. You can spend an entire day there and never get bored. There are aspiring singers and dancers performing in the streets, and this is where young people go to just let loose and become one with the night. Hapjeong is the station located right next to Hongdae and, though its close in proximity, it has a completely different vibe. Aside from being known for Mecenatpolis Mall (a great place to shop at if you want to escape the crowds of larger malls in Seoul), it is also home to some of Seoul's best shops, restaurants and cafés. The streets are wide, the buildings are colourful and there's some absolutely stunning architecture for creatives looking to be inspired. A must-visit, for sure.
3. Chuncheon (춘천) The most clear memory I have of Chuncheon in Gangwon Province is... let's be real - the Dak Galbi (닭갈비). Dak Galbi is a giant pan of delicious, spicy grilled chicken that I always went out to eat with close friends. It can be topped with cheese, and you can add a variety of toppings (sweet potatoes, rice cake, veggies) to make it even more satisfying. On top of the tasty treats in Chuncheon, the views of the lakes (Lake Soyang and Lake Uiam) and the breathtaking scenery make it worth the visit.
What did you like most about your experience in Korea?
In general, my experience in Korea taught me a lot about tolerance and learning how to adapt to a new, unfamiliar environment - and about myself. I was able to become fluent in Korean after 8 years of studying and that was achieved through actually using the language on a daily basis. Sure, it was extremely difficult in the beginning and I made a lot of mistakes on the regular. I felt embarrassed, often struggled to remember certain words and felt home sick from time to time. However, the hospitality and welcoming nature of Koreans really made it easy for me to overcome the difficult times and I was able to thrive and found a sense of happiness while living abroad. Of course, I'm back in Canada now, but I do miss the time I spent in Korea. I'd love to go back soon for an extended vacation to check out all of the places I never got to visit. I'll never forget my life in Korea. The food I tried. The friends I made. The things I saw. The memories I made.
If you could recommend one Korean dish to your friends, what would it be? Describe it.
Oh man, this is a really tough question. It would have to be a tie between fried chicken dishes (Green Onion Chicken, Garlic Chicken, Sweet & Spicy Chicken) in or Dak Galbi (check out my description above). These two are my absolute favourites. There are so many others, as well, but these two came to mind right away. There is an abundance of healthy, tummy-friendly food in Korea. Dishes like Samgyetang (Chicken Soup) and Galbitang (Beef Short-rib Soup) top my list of favourites, as well. However, for foreigners looking to experience what is popular with the youth in South Korea - Fried Chicken and Dak Galbi are the penultimate of modern Korean cuisine!
What was a new experience that you had in Korea?
A new experience? I think the thing that most comes to mind when asked this question is... learning to accept that personal space in public is hard to come by. Back in Canada, there are fewer people and a huge mass of land. It's really easy to come by public space that isn't too crowded. In Korea, however, you are often up close and personal with strangers in public, on the subway and just about anywhere you go. This was a new experience for me and it was hard to get used to, but you adjust to it after a while. Just be aware if you're moving to Korea (specifically Seoul) from a really small town - you will have to get used to this lack of personal space. Just breathe and remind yourself that it's a whole new world in Korea. It takes time to get used to.