Living Abroad in South Korea (Episode 29)
On the second episode of our series called "Living Abroad," we talked about what it was like living in South Korea, specifically Sejong City. We talked about tons of things, like:
- Cost of living in South Korea
- How much we earned teaching English in a hagwon
- How we got free airfare and accommodation
- TONS of delicious Korean food and some not-so-good food
- Things to do in Sejong, like go to the bowling alley, sing karaoke, eat all the barbecue, drink all the soju, and more
- Why Korea has some of the best nightlife in the world, especially Seoul
- Transportation in Korea and why it's some of the best in the world
- The local people and how English-friendly it is there
- The weather and the pollution
- Why we love Korea, but would never, ever work there again
Thanks for reading/listening! If you'd like to learn more, check out our blog post below!
Wine: Vinium - Svatovavřinecké (Czech Republic)
Why did we live in Sejong, South Korea?
We had heard that teaching English in South Korea was an excellent opportunity to make a good amount of money, save money, and, of course, to travel! That, and South Korea is an incredibly modern, safe, and beautiful country to live in and explore.
It was difficult to find a job in Seoul since we were looking last minute, so we settled for a job we were offered in Sejong. Sejong is located in the center of South Korea. It's about a 3 hour ride to Seoul, which in the northern part of the country. It's a brand new and up-and-coming city built to attract people from Seoul to lessen the population there.
We then moved to Sejong, South Korea in August, 2015 and lived there until January, 2016.
1. Cost of Living
We worked at a hagwon, which is a for-profit private academy for young students to attend after school. While working there with just a Bachelor's degree, a little experience teaching in Thailand, and no TEFL certificate, we earned around $1,900 USD per month or 2 million Korean Won. Almost $300 was deducted each month for taxes, pension, and other things, so we ended up with around $1,600 USD for spending money.
The best part of teaching English in South Korea, though, are the benefits, such as:
- free airfare to and from Korea
- free accommodation or extra money for rent
This was huge, since airfare and rent are so expensive and usually take up a huge chunk of your salary! That meant that pretty much everything we got paid was for whatever we wanted! So, we were saving a huge percentage of our salary.
Our accommodations were free-- and out of this world. We had an extremely modern, clean, and huge apartment! Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen with an oven (those are rare in Asia), and even a computer in the wall for seeing who rings your doorbell and for security! Oh, and we had a heated toilet seat on one of our toilets. That's the best when pooping in the winter!
Korean food blew our mind. There is such a huge variety of delectable options, there's just no way you could try them all-- but you could certainly attempt to because we sure did! Here are some notable ones:
Korean Barbecue 고기구이 (around $15-$20 per person, depending on where you go)
Imagine: you sit at a table, surrounded by your pals. In the center of the table is a grill with charcoals sizzling and snapping underneath. Plates on plates of various cuts of juicy and succulent meats arrive. You place the meat on the grill, cooking the slices of meat to perfection. While waiting, you're given a multitude of side dishes: lettuce leaves, sauces, kimchi, garlic, onions, bean sprouts, rice, eggs, and more. When the meat's done, you mix all of that up in a lettuce leaf with plenty of glasses of Cass (popular Korean beer) and soju (popular liquor) to wash it down.
And let the good times unfold. This was our favorite thing to do and we did it almost every weekend. We miss it constantly! Best. Food. Ever.
Jajangmyeon 자장면 (around $5 or so)
One of our favorite dishes! It's a dish with thick and long noodles topped with a sweet bean sauce, chunks of pork, and sometimes vegetables. To die for! The most fun part is cutting the extra-long noodles with a pair of scissors!
Budae Jjigae 부대찌개 (depends, but definitely didn't break the bank!)
This dish combines American processed food, like hot dogs, spam, baked beans, and sliced cheese, into a Korean stew with packaged ramen noodles. Talk about sodium! But, oh my, was it satisfying! We got it often because it wasn't expensive, it was nice to share with friends, and it came with unlimited rice!
Mandu 만두 (could be as cheap as $1 for a big one!)
