In the course of my stay here in Korea, I have come to the realization that many times, life abroad is romanticized. From the K-Dramas that paint a beautiful fantasy, to blogs with only great experiences, many people think that coming to South Korea is a dream. But, this is a real place with real people. And so, of course, there are pros and cons. This is what people don’t tell you about living in Korea.
Well, today I am here to dismantle that lie and let you know that life in Korea is just as hard as it will be anywhere else. Like anywhere else, it is not a perfect country. I am not trying to hate on this country that has been my home for the last year, but I am here to tell you it’s not what I expected. And, if you’re into Korean culture and reading this from abroad, it’s probably not what you expect either.
When most people talk to family and friends back home, they hide their difficulties. They don’t want them to worry. Or, maybe they don’t think that others will understand, and honestly, I don’t think they really can. But today I will share my experiences and the things wish others had told me about life as an expat in South Korea.
They Don’t Tell You That Foreigners Will be Isolated
Koreans don’t want to be in a group with foreigners. This may sound very dramatic, but most of the time it is true. Not many Korean students are thrilled when you are assigned to their group when it comes to evaluations. But I have heard that they also don’t like group assignments at all, so it may be because of that as well.
I was in a group with two Korean guys, and it was very uncomfortable. I could tell they’d rather have anyone else but me in their group. Even when I had a lot of stuff I could bring to the table in terms of knowledge and willingness to participate. They didn’t really hear me out, and my ideas were thrown out the window before I could even finish verbalizing them.
Overall, every group I have been in with Koreans has sucked. I have classmates who I have shared a lot of courses with. They would ask me questions sometimes, and we seemed to get along well. But, whenever I mentioned working together on an assignment, they would either blow me off or not even reply to my texts.
I also am not very good at Korean yet. All of the courses I am taking are in English, which is my second language as someone from Chile. However, my classmates who are also fluent in English as their second language don’t make any effort to meet me halfway. They would text and talk exclusively in Korean. Then, when everything was already decided, they would just tell me what to do. Even when I was a member of the group and had no say in anything.
They Don’t Tell You That Koreans Don’t Want Friends
University life can get very lonely. Koreans tend to hang out with Koreans. It’s rare for a Korean to approach you unless they want to use you to study for a foreign language test.
So, naturally, foreign students hang out with other foreign students. Which is a bummer when you only are here for a short period of time. I have worked hard on making Korean friendships. If you are not willing to go the extra mile and start a conversation or pursue a friendship with a lot of patience, most Korean students will not approach you first. Even then, be prepared for sudden ghosting.
This is either because they are not confident in their English speaking skills. Or, because they are very closed up and would rather stick to what they know instead of opening up to new experiences and meeting new people. This doesn’t apply to every single Korean student, since I do have Korean friends. But, it took a lot for them to consider me a friend – much more than it took for me to consider them a friend.
They Don’t Tell You About the Koreaboo Encounters
I don’t even want to write much on this one. I think it is self-explanatory. With the Korean boom and the fact that K-pop and K-Dramas are very popular, many people come to Korea in the hopes of experiencing a life they see on screen.
But, sometimes people go overboard and it becomes an obsession. You will occasionally meet people who want to become Korean and live in a fantasy. And, it’s kind of rude. Most Korean people who live here are quite pessimistic about their lives and the patriarchal nature of the culture. However, Koreaboos come and can’t stop talking about their idols and how unrealistically wonderful everything is.
So many times, I have been met with critical eyes and a sigh- “did you come here because of BTS?”. It sucks that many Koreans believe all foreigners are crazy “koreaboos”, but some of us are.
They Don’t Tell You That Noone Will Understand Your Korean
Restaurants, markets, and other places will expect you to speak Korean. I have to prepare myself mentally and emotionally to be able to order a burger. But, I regularly have all my hopes crushed.
They always look at me weirdly when I speak Korean as if they can’t understand. Then, they wait for me to say it in English. And then, they talk back to me in Korean to ask if the order is right. This is mostly because of a lack of exposure to different accents. Even with dialects, there are not so many variations in pronunciation. And, foreigners speaking Korean is fairly new so, Koreans really have trouble understanding foreigners when they speak.
Even understanding that it is never a good experience for me. It unlocks all of my insecurities. I am a beginner in Korean and the fact that they mix it with English and also don’t try to understand my pronunciation makes me want to crawl into a hole and only order delivery for the rest of my life
To sum everything up, life in Korea is not always as you may see in K-Dramas, but it also isn’t the worst experience ever. You’ll learn a lot about the culture, the people, the language and even a lot about yourself. So if you are willing to give it a try, why not check my article on how to apply to a university in Korea by Clicking Here?