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South Korea v. United States: What It's Like to Live in a Foreign Country

Hello there! I miss blogging and have not done it often enough in the last ten years. It's been a busy time and other things have had to take the front burners while this has sat on, well, honestly the counter. Cold. Not even cooking. Not even on a back burner. It's fine. We'll get to it. I have been forced to rest today and my brain is active, so, I thought, what better thing to do than some catch up! I found this in my "Drafts" folder. And let me tell you, I STILL point to trash cans and say, "look! A trash can!" when walking around in public places. It's fine. Who knew you could miss trash cans so much? Though, now, I miss the cleanliness. My children have even noticed the difference between Korean restrooms and American restrooms. My yougest is so distressed by it she refuses to go in public restrooms here unless she is close to losing the will to hold it. And even then it's a fight. We call her our "asian baby" since she remembers nothing from before Korea. All her favorite foods are asian or asian influenced. What can I do?

Anyway! To the post! These are some things that stuck out to me while in Korea that were noticably different than in my experience in the US. Put all these things in a giant pot and add the language barrier in there and it makes a recipe for anxiety and lots of laughing at yourself and deep breaths. Living in a foreign country is exciting, confusing, axiety inducing, wonderful and overwhelming. I wouldn't give my experience back in a heartbeat. Without further adu . . .

(Above: This was our home. We were somewhere in the middle on the end.)

In The Home:

  • May or may not have a dishwasher. For me, this was something I absolutely wanted. So, when The Babe was looking for a place for our family to call home. This was something he knew needed to be there. I love to cook and bake, so it was a must.

  • No disposals. I know not all homes in the US have one either. But, hear me out. All food waste goes into compost. Which you have to put in a specific bag depending on where you live. Then you have to take it out and put it in a certain bin during certain days of the week and times of day. We keep our bag on its own shelf in the freezer until it's full and then take it out to the bins.

  • Possibly no washer/dryer. I know this is normal in the states, too. We were lucky to have both provided here for us. My friend has to go to a Laundromat and some of my friends only have a washer and have to hang dry all their laundry (which takes forever in the summer. Because: humidity.) or take it to a laundromat.

  • Height of things. The counters in the bathrooms and kitchen are pretty low. I am 5' 3" and they are a comfortable height for me. The Babe is 6'1" and has to hunch over to do the dishes. It makes getting things out of the kitchen cabinets much easier for me, too, though. Haha.

  • Recycling is on a certain day and you have to take it out between a certain block of time and sort it into categories. I personally love that they do this. I know it isn't always the BEST solution. But, you should see how full they get just from our apartment complex. Can you imagine the amount of recycling every week for 52 million people? Crazy.

  • Trash has to be in a certain bag as well and can only go out between 4pm and 9 am and not on Saturdays.

  • There are floor to ceiling windows along one side of our entire apartment. They have doors on them and they do open completely. There is railing. But they have given this mama a fair share of heart attacks living with littles. Especially when they throw things out the window . . . like my freshly washed underwear. Yes. This really happened. And I went door to door asking for it back since it landed on other's railing. It was a humbling experience. Even the security guard has to get tools to get it down from some tall trees. I'm happy to provide good laughs for those people. You're welcome.

  • There is a place for shoes and a step up into the main house from the entryway. You do not wear shoes into the house. So, don't visit your friends and wear shoes that take a million years to take off, because you'll be doing so awkwardly while they're politely showing you out the door and your kids are running amuck.

(Above: The view of part of Buraksan and the street early in the morning. Sunrise.)


  • We DO drive on the right side of the road. So, that's lovely. HOWEVER. Although there is CCTV everywhere and you do have to pass drivers tests, the laws and rules of driving seem, at times, more like guidelines. Driving here was nerve-racking the first few weeks and then I got used to it. It still stresses me out from time to time though. Especially in metropolis's like Seoul or Daegu.

  • You can not turn left on a green light unless you have a green arrow light or a sign called an "unprotected left."

  • You can not park on the side of the road in most places, but everyone does. It confuses me how not everyone is going around with tickets all the time. Maybe they know something I don't.

  • Everyone will speed and keep an eye out for cameras and then slow down through the camera zone and speed up again. If you go the speed limit they all hate you.

  • They like to use their horns. It's annoying and I took offense for the first six months (sort of kidding, but also not).

  • Driving down a two-way road is generally like driving down a one-way because of all the cars and people. You play pickle to see who is going to get to go through first.

  • Pedestrians ALWAYS have right of way. EVEN when the cute old grandma decides to jay walk on a six lane highway and you stop and everyone honks at you while you wait.

  • Arriving anywhere after 10-11am will result in almost zero parking unless you're willing to wait for hours in line for a spot or you get lucky (it does happen) and find a random parking garage on the GPS you can park in. Then you hope and pray you don't need a domestic card to pay for parking when you're done because you'll have to bribe the nice Korean locals to help you out in exchange for won. (We have done this several times. It's fine. Everything fine. We're also not the only ones, so that makes me feel better.)


  • Some restaurants (becoming less and less) require you to remove your shoes before entering. Some also have floor seating (also becoming less and less).

  • It is acceptable to slurp. It means you're enjoying your meal. The Babe says I "grew up proper" and this was not acceptable in my home. I still haven't caught on to the slurping thing. Though, I'll admit, I DID try once. Just, nope.

  • You may sometimes be seated at a table with other people you don't know.

  • Utensals are normally in a drawer under the end of the table. Usually contains chopsticks, spoons and cookie napkins. If you're in an area with American influence they MIGHT have forks. Or they'll bring you one with your food if you look like a foreigner, because they automatically assume you can't use chopsticks.

  • Traditionally, you should never fill your own glass. If you are single and you do then it means you're not looking to get married. Or, at least, that's what I was told.

  • Elders begin eating first.

  • And, obviously, the food. Lots of it delicious. Lots of it, out of my or my taste buds comfort zone. Lots of rice, fish, fried chicken, beef, pork, dumplings, kimchi and other vegetables. Their baked goods are very different too. Most don't bake, really.

General Differences:

  • It is uncommon to use social niceties. At least that is what we have noticed. We have learned a good handful of Korean phrases and social niceties. They are always surprised when I tell them to have a good day. They laugh and agree.

  • Korean culture is authoritarian and has a hierarchy. Which is hard for my feministic, forward thinking ways.

  • If you are having a disagreement or discussion, the eldest is always right. Even if you are older, if they are in a professional hierarchy, you are wrong and they are right. At least in my experience.

  • Christmas is more of a romantic holiday. There are catholics in Korea so some do celebrate it in a way similar to western culture. But, man, winter is a lot more bleak without Christmas lights. We actively sought them out.

  • It is customary to nod at others when acknowledge their presence and say hello. Especially to those older than you.

  • The metro is a quiet and sometime sardine-like experience. Same with the elevator. Also, both are very clean.

(Right: Breakfast of spicy noodles on the floor of our Hanok in Daegu.)

Honestly, there are so many things. But these are the things I noticed the most. Living as an expat was such an eye opener. I will never judge anyone in the US for not speaking English. It is HARD to learn a different language and takes a lot of time and sometimes money. It's such a releif and a comfort to find someone who speaks in your own language. But, of course, it's important to try! I am so thankful for the experiences we had there. It was lovely to be in Korea and experience it for so long. I will treasure that time in my heart for always. It is a beautiful country and our time there already seems like a dream. If you ever get to go, look to the positive and soak up every second.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

xoxo Cass

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