Mandu is Korean-style dumplings, usually stuffed with meat and vegetables. As popular as these guys were, we weren't huge fans of them. They were good at first, but their relatively bland flavor bored us rather quickly.
Kimchi 김치 (free with just about every meal!)
Kimchi is seasoned and fermented cabbage. It's a staple in Korean cuisine and served with almost every meal. When eating out, you get it for free with just about anything you order (maybe not a hamburger or pizza, but Korean dishes for sure!). We fell in love with kimchi there and still feel a bit strange eating any dish without it!
Tteok-bokki 떡볶이 (maybe $1-$2)
This is a popular fast-food dish, especially for Korean children. It's stir-fried rice cakes in a red, spicy, and thick sauce. Although it's mainly popular with the kids, the kids clearly know what good food is because I loved this stuff and seriously couldn't get enough of it! We also often got fried vegetables in that same sauce. Killer and a must-try!
Bibimbap 비빔밥 (around $6 or so)
Bibimbap literally translates to "mixed rice." This dish is served with rice, which is topped with an array of vegetables, a chilli pepper sauce called "gochujang," and an egg. You could get some meat in there, too. It also comes with the common side dishes, like kimchi! It's one of my favorite Korean dishes! So simple, cheap, healthy, and divine!
Gimbap 김밥 (4-5 pieces for around $2)
Gimbap is basically Korean sushi. Inside the seaweed-wrapped rice, you'll typically find vegetables, egg, spam, meat, and other things. However, for us, we did not care for it. To us, it has everything we don't want in our sushi. Carrots? Nah. Eggs? Nope. Spam!? No, thank you!
Fried chicken 치킨 (prices vary)
Fried chicken is huge in Korea-- and it's no surprise why. Every time we ever got fried chicken there, it was always juicy, crunchy, and filled with flavor-- both inside and out. They have a variety of sauces and every single one is delectable! It's also really fun to get some fried chicken and beer with friends for a late-night, alcohol-soaking meal.
Onigiri (around $1-$2)
Onigiri is actually originally a Japanese food, typically found in convenience stores. It's usually triangle-shaped rice filled with various types of flavors (meat, cheese, fish, vegetables, sauce) and wrapped in seaweed. Onigiri is also popular in Korea and can be found in their convenience stores, too! They're delicious, cheap, and a convenient quick snack! Our favorite flavor was the tuna and mayo. Yum!
Ramyeon 신라면 ($.50-$2)
Ramyeon is basically Korean ramen. It's very popular with Korean children and you can often find them slurping a bowl of this down in any convenience store at any given time. They have them in packages to make in a pot and to make them in a microwave. They mostly have spicy flavors, but I often ate one brand that wasn't spicy. I ate it so often and would sometimes put a slice of processed cheese in there. No wonder I gained so much weight in Korea! Whatever. It was delicious!
It's very easy to go out to eat in Korea because it's affordable and mostly healthy! But, what about grocery shopping?
We often would go to Home Plus, which is sort of like their Wal-mart, or small shops closer to our apartment building. Home Plus had everything, though, from food to electronics! It was also extremely affordable, even with the tons of food we'd get! However, ground beef was expensive-- around $20 for a little less than a pound! Yikes!
3. Things to Do
There wasn't a lot to do in Sejong, especially because it was a growing city. That, and we worked a lot and hardly had time to enjoy ourselves. Often times, we'd actually go to other cities. But, here are some things to do in Sejong:
Yes, we know we've already talked a lot about food in Korea, but going to restaurants is huge in Korea and Sejong is no exception. Go eat!
They have their own bowling alley, believe it or not! It even has neon lights and music videos playing on projector screens!
So much fun! You get to hang out in your own room with our friends and tons of alcohol. And, belt your lungs out!
There's a huge mall that was opened in late 2015. In the mall, there's tons of shops, restaurants, and even a movie theatre!
There are tons of parks in Sejong to explore and even go hiking in. The biggest and the one we enjoyed the most was called Sejong Lake Park. There's mountains, a pond, shops, and even a stage!
If you're willing to go to Daejeon, which is basically right next door to Sejong, you could also go to a baseball game at the Hanbat Baseball Stadium! We never went ourselves because it wasn't baseball season when we were there, but we'd heard great things about it! It's very different from baseball games in America, as it turns out.
