Before I made the big move to Seoul, I didn’t think I would be particularly surprised by anything in Korea, especially since I had been twice before. I was semi-correct – nothing surprised me as such. Not much can surprise me here because I’m always prepared for the craziest thing that could pop up! But I have learned a fair few things, about both myself and the workings of everyday life here, that I would like to share.
Scooters are not out to get you, but they might do just that.
It was only a few days into my time here that I realised just how lax the traffic (well, pedestrian) rules are regarding scooters. I’m not talking about the inline, blade scooters that you used to ride and bash your shins with when you were younger. I’m talking about mopeds. They’re used to make food deliveries at all time of day and night over here, and they drive freely on the pavements. I’ve always wondered when I was going to see my life flash before my eyes in the path of one of these manic delivery drivers, and my answer came today on the way home from work. I got mad. Really mad.
2. I don’t hate children quite as much as I thought I did.
Coming from a woman who has decided to (currently) take her life in the direction of an English teacher, this one probably sounds a little silly. I never used to like children, not a single bit. It’s not that I felt any sort of hatred for them, I just didn’t get then. Like, what do you say to them?! However now you would think I am an entirely different person.
When my mum was visiting I surprised us both by gushing about some of my kids. “My kids”, I say, like a proud parent. It’s funny what a few weeks can do to you! (Disclaimer: I don’t claim to love children now, in fact I still find them gross and annoying, but I’ve learned that you can very quickly develop intense affection for young children that are entrusted into your care and put under your guidance for six hours a day.)
3. I don’t necessarily need coffee, but it definitely makes life a lot better.
I started drinking coffee around a year ago. Not frequently, but I enjoyed a nice little cuppa every now and then, normally with some caramel syrup and/or some sort of chocolate or whipped cream element. When I started my first office job last July I began to drink coffee on the regular, but normally just one cup a day, if that.
Since moving to Seoul, I’ve been drinking coffee every day. There are so many little independent places, and some good spots around my workplace, that it’s hard to resist. I’ve even started to drink americanos with just a small amount of sugar syrup to sweeten it. I can’t get enough of the stuff! It’s not for the caffeine kick, but mostly for the walk outside and the happy feeling it gives me at lunchtime after a long morning teaching almost-babies how to sit on their chairs properly and how to ask to go to the bathroom in English.
4. I look at my phone entirely too much.
For my first three weeks here I lived with no mobile internet data whatsoever, living from WiFi hotspot to WiFi hotspot, and totally offline in between. I can’t even connect to the WiFi at work because the router is on a different floor to the staffroom. Somehow, I learned to live without it, planning journeys and meetings in advance and just hoping nothing went completely wrong on the way. I took notice of my surroundings – the shops, the weather, the people – all with their heads stuck in their phones.
And then I braved the local phone store and bought myself a prepaid (pay-as-you-go) SIM card with 2GB of data. I burned through it in less than a week and was met with surprise when I went to the shop to reload. Entire journeys home were lost with my face stuck to my phone screen. I had become one of the Korean phone zombies you see wandering the streets, on the bus, and on the subway! I’m hoping to get a phone plan or some sort of WiFi egg soon, but I’m vowing to put down my phone as I walk around.
5. I need to learn to explore by myself.
I think of myself as an extroverted introvert; I enjoy my own company, but when I go out exploring I don’t want to do it alone. This means I will sit for hours in my flat waiting for someone to reply to an offer of joining me on my little jaunts. My mild social anxiety fills me with dread every time I’m on my way to meet someone. Despite this, I love spending time with other people. In this country especially, it is difficult to go out alone. Korean society has a group mentality, rather than focusing on the individual like we do in the West. But I need to get better at going out alone. I don’t want to waste my weekends waiting for a message that might or might not come!