Going from being a full-blown American girl to living in South Korea challenged the heck out of me and it grew me in so many ways. Along with growth came flexibility and an openness to a new style of living. I picked up new habits in Korea and adopted some of the quirks of the culture.
Going out in “ROUNDS”
If you watch Korean dramas or movies you’ll find that night life is a HUGE part of the culture. Eating and drinking with friends, family or a significant other is a frequent occasion. When I lived in Korea, I learned to embrace these events for all they have to offer.
In Korean outing culture, each location change is called a “round” or cha in Korean. The evening may start out with “1st Round” at a restaurant for dinner, the “2nd Round” may be at a bar or club, and the “3rd Round” could be at norebang, a private karoke room.
Foreigners living in Korea quickly get into the Korean-outing-life, and I was one of them! Hopping locations is easier for groups in Korea because typically, one person pays for a “round” instead of say, seven people pitching in, doing math, and splitting the check.
This “rounds” style of enjoying the night is also seen in the Korean dating world. Couples often meet for dinner, then may enjoy several “rounds” to come which may include- going to a cafe, the cinema, arcade rooms, norebang, or sharing a walk along the river.
It’s obvious to see why this style of entertainment is so easy to catch onto. Who wants the night to end when you’re having a good time?!
In Korea, I’d often enjoy several rounds when out with co-workers for huesik, company dinners, or when out with friends. When my then-boyfriend came into my life, we too kept the dates long with a few rounds of fun.
This is a habit that I picked up in Korea and it still effects me (almost 7 months later!).
Thank God this is a habit my now-husband and I shared in Korea, if not I’d probably just come off spoiled! Our weekends usually consist of a “round” of sightseeing, then dinner, then dessert (usually boba tea wins).
A MILLION FLAVORS TOGETHER
I mentioned in a previous post about how my taste buds can be a bit bland. I still like my bland foods at times (so old lol) but living in Korea really changed my taste buds.
Korean foods tend to be a lot spicier than American foods. Sometimes I’d look down at the Korean spread in front of me and realize that all the food was red or a tint of reddish-orange! Hot pepper paste (gochujang) is used in tons of dishes.
I always joked that Koreans soothed hot foods with more hot foods, whereas in America if we are eating spicy foods we usually have a sweet drink or something of the sort with it.
On the flip side of this, Koreans always told me that Korean people love eating many flavors at the same time. This can be seen in the traditioal style of eating food with a ton of banchan, or side dishes.
A habit I picked up in Korea was the craving for kimchi and other spicy foods thus developing a high tolerance for spice.
As you may have guessed, nowadays back in the States I often crave spicy foods, specifically a good batch of kimchi! This is probably one of the reasons I made it through (okay, barely made it through) the Spicy Ramen Challenge.
I guess this is a more obvious habit that anyone would get from living abroad in a country that speaks a different language than your native tongue. I went to Korea barely knowing the Korean alphabet; I left with a conversational level of Korean.
My first year living in the countryside was the push towards learning the language that many don’t get if you immediately go to Seoul.
Learning from my students, watching dramas, doing online lessons, making Korean friends, and of course just going through daily life, pushed me towards learning Korean faster than I’ve ever learned any other language.
Having Korean friends (and dating) really improved my Korean skills tremendously! These relationships also provided me with those words and phrases that really stick with you…you know…curse words and slang ;).
Thus, today I often find myself unconsciously sighing “Aigo!” (OMG) or exclaiming “Mas-iesseyo” (It’s yummy), along with other common phrases.
The Complete Look
It is definitely no secret that Koreans know how to take care of themselves. The Korean skincare, fashion and beauty industry is absolutely insane and always improving. Makeup shops can literally be found everywhere and the streets are full of impeccably groomed and styled individuals.
Never have I ever seen such consistency in good-looking people as in Seoul. Upon learning about all the attention, time, care and detail that girls and guys put forth to achieve such a standard, I was overwhelmed.
A bit of intrigue and a bit of pressure moved me towards better grooming and fashion. When I first came to Korea, I’ll never forget during the teacher’s orientation a seasoned foreign teacher got up on stage and showed his before living in Korea and after living in Korea photos. The change was obvious, he dramatically improved his appearance, becoming more stylish and put-together.
This habit I developed in Korea of a heightened attention to personal care, beauty and style has really changed me.
One thing I immediately loved about Korean culture was that it was OK to be girly and to really put effort into your looks. Where I come from, if someone looks overdressed or super “done-up”, people will say something or believe you to be “stuck up” or “conceited”.
In Korea, I had the opportunity to embrace the girly things I had always loved (bring on the bows and skirts!) and it gave me the confidence to continue to do so even today.
While I am not as “on it” as I was in Korea (America is 10 times more chill in this department), I still worry about things like, “Does my coat match my outfit?”
Yes, the attention to detail is REAL.
In Korea, shoes are not worn inside. Instead you have a pair of slippers or indoor shoes designated for indoors only. Every house, school, restaurant, etc. has a rack or shelf for switching off shoes right at its entrance.
Many foreigners, including myself, at first struggle with this custom. We envied how swiftly and seamlessly Koreans could slip their shoes off and on. Meanwhile we struggled and tugged at laces, stumbling clumsily to get them off.
Eventually this practice of taking off my shoes became a habit and it sunk in very deep! Even when I got home from Korea my instinct was to immediately take off my shoes in the house and I felt super weird about others not doing the same.
Nowadays, my husband and I have a ‘NO shoes’ rule in our apartment. Located at the entrance of our humble abode you will indeed find a small shoe rack that we use religiously.
I’m sure there are plenty other small habits that I still have from Korea but those are a few that stand out. Who knows if they will stay forever or fade with time. I think allowing other cultures and ways of life to influence, challenge and change the person I am for the better is an incredible thing. In the future, I hope to live abroad in another country and pick up some new habits to add to the list!