Archive for June 2007


In 2 days I will have completed my first 180 day school year here in Korea so I thought I would take a minute to reflect upon some of the things I have noticed in my time here.

First, this is a country of extreme opposites which explains the culture, the people, the weather and the geography. In this little country you can find high mountains, beaches, forests, swamps, areas filled to bursting with people and other areas where no humans have been in years.  The weather is freezing cold with bitter winds during the winter but hot and humid in the summer. It has become a necessity to own both a dehumidifier and air conditioner, as well as a humidifier and space heater. In one weekend of hiking and camping you can hit temperatures from 30 – 80!

The Koreans love rules and regiment. They have strict guidelines for everything – how to behave at a baseball game, what you can shout during soccer matches, what you wear to go hiking yet they will cheat at anything if it means winning. During SAT’s we have to provide extra security and search student’s bags to make sure they haven’t stolen the test, in climbing they will literally pull their friend up the mountain and use the bolts to climb on then claim it was a clean climb, they will outright lie to your face if you catch them cheating and then get mad at you for accusing them of breaking the rules.

Koreans consider health and beauty to be the top priorities. They can be found hiking at 11pm at night just to make sure they have exercised that day. They will walk backwards up and down the mountains in order to work all of their muscles, they will spend countless hours and money on saunas, whitening creams and surgeries to give them flawless skin and the western double eyelid (you can even find eyelid tape in the corner stores). The girls spend the majority of their time reapplying makeup and taking their photos with their camera phones. They paste ‘well being’ on everything to promote the healthiness of something yet they all smoke like chimneys and drink like fish. After the bike marathon that Marshall did, all the Korean men stopped and started smoking and drinking soju instead of water. They just don’t get it!

This is a city of millions and everywhere you go it is crowded yet the people act as though there is no one else around. They will shove you out of the way without looking at you, they will stop their car in the middle of the road to chat on their cell phone, they will never signal, they will put their stuff down right in your path and glare at you if you get annoyed. Some interesting theories have emerged to explain this – there are so many people that it’s too overwhelming to think of everyone therefore they think only of themselves, they are so used to it that it never bothers them and they can’t understand why it would bother us, a recent medical study claimed that they have more limited peripheral vision than westerners and therefore they just aren’t aware of their surroundings. I’ll let you pick the one you agree with!

As with a lot of countries, they assume that western women are sluts and sleep around a lot. They talk about our lack of disicipline and how their confucian system helps them keep things more moral. Yet you can turn on the TV at 7am and find porn on the regular channel.

Seoul is listed as one of the financial centers of the world – they are extremely global in their business dealings and with it’s size and foreign population, you would expect it to be a very international city. But it’s not. If you stay in the foreign areas it’s easy to live – people speak English, they treat you normally. But, there is a higher crime rate and it’s often sleazy at night. If you go to the more Korean areas, no one will speak English, they will ignore you and often stare at you openly. But, if you find the right place it can be a ton of fun. It’s all a gamble really and when you have to take a subway for an hour to get anywhere, it makes the game even tougher.

The way I get treated every day changes. I can meet many people who love that I am a foreigner here in their country trying to learn their language and live here. But there are just as many people who hate that I am a foreigner here in their country. The whole place is caught between needing to be more western in order to compete globally, and strongly desiring to never change anything because they are proud of their “Koreanness” and how hard they have fought to maintain their culture. The people can be warm, friendly, funny, cold, mean and rude all in the space of a few minutes.

Dogs are extremely important here now in Korea. And the size of the dog is perhaps the most important thing. The smaller the better (anything over the size of a cocker spaniel means it is ‘food’ dog), and the more colourful the better. They will dye their dogs fur every colour imaginable. It’s pretty funny and a major status symbol.

