Saturday, May 19, 2018

After 10 Years of Living in Korea: THEN vs. NOW

Changes That I Experienced While Living in Korea

Moving to a foreign country for the first time in your life is a very challenging task. Especially when you are just a shy, fresh out of college 20-year old. Yes, that was me 10 years ago.
I arrived in Korea in August of 2008. Just like any other first timer, I was kinda scared, yet excited at the same time.
As time passed by, I experienced a lot of changes from my first impression of Korean people to my life in Korea in general.

Here are a few of them.

The day I graduated from Hoseo University

1. Korean Speaking Ability
When I first arrived in Korea, the only Korean words I knew were “Annyeonghaseyo?” and “Kamsahamnida”. My knowledge of Korea was almost zero.
My first two years in Korea was the toughest part of my life. I had a hard time coping with the new culture, learning Korean language as well as trying to pass my subjects. It was even harder because I had no one to turn to.

Ten years later, I can speak Korean fluently and now I’m working as a Korean-English translator.

How did I learn Korean? When I was still taking my master’s degree, we had to take compulsory Korean language classes for 2 semesters.  When I finished my degree, I took the Korean Immigration and Integration Program (KIIP) offered by the Ministry of Justice. Sure, it was not easy but I was eager to learn. It was not because I wanted to be a Korean citizen but because I wanted to have an in-depth understanding of Korean culture and history. 

Giving a speech after receiving an award for getting the highest mark in our KIIP class.

2. Traveling Around Korea

During my first and second year in Korea, the only places I had been to were Incheon, Seoul, Cheonan and Daegu. Apart from not having enough money to travel, not being able to speak Korean fluently was one of the reasons why I was afraid to go to other places. I was scared of getting lost. My first home in Korea was Daegu. I lived in Guam-dong (Chilgok-Unam) and then Wolbae. While living in Daegu I was able to visit a few places such as Apsan, Daegu Arboretum and Dalseong Park.

Visiting a temple in Daegu 9 years ago


In the past few years, I have visited so many places in Korea.  I have been to so many that I sometimes lose count of all the places that I have been to. Some of the trips I took were “free.” I was also able to explore more of Daegu. Just recently, I visited the Welch Azalea Habitat (참꽃 군락지) and Daegyunsa Temple at Mt. Biseul in Dalseong-gun. I have taken a bus trip from Gyeongsan to Bullo-dong Ancient Tomb Park and Palgongsan. I realized that there are so many beautiful places to see in Daegu which I was not able to see during my early years in Korea.

Enjoy the marvelous spring beauty of Mt. Biseul
Being able to read and understand Korean enabled me to avail some free trips (familiarization tours) around the country. Though those trips were “free”, participants are required to write their feedback about the place they visited through their blogs and social networking accounts. Joining those trips got me into travel blogging.

3. Making Friends with Koreans
When I first came to Korea, I did not have any Korean friends.  Being busy with my studies and not being able to speak the language were the main reasons why I had a hard time making Korean friends. Another reason was being brown. Many might not be able to relate to it but discrimination does exists and I experienced it.


Though I still experience discrimination because of my skin color, I have managed to make a lot of Korean friends over the years.  Speaking Korean, understanding Korean culture and traveling with Koreans allowed me to meet more people and eventually I became friends with them. Sure, it is still not easy but a lot better than it was 10 years ago.

Enjoying a trip to Dokdo that I booked through a Korean travel agency.

4. Korean Food I love the Most
If you had asked me what Korean food I loved most ten years ago, I probably would have answered bulgogi. It is not because I really loved bulgogi, but because that was the only Korean food that I often ordered whenever we went to restaurants. That was the only food which was familiar to me aside from kimbap and tteokbeokki.


However, things are different now. After exploring the Korean cuisine for the past few years, I think I have already found my favorite Korean food and it is “galbitang”. I still like bulgogi but I love “galbitang” the most. Going to traditional markets was a great way to experience various traditional Korean food. I had the best hotteok at Daegu’s Seomun Market. It was so chewy, has richer taste and not very oily. 

Galbitang, my favorite Korean food

5. Korea To Me
Ten years ago, South Korea was merely a foreign country in which I was lucky enough to get a scholarship. For me, it was just a place where I temporarily stayed while I was finishing my studies.

I did not expect that the day would come that I would call Korea my second home. I think being able to learn the language and having an in-depth knowledge of the culture and history of this country helped me understand Koreans more and love Korea like my home. I did not regret that I chose to stay here after finishing my master’s degree.  I think it was the best decision I had ever made.

To add fun to learning Korean language and culture, I also studied Korean and Hanja calligraphy. 

Getting into Korean Culture, Learning Calligraphy

Was studying Korean worth it? Absolutely yes! If I did not push my limits in studying Korean language, I do not think I would still be in Korea now. So, if you plan on staying in Korea long-term, spend sometime learning the language. It will surely make your stay here a lot more enjoyable and easier.


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  2. Hello, thanks for writing this article, it's a nice way of showing the contrast between just "existing" in Korea and actually "living" in Korea. I "existed" in Korea for 6 years - I did learn a lot about the culture, people and food, but also never made a lot of friends or felt like I got to know the "real" Korea because I could just really deal with things on the surface, never really get the full impact of life in Korea because I didn't speak the language fluently.
    Anyway, I'm considering moving back to Korea and possibly to Daegu and really want to learn Korean this time around. I wanted to know if you could recommend universities to study at or if you could give me more info about KIIP in Daegu (or did you do it in Seoul on the weekends?)
    Any tips and info would help...