If you ever get the chance to travel and live in another country for a few years or more, it’s a wonderful chance to compare and contrast cultures and see what makes them each successful and beautiful in their own ways.
It’s actually an amazing wonder in our day and age just to be able to go and live in worlds that evolved seperately for thousands of years and I will tell you, it just doesn’t get any more different than Korea and Canada. I was simply awe-stricken when I first arrived. My first 12 hours in the country lives like an interesting impressionist painting in my memory because after you have stayed awake for so long on a plane, you’re jet-lagged, exhausted and in a semi-conscious state of mind with definitely some “dream-like” perceptions taking place around you.
I had met with a School Director when I first arrived at the airport and he was to drive me to Kongju, about 3 hours south of Seoul. I had just come from Mexico previously, so I had a love for foreign cultures and languages, but the sounds I could hear on the radio were like some kind of secret “alien code” to my ears. It was like nothing I had ever heard before. The long series of syllables always ending with “imnida” and sigh. I was pretty good with the French and Spanish languages but I was mystified by the unique sounds of Korean. You literally have to learn their unique alphabet and original set of sounds. I later learned, however, that it was much much easier than my impressions suggested.
Later on up the road to Kongju, we stopped at a “truck stop” mega food diner for the thousands of cars that packed the roads. This is so funny. My Director led me in for food and we went through a cafeteria-style place grabbing food. I chose the dish that looked like lasagna. Maybe I was half asleep, but I really thought that cabbage was a noodle with tomato sauce. Hahahah…what a surprise when I bit into it and discovered the spicy, sour taste. I would later learn to absolutely love kimchi, which is what I was actually biting into too. After my few years of adaptation and learning basic Korean, everything really grew on me and these following items are the things I really loved about Korea.
1. Kimchi: Of course I love kimchi. You can see my article about it right here and how to make it. It’s not just a superfood and delcious, but you can make wonderful things with it. I even made a fusion cabbage roll with it myself.
2. Korean Food: I loved Korean food in general. It’s quite healthy. The kimchi is a superfood. There are so many delicious soups, which I can’t live without any more. For example: Kamjatong, kimchi chigae and Yuk-gae-jang. Some of my favorite others include: Dalk-kalbi, Kimchi fried rice, Kalbi BBQ, Gotchujang Samkyubsal, Shin-dang dokbokki, Kalbi-chim, and Bibimbap. Bibimbap has recently become a staple of mine. Bibim basically means mixing together. The dish officially contains rice, sesame oil, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, sliced carrots and an egg on top. All of these ingredients are served with the spicy gotchujang (red pepper paste) and served in a sizzling hot “rock pot”. This is just so wonderful in the winter time to have this glowing bowl in front of you! These days I eat a lot of meals like this. I mix in rice and beans and fresh vegetables which are very healthy. I often use a bit of home-made salsa too.
3. The People: After you start to adapt in Korea, you might pick up on the gentle demeanour of the general population. Korean people are very kind usually. I believe that they, as a society, have learned, in order to work together and cooperate to achieve things, people need to be friendly and amicable towards one another. Koreans often get together in large groups and discuss things. I found that very impressive. They’re always encouraging speeches and open dialogues with one another.
4. The Students: I really loved my students. I had two favorite kinds. First there are your hilarious University students. You will make dozens of great friends amongst them. The soju and beer parties get so crazy. I was also surprised to discover that I had a huge affinity for teaching children. I’m pretty sure this comes from my Grandma. She was my super-star teacher who taught me how important it was to teach with imagination for the special, young learners.
5. Hangul: Another thing I truly loved in Korea was their wonderful language Hangul. It is really one of the most excellent in the world. It was reportedly made by King Sejong and his scholars back in the 1500’s. Anyways, it has the easiest alphabet in the world with only 24 simple characters. The Hangul alphabet is so easy to learn that I used to teach it to people in just 20 minutes. Overall, the language is so consistent, simple and logical that Korean kids usually read 2 years before their English counterparts! So rock on King Sejong and give the language a try, especially if you are living there!
6. Singing Rooms: The singing rooms or “norae bongs” as they are called in Hangul are a huge part of regular Korean life. This country knows the value of singing and music. It reminded me much of Mexico where I had been studying Spanish. They also celebrate music and keep it where it belongs, as integral part of life. After a hard day’s work, the fun times begin. Often there will be a family dinner or even a big after-work-dinner with your staff, followed by some drinks. Eventually everybody makes their way to these private singing rooms, which are usually just big enough for your party. They have a great selection of both classic English and Korean pop songs. Have fun!
7. Nightlife: The nightlife in Korea is an absolute riot. I’ve had some amazingly good times in the evenings in Korea, but especially in Seoul. I’m sure other big cities would be great too. Cheongju was also a lot of fun. But those were just the places I lived. Seoul is a true international city however and there’s action and activity taking place 24 hours a day. I loved the university districts such as Hongdae and Shinchon where you can find the Yonsei University crowds. Not only do these places have thousands of awesome restaurants, they have coffee shops and bars that are made for fun. It’s great staying in a youth hostel in these areas too because you can meet so many cool international people there who also want to have fun. When you become desperate for Western food, you can trip over to the official foreigner’s district, “Itaewon” and enjoy a whole bunch of great international cuisine. Gecko’s is great and I really love the Indian and Thai restaurants there. Be sure and check out the guitar god known as Lance who lives and performs in that area.
8. Music: Naturally, I loved a lot of the music in Korea. Wax was quite popular when I was there as was BOA. I enjoyed a lot of Korean classic like Haebaragi and An Chiwon. I also had a great love for the lively children’s songs. My own kids grew up there so I enjoyed hearing my kids singing those cute, little songs.
Here’s one of their popular kid’s songs, which I translated into English, recorded and turned into an animated music video. The original is called the Olchaengee Song, translated, “The Tadpole Song”. I did this for an ESL Summer Camp in Seoul.