I finally moved to Korea! I’m super happy to start a new life and adventure with my fiancé in Cheongju, about 1.5 hours south of Seoul. I’m not the only one who embarks on a new adventure in South Korea. My dear friend and talented blogger Gina from Chicago is also moving to Korea after finishing a teaching program in Japan. I’m so happy she shares her reasons why she chose Korea as her new home in this guest post!
“Many moons ago, I was a wide-eyed college student. My eyes alive with the prospect of becoming an expat after I graduated, I had never lived abroad and the amazing opportunity had finally presented itself to me in my acceptance to the JET Program in 2012.
The Program placed me on a beautiful sub-tropical island called Okinawa. After frosting my ass for 22 years in the cold tundra of Chicago, I was ready to live the beach bum life and enjoy it.
My staycation in Okinawa was extraordinary (minus the typhoons that wrecked every weekend my first summer). The ocean was seductive, warm weather left me sunkissed, and summer festivals wearing yukata (a special form of the Japanese kimono), drinking Orion Beer, and watching eisa (traditional folk dance from Okinawa) were the best.
As time passed, all the puppy dogs and rainbows I had about Japan faded away as I began to realize what living in Japan really meant. I couldn’t read kanji, I couldn’t communicate, and no one would hug me because you just don’t touch people in Japan. The worst part, my love life plummeted. Not that it was exactly great in the states, but I could date if I wanted to. I couldn’t even date in Japan and Dating Military on Okinawa was even worse.
Then, I went to Korea and everything changed.
Japan has a motto. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. J-Pop was at its peak in the early 2000s and I loved it. Now, if I have to hear AKB48 one more time, I might scream. The age of J-Pop is dead and the Hallyu wave is taking over. In May 2013, I went to Korea, and switched on the TV to hear the most emotional ballad playing. I remember my friend’s comment, “Wow. The music has more soul here.” Yes, yes it does. Big Bang anyone?
I went on Interpals to make Korean friends and learn about Korean culture before going to Korea in September. Curious, I asked questions about how open they were to dating other foreigners. The answers I received were astonishing. Many of them seemed interested and understood they and their foreign partner would have to share a language to communicate whether it be Korean, English, or something else. It gave me hope that my dismal situation may be slightly thwarted in Korea.
The Japanese I learned was to survive and attempt to make friends. The language sounds pretty, but it lacked the passion Spanish and Italian do. Korean reminds me a lot of Spanish where your words carry more weight. I’ve spent the last 5 months studying with a tutor and my love hasn’t faded. I want those words to come out of my mouth too! I’m even more excited at the prospect of how much more I will understand once immersed in the language I’ve been studying.
Being half Mexican, you bet I love my dramas. I enjoy the development of a good love story, some back stabbing, and a dark past all wrapped up into one. They’re interesting, entertaining, and more well done than Japanese dramas and movies. To be fair, I did enjoy Zettai Kareshi, but sometimes it was super boring because of how much time it took to develop the relationship between the romantic leads.
While at church, I watched a skit by the Korean worship team and I saw more emotion on their faces than I’ve ever seen in Japan. If they were angry, they showed it. If they were sad, they showed tears! The Koreans I’ve been around are more touchy feely and I love it. They don’t mind patting my arm or hugging me. Yes, please, give me all the hugs!
It’s no secret I dislike Okinawan food. I think it’s too oily and there’s too much pork. While I appreciate Okinawa’s unique cuisine, I just don’t like it. I prefer spicy food with a lot of side dishes and vegetables. Korea even has it’s own special hang over soup!
Cost of living
Living in Japan is kind of expensive. Food, transport, rent and other expenses can add up. Since I live in Okinawa, the poorest (and most beautiful) prefecture, I don’t get my housing paid for. On top of housing, I pay for utilities. Owning a car isn’t cheap either because I have to pay a lot of money in taxes to the prefecture and village I live in for owning a car. In Korea, I will get my housing paid for, which is a huge relief to me. That gives me more wiggle room to save because I won’t be using money on rent or car expenses.
Living in Japan was an amazing experience and if you want to live there, you should. You should go in with an open mind and ready to expect anything and everything. Japan offers so many interesting ways of looking at life. While Japan does customer service, hospitatlity, and politeness the best, there were just some things I couldn’t deal with. Japan can be a difficult country to live in and can take a toll on your self-esteem. Being an expat offered invaluable life lessons and I’m sure if I can make it in Japan, I can make it anywhere.
At this point in my life, I’m ready for a new adventure. I’ve done everything and seen everything I wanted to see in the Land of the Rising Sun. The Korean frontier is open and I’m ready for it. Are there any other expats out there who have relocated from Japan to Korea? I’d love to hear your input!
Gina Bear is currently an expat woman living in Okinawa, Japan. In 2012 she found herself in the Land of the Rising sun and has been [mis]adventuring ever since. She blogs about her trials, turbulations and triumps while living on a small island in the middle of the Pacific. When she’s not lost in translation, you’ll find her at Cross Fit, playing the sanshin or swimming in the ocean. You can check out her Instagram and YouTube channel if you’re bored and looking for entertainment.