As we relax back into life at work and collect our thoughts, memories and photos together from our incredible holiday in the Philippines we are handing over the blog reigns to our fellow expats and bloggers Stephanie and Ryan from Hedgers Abroad. While we go on and on about garlic and rolling hills, these Seoul based teachers can give you a taste of what it’s like in the big city…
A little over a year ago, we were debating over what city we would call home in South Korea. Initially, we were offered a position at a middle school on Namhae, a small island off the southern coast of Korea. Namhae has gorgeous beaches, mountains, terraced cliffs, and a mostly undeveloped landscape. We were really taken aback by this beautiful place. So why are we living in Seoul?!
As amazing as Namhae sounded, we wondered about the logistics of being isolated on a small island. Would it be hard to get around? What else is there to do other than lie on the beach or hike in the mountains? How foreigner friendly is this place? We had many questions to say the least. We made a pros and cons list and mulled it over. Ultimately, we decided to turn down the offer and, instead, accepted a teaching position in Seoul. Here are some of the reasons why we chose to do so and some of the advantages that living in large cities offer.
Buses, subways, taxis, cross country buses, KTX bullet trains… you name it, Seoul has it. Anywhere you need to go from the coffee shop down the street to a ski resort across the map; everything is accessible with public transportation. Seoul has one of the best subway systems in the world with signs in English and easy to navigate maps. The subway is also incredibly cheap! Intercity buses will put you out a whole 1,050 won (around $1) and the subway is about the same price, depending on the distance. The only down side is the crowds. However, if you avoid the subway during rush hour, it’s not nearly as packed.
Although highly modernized, Seoul has maintained many heritage sites to showcase Korea’s rich history. Palaces, temples, fortress walls in the heart of the city, and folk villages all can be found in abundance. You can spend weeks exploring these famous landmarks and still not be able to see it all! We have been very fortunate to have access to all of these wonderful places and have deepened our appreciation for Korean culture as it is today. Most museums are free or have a minimal cost of admission to see the country’s treasures. The palaces are stunning and the temples…ah the temples. Seoul has countless cultural and historical sites littered throughout the city, and a relaxing stroll through areas like Jongno-gu will bring you to many places of interest.
One of the highest things on our list as new expats was to find a place that was foreigner friendly. The transition into a new country is made much easier when there are signs in English. Most buses and subway announcements are also made in English, so finding the right stop is made incredibly easy. When visiting new areas and neighborhoods, there are information booths and kiosks at every subway station and friendly English speaking staff members that can help you find your destination. The people in Seoul are very kind and helpful as well. When Ryan’s mom came to visit us last year, she would ride the subway into Seoul on her own while we were at work. If she was confused or turned around, there was always someone coming up to her and offering help. We, too, have had many University students who speak English offer their assistance whenever we are caught standing in one spot looking around with a bewildered look on our faces. Seoul is quite easy to manage without knowing Korean, and we have been very grateful for the help of Korean passersby.
Everything and anything you need or want is right at your fingertips in Seoul. Our apartment building alone has a coffee shop, dry cleaner, bar, grocery store, convenience store, pharmacy, three restaurants, a spa, and screen golf all on the first two floors. Just four blocks away is a huge underground shopping center with some of the best prices you’ll ever find. If it is too far away for walking, just hop on the bus or subway and you will find whatever you need within ten or fifteen minutes!
Seoul is a conglomerate of unique neighborhoods, both traditional and ultra-modern. We wanted to experience today’s culture along with the more traditional side of Korea, and we’ve found it. The mixture of young and old, fast-paced and relaxed, artistic and industrial; the variety of possible experiences to be had in Seoul has continued to astound us. The neighborhoods with drastically different atmospheres account for a great deal of this variety. We can visit the National Museum of Korea and other cultural places before making a 5-minute jaunt to the raucous foreigner district of Itaewon. Likewise, a trip to Gangnam will give you access to World Trade Center Seoul, a huge casino, massive COEX shopping mall, Mexican food, and Bongeunsa Temple in a few short blocks. Each district has its own charms, and you rarely run out of different things to do in this massive city.
To say it minimally, we have been very happy with our decision to move to Seoul. We are by no means city-people, but we have an endless appreciation for the city that welcomed us to the “Land of the Morning Calm.” Sometimes the population can force you to venture outside of its perimeter in search of solitude, but the experiences available within this great city more than make up for the occasional uncomfortable subway ride or bustling crowd.
Two wanderlusts from Oklahoma, Ryan and Stephanie sold all of their belongings and moved halfway across the world to teach English in Seoul, South Korea. They are the duo behind Hedgers Abroad and have fallen in love with travel, photography, and South Korea. Be sure to head over to their blog and follow along as they travel through life together. Check them out here.