The Pros And Cons Of Living In A Small City In South Korea (Part 2)

The Pros And Cons Of Living In A Small City In South Korea (Part 2)

Judith Villarreal and Korean woman

Last week, I shared with you 5 cons for living in a small city in South Korea. Let’s pick up the pace and end on a much cheerier note, shall we? 
Here are the top 5 Pros to convince you to pick a spot on your map, pack up your bags, and move to that small city in Korea. 

Judith Villarreal traveling Korea1. Richer cultural experiences are to be found

The busy city of Seoul is a mecca for those craving a more westernized lifestyle, but it’s in the small cities where the heart of Korea beats. You’ll experience a richer cultural setting in these smaller cities where traditional markets flood the alleys of narrow streets, temples rest by spacious hiking trails, and festivals are elaborate and beautiful. On your journey you’ll happen upon obscure restaurants and food stands where you’ll discover dishes and delicacies that can’t be found elsewhere in the world.

2. You’ll find the chance to step outside your comfort zone daily

The poised Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”, and I personally chose to take that quote on before I set forth on my adventures abroad. I wanted it to set the tone for my time in Korea, and I’d hoped reciting it daily would help me step outside of my comfort zone often. Whether the quote has magical powers and worked, I’m not sure. What I am sure about is the fact that living in my small city forces me to take chances and risks daily.

However, it’s easy to lose yourself in what I like to call the “foreign bubble” when you live in Seoul. The foreigner population is so large that  it’s taken a toll on the city. Western restaurants line the streets competing with one another for the title of “most authentic western food”, each owned and run by a foreigner. Don’t even bother trying to count the number of western fast food joints in Seoul because you’ll quickly lose count after you turn the first corner on the street. The number of foreign friends you’ll have will outweigh the number of Korean friends you make by more than a handful.

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After a few months, you might wake up and realize you’ve been eating McDonald’s big macs and KFC fried chicken more often than you ever did back home. You’ll notice all the watering holes you frequent with other foreigners on your days off are western bars that serve up american beers, and your Korean language abilities will have actually regressed since arriving in Korea.  That’s when you’ll come to realize, you’re living in a foreign bubble that’s impenetrable by Korean culture, food, or language. Living in a small city with a smaller foreign population and little western influence allows you the chance to avoid the foreign bubble altogether, and isn’t that really what you ultimately want? You’re not going to move across the globe to eat french fries and drink the same boring cocktails you have at home. You’re moving to escape your comfort zone. You’re moving to experience something new. A small city is just what you need. When those silly little homesick pangs do start to hit you, don’t worry because you can always take a day trip to Seoul to indulge in western foods and drinks.

3. The chance to make Korean friends (it’s harder than it sounds)

In Seoul, you’ll be one of many foreigners. You won’t be seen as special or unique because your kind is abundant. In a small city with a small foreigner population, however, you’ll be a rarity. Koreans who live in smaller cities have fewer chances to interact with foreigners and become enthusiastic when given the chance to meet and speak with one of us. Cab drivers (the nice ones, not the mean ones I told you about last week), grocers, and shop owners will delight in the chance to ask about your origins, your job in Korea, and how you’re enjoying their country. Once as I was walking down the street, the sweetest little ajumma (old woman) approached me simply to tell me I was pretty and hug me (read the full story here I find that encounters like this happen quite often in small cities. Sheltered Koreans are genuinely curious about foreigners because they rarely see us.

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As strange as this might sound, it’s actually pretty difficult to make Korean friends in Korea, especially when you’re surrounded by so many westerners. In bigger cities, it’s easy to decide you’d rather skip the hassle of dealing with the language and cultural barriers that come with making Korean friends and opt to stick to the comfort and ease of keeping only westerners in your circle. In a small city though, you might be forced to keep Korean friends close or you run the risk of becoming a recluse. In the end though, you’ll find that having Korean friends as well as western friends is rewarding. Making friends with Korean natives opens you up to a different side of Korea that you might not have seen were you living in the foreigner bubble.

4. You’re forced to practice your Korean language skills

In a small city, your language skills will seem to expand (nearly) effortlessly. Once you master the Korean alphabet, which is fairly easy, you’ll have the chance to practice your new skills daily in a small city because English will be nearly non-existent. After a few months, you’ll realize you’ve started to give the cab driver directions to your house fluently. When a Korean asks you where you’re from in Korean, you’ll recognize small key words and are capable of answering them in your small broken Korean. Everyday is a learning experience, and everyday you’ll pick up more and more language skills. Personally, I can’t wait to go back to a Korean BBQ restaurant in Texas and order a few dishes in Korean to impress my family and friends. I just hope the waitress doesn’t strike up an in-depth conversation about my journey abroad because my language skills definitely aren’t up to par.

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5. You’ll enjoy a tight knit expat community

“Everybody knows everybody, everybody calls you friend.” In case you’re not a country girl like I am, I’ll fill you in on those lyrics. Tracy Byrd nailed the feeling of tight knit expat communities in his song “I’m From The Country” perfectly. Maybe he didn’t exactly have foreigners living in small cities in Korea in mind when he wrote it, but it captures the close friendships you’ll make here. The expat community is so much tighter in smaller cities. You can always count on group gatherings for western holidays, BBQs, book clubs, and picnics. Small foreigner populations living in country cities in Korea tend to band together and look out for one another. You can trust me when I say, you’ll become so close to the people you meet here that you’ll have made friends for life.

Now that you have the pros and cons, go ahead and weigh them against one another to see which works best for you. Think carefully over the two decisions because it will ultimately impact your experience abroad in more ways than you can imagine. No matter which you choose, be confident that the choice you’ve made is the best for you. Should you have any questions or comments over anything mentioned (or not mentioned) in this two part article, feel free to send them. I wish you only the best in you decision and hope you have lovely, safe travels and experiences. 

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