Life Abroad is a monthly series that gives some insight into what it is like to live as a foreigner in a particular country. It will focus on experiences and day to day living of expats and international students. This month, we’ll be looking at living in Seoul, South Korea.
Living in Seoul
I came to Seoul immediately after graduating university to teach ESL at an English Village in the northern part of the city. The area was called Suyu and was a great place to live thanks to the beautiful mountains surrounding it and easy accessibility into the more central areas. It wasn’t particularly busy, yet still was close enough to get to everything you needed.
I was both working and living at this English Village and it was reminiscent of college dorm life. With 30+ other foreign English teachers also living on campus, it certainly helped curb culture shock and homesickness.
While I spent most of my days in Suyu, I regularly travelled to visit friends or do side-work in other areas; particularly Itaewon, HBC, Hongdae and Gangnam.
There are many different regions in Seoul, if you’re living there as an expat, you’ll likely become familiar with those mentioned above quite quickly. Itaewon, in particular, is known as the foreign district. It is where you’ll find “big size” clothes, bars, pubs and foreign foods. It was the only place I could get a poutine and caesar. Which, if you’re looking for them, Canucks is better than Rocky Mountain Tavern for such things.
One of my favourite things about Korea (Seoul in particular) is it’s cafe culture. In Korea, many people live in fairly small apartments. This makes having lots of people over to hangout and a little uncomfortable. Due to this, Korea is crawling with cafes to meet up in, both the regular coffee drinking kind and ones with themes. Want to hang out with cats or dogs? There’s a cafe for that. Want to read a book? There’s a cafe full of them. Dessert cafes are a great choice to satsify a bingsu craving. Bingsu is simply finely shaved ice, often served with condensed milk to pour onto it, along with some form or fruit or red bean.
Want to hang out with cats or dogs? There’s a cafe for that. Want to read a book? There’s a cafe full of them. Hello Kitty fan? There’s a cafe theme for you. And then there is my personal favourite, board game cafes. Some a bigger than others, but most carry a fairly large selection of different games – card games, board games, and the like.
I have only been to a couple, but I’d have to say my favourite is “Board School” in Hongdae. They have a great selection, and a decent amount of English games, which are sometimes hard to come by. When you go, you’re required to order a drink, and you can play for as long as you like (until they close of course). Then when you leave, you pay an hourly fee in addition to your drink. If you visit for about four hours, upon leaving everyone owed roughly $7. While they have some of my personal favourites like Monopoly and Ticket to Ride, they also have lots of games I’ve never heard of. These places give you a great opportunity to try out games and determine if you like them before shelling out $50+ for a game you’re unsure about.
While not a huge shopper myself, Seoul is ready for those who like to “shop ’til they drop”. Stores are open late and there’s something for everywhere. Here are some of the most popular spots.
For familiar brands (think H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and the like) head to Myeongdong. You’ll also find some great street food and an underground shopping street.
If you’re into unique finds head to the Dong Myo Flea Market or, or a totally different vibe, the Bling Flea Market that’s held at night on the last Saturday of the month.
If you’re larger than the average Korean, Itaewon and their “big size” shops are where you’ll need to be. This is particularly true for tall people and those with a shoe size larger than 8.
For high fashion and designer brands, go to Gangnam. The Apgujeong Rodeo shopping street is to die for.
I’ll admit that initially, I did not like Korean food. Barbeque was the one exception. I was hesitant to try new foods for a second time, as more of than not, my first time trying them was at my school cafeteria. I eventually just stuck to rice and kimchi and otherwise bought groceries, particularly when they were going through squid phases.
Anyways, once I got a little out of my shell and with some help from Korean friends I eventually tried more dishes. Barbeque still tops the list, however, up there with it is easily Shabu Shabu, and Won Mandu.
Gemma from A Fat Girl’s Food Guide was a lifesaver when it came to finding new and exciting foods to try and places to eat. No matter what you’re craving, she’ll have already scoped it out and find you something good nearby.
I got mildly addicted to a Shabu Shabu place near Hongdae station. Shabu Shabu is essentially a pot of boiling broth in which you place a variety of vegetables (mushrooms, squash, bean sprouts, onions, etc. really whatever you want), and very thinly sliced pieces of meat. The meat cooks a lot faster than you would expect as well. The place I frequented was buffet style where you can pick your vegetables from a salad bar type area, along with an array of side dishes. Also, the beef was all you can eat for only 15,000 won (~15USD) per person!
Yukejang was also a popular choice for our group. Particularly after a night of too much soju with our barbeque dinner. Yukejang, which is a spicy beef and vegetable soup – sure to cure any hangover, and because of the spice – blocked sinuses as well.
If you’re not feeling Korean food, and sometimes I really wasn’t, I would head to a place called Pazzo’s Cucina which had surprisingly good burgers and pizza for being outside central Seoul. Otherwise, I’d head to Itaewon/HBC to get whatever type of food I was craving.
What Surprised Me About Living in Seoul
The Difficulties of Online Bookings and Banking