You could also go to Seoul, which is about a 3 hour ride from Sejong. That supplies you with endless amounts of things to do! They even have a huge and fun amusement park called Everland.
South Korea has the best nightlife we've ever experienced! Sejong's nightlife wasn't very exciting, unfortunately. There were some bars and such, karaoke, and a bowling alley. We would most often get barbecue, but we'd also often go to this sports bar a few blocks from our apartment. They had darts, a beer pong table, and even sports playing on a giant projector screen! (Sorry, I couldn't find it online!) It had a great atmosphere and was tons of fun!
The nightlife in the whole country is phenomenal, especially in Seoul. They say New York City is the city that never sleeps, but we think that Seoul is truly the city that never sleeps! We went out once there, ate barbecue at a packed restaurant at 12 AM, then went out the clubs and bars until around 8 AM. ...And we didn't leave at that time because the clubs closed or something. There were still tons of people there and the clubs were bumpin'! We were just tired! It was incredible.
Best nightlife so far. For sure.
They got it all! That, and they're all efficient, clean, and easy to use. You can buy a T-money card and fill it up at any convenience store, then use it to access almost all transportation!
Bikes: We rode our bikes everywhere in our city because it's a very bike-friendly city, much like the rest of the country!
Buses: Buses are everywhere and used very often by practically everybody. They're cheap, too, and go all over the country.
Subways: We didn't have subways in Sejong, but there are subways in practically every other big city, like Daejeon, Seoul, Busan, and others.
Taxis: Taxis are abundant in Korea. As in most cities, it is the most expensive mode of transportation-- of course! However, it won't break the bank because they're pretty affordable, for the most part.
Trains: Korea has three different trains available: the commuter trains, semi-fast trains (ITX), and high-speed trains (KTX). They are all dispersed throughout the country fairly well (here's a map). They're all fairly affordable, but the fastest the train travels, the more it will cost you. A one-way ticket for the fastest train, the KTX, which reaches speeds of 190 mph (305 km/h), will depend on where you go. The first stop from Seoul would cost you 13,000 Korean won, or $11 USD. The last stop from Seoul, which is Busan, would cost 56,000 Korean won, or about $51 USD.
We rode all three of these types of trains and they were all an experience! Clean, convenient, comfortable, and affordable!
6. Local People
We found people in South Korea in general to be incredibly friendly and helpful. Even if they didn't speak English, which was quite frequent, they were very willing to help you if you needed to help. We'd never get eye-rolls for not speaking Korean, which was very comforting! We really loved Korean people and never felt threatened by or uncomfortable with them. They're some of our favorite people in the world!
Most of Korea has the typical four seasons with a moderate climate. It's similar to the weather in New York: hot and humid in the summer and cold and snowy in the winter. There doesn't happen to be extreme weather there, either, which was nice. So, the weather was overall great!
Except for the pollution that comes from neighboring China. Sometimes, the air quality could be bad, so it would be hazy some days. However, as far as we could tell, it didn't affect us very much.
Conclusion about Living in Korea
If you want to live in Korea, the best way to do so is by teaching English. You have a variety of choices: international school, hagwon (like we did), public school, or university. There are jobs everywhere in Korea. Whether you're a native English speaker or you just speak the language well, it would be relatively easy for you find jobs there. It would be easier for native English speakers of course, but if you're not one, then you could find something, too.
However, we would not suggest working in a hagwon like we did. Our jobs went horribly wrong. Everything we were promised we did get, but our boss was verbally abusive and we worked a lot with hardly any breaks. Unfortunately, that's common to find when working in hagwons in Korea. (You can find out more about that experience here)
How can you avoid getting a shitty job in Korea? Do your research on the place you're applying to. Talk to other people who work at the place your applying for. Get their contact information and talk to them outside of working hours to get their authentic feelings on the job. Pay attention to your gut feelings. Then, hope for the best!
We would never teach English there again, but we'd love to go there again one day! It was an incredible country in every way.
Wine: Vinium - Svatovavřinecké (Czech Republic)