Let’s begin by stating that this post is not intending to bash South Korea.
Everyone is different which means throughout life you will experience things that you like and things that you dislike.
And what you like or dislike may be completely different to what the next person likes or dislikes.
It doesn’t mean that you or this other person are necessarily wrong, you just both have your certain preferences and opinions about the things you have experienced.
So with all that being said, here are some things that I personally don’t miss about living in South Korea.
I remember towards the end of my time in Korea saying how much I was looking forward to moving back to the UK because I knew that there was nowhere near as much pollution as there is in South Korea.
The worst seasons were Spring and surprisingly, Autumn. I did not expect the Autumn pollution but the Spring pollution is famous amongst Koreans and Expats alike. Makes me think “Why don’t you do something about it then…?”
I remember when checking the air pollution rate in the morning became part of the regular routine, something I never had to do when I lived in the UK. Even though I bash various things about the United Kingdom, I am grateful for the quality of air I grew up with. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a hell of a lot better than South Korea.
Wearing a mask was a toll on my face too. I always wore KF94 masks, the ones that are best suited for filtering out the small particles of air pollution. They were effective but that’s because they basically suctioned to your face in order to block out any pollution particles.
It was a greenhouse chamber for your mouth and chin, with little to no air circulation. As you can imagine this was an excellent breeding ground for chin acne, what with all the warm moist breath collecting and moving around with nowhere to escape. It wasn’t the best side effect of having to constantly wear a mask to protect yourself from pollution but at least you were protected.
The Conservative Society
It’s no news that South Korea leans more towards the conservative side of things when it comes to living day to day life. I’m thinking about the level of equality between men and women (or lack thereof), gender roles, attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and other issues.
Bearing in mind that these conservative views are mostly held by the older people in society, the younger generations are trying to break away from their elders beliefs and usher in a more liberal era (aren’t we all…).
However, considering Korean society was built on a Confucius belief system of loyalty to the state/social order/respecting elders, amongst other things, people are finding it difficult to break away from these deeply entrenched ways of life without disrespecting the said social order or their elders.
After living in South Korea for a while, I started to notice more and more how life unfolded in this conservative way.
The little things like during local elections, most, if not all of the political candidates were men. And the bigger things, such as during the Queer Festival, which I attended as an ally, tonnes of religious groups turned up and passionately protested against the LGBTQ+ community. Their protests were rather intimidating and frightening at times. I knew of anti-LGBTQ+ protests but had never experienced one until that day.
Furthermore, the OECD have noted that the fight for gender equality in South Korea is “an uphill battle”, stating that women who work only earn 63% of what men earn, which as of 2017, was the largest percentage gender pay gap in the world.
It was actually because I saw these inequalities playing out in South Korea all the way from the UK, that I wanted to go over there and help out. I thought that somehow, by going there to teach, I would be able to help the younger generations out.
A noble thought, but problematic in a number of ways.
Change can only be achieved if the person or society is actually willing to change. After experiencing and seeing how deeply entrenched conservative thought was throughout Korean society, I kind of lost hope and started to focus on what I could have a positive influence on. My students.
After 2 years this way of life started to grate on me. I had grown up in much more diverse and liberal surroundings (not super liberal but way more so than Korea) and I was starting to miss it deeply.
I never saw myself having a future in South Korea anyway, it was only a temporary thing, so I eventually left. I could’ve tried and managed to live a life there, but I don’t think I’d be truly happy and or feel safe to live and express myself how I would want to.
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