The children are completely coddled here – especially our students. They can demand anything and an adult will get it for them. We even have first and second graders who can’t poop at school because they don’t know how to wipe their own bottoms! They are protected in every aspect of life for as long as possible. Our school is extremely proud of the acceptances to Ivy league universities in the states but they will never publish the graduation rates from these schools as most of our students end up dropping out when they find out they have to be adults and have no idea what that entails! For men, this continues well into later life when their wives become their new mothers – coddling them, feeding them (literally in some cases) and providing them with everything. The temper tantrums that I have seen grown men throw are embarrassing! Most people here seem to believe that yelling and screaming will get you anything you desire. They also have one of the highest suicide rates in Asia. Life here is extremely competitive, especially as their country opens up and there is greater pressure to succeed. Suddenly the average Korean has a chance at being very wealthy which is a new concept here. It leads to extreme materialism and a high suicide rate – both of which are seen at my school. Of course they will never call it suicide- it is most frequently called ‘fan death’ when the bedroom fan sucks the air out of a room and somebody suffocates.

It’s a weird country to live in and unlike anywhere else I have ever been. The foreigners here talk about ‘surviving Korea’ and yet many people stay for years and years. Some days I hate it here and other days I love it. I think the mountains are beautiful, I love how outdoorsy the koreans are, I love the saunas and lack of personal space. But it can be tough to love it here. They certainly don’t make it easy. Many people believe that it will become easier and easier as trade opens up more and globalization hits Korea. Part of me hopes that it will happen soon because it would make my life better, but part of me will be sad to see Korea become like so many other places.

I know this summer that I am actually going to miss Korea, and certainly some of the Korean foods that I eat regularly so it makes me happy that I am here another year and that I obviously like it here. But……..come November, I am starting the job fair search.


3 comments June 4, 2007

I’m so excited!!

That’s about all I’ve been able to say lately as I get ready for summer holidays. I have 4 days left of school (only 3 actually with kids) and then in exactly one week, I am on a flight to London via Bangkok. So, just to fill you all in (and hopefully make you a little bit jealous), here are my summer plans…….

June 8th – June 23rd in sunny Aberdeen with my wee sister Kat and my wierd sister Anna (ha ha Anna).

June 23rd – June 30th in beautiful Tuscany celebrating ……oh wait, we’re not celebrating anything! Let’s just relax and enjoy the great weather, great wine and great company! I’m planning on lazy days by the pool, good meals all day and having a good catch up with Shelby, Mary, John and the Haites.  You can check out the villa we’re staying at –

July 2nd – July 11th Motorbiking trip around Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. I’ll be meeting up with Marshall, the Knochels (who are leaving this year so this trip will be the last time I get to see them. sniff,sniff) and some other friends of theirs. I have been promised lots of waterfalls, hammock time and beautiful scenery. One of the guys coming with us has lived in Thailand for about 8 years and speaks fluent Thai so we are completely relying on him to find us places to stay each night. Definitely a ‘go with the flow’ sort of vacation.

July12th – July 18th in Krabi, southern Thailand with Marshall. We will be climbing there and relaxing on the beach. Apparently the climbing is great there (check out  for pictures of the area) and when Marshall was last there with Leah and John, he stayed at a great hotel which we have booked again. You can have a look at it . We are in one of the mountain view bungalows or villas – room 10V (Marshall has been raving about this room all year so I’m excited).

July 18th – July 22nd Koh Samui, Thailand. Good friends Abbie and Jesse are getting married here so I’m looking forward to some romance! . This time we’ll be in one of the seaview villas.

July 23rd – August 2nd Florida Keys. Marshall and I are going to stay with his aunt on Big Pine key by the Looe national marine sanctuary (does that mean anything to you? because I really don’t have a clue).  It is opening lobster season and we get to catch and eat as much lobster as we can. I think it sounds like heaven!

August 3rd back to Seoul where I have a week before school starts to get my apartment back in order and learn how to drive around Seoul because I will be the proud owner of Marshalls old car.

And that’s it! Can’t wait to see everyone!!

1 comment June 1, 2007

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