5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea

Baseball game in Korea

Attitude is Everything in South Korea

South Korea is amazing but there are a lot of things you’ll have to get accustomed to once you move here. So in full disclosure, here are 5 things you should know before you come to Korea. And since I don’t want to scare you off, let’s take them to flip them around and turn them around into positives.

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crowded-metro 5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea
The Daegu Metro on a holiday weekend.

1. There are People Everywhere You Go.

Before you come to Korea, you should know South Korea is the size of Indiana. Indiana has about 6.6 million people living in a relatively flat landscape with plains that extend as far as the eye can see. South Korea has 50 million people living in a mostly mountainous landscape. The country has no continuous plains and 70% of it covered by hills or mountains.

The peninsula’s topography means that most Korean live in the cities’ high-rises. You most likely will never be alone.

On a side note… the hiking is superior and there is always a possibility to meet new people.

Daegu-Reflection-bad-air-day-1 5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea
The air quality sucks. Daegu is a beautiful city, but it has lots of days where a gray haze covers everything.

2. The Air Quality Sucks.

It’s a matter of life and breath in Daegu because we are in a valley surrounded by mountains, but it’s pretty bad no matter where you are in Korea. In addition, in Spring South Korea is plagued by yellow dust– a cloud of fine dust that blows in from China and covers everything from your car to your lungs. Don’t be alarmed by all the masked locals… they aren’t contagious, it’s a necessary precaution from time to time. So bring your inhaler before you come to Korea.

Conversely… there are plenty of things to do inside. Go to a 4D movie, the underground malls, or one of the billion coffee shops. Or better yet, jump on a plane to Bali, Thailand or Fiji. lol

3. Driving is Terrible.

When people ask me about life here, I try to prepare them for driving. If you’ve been reading my blog, you already know. The locals are the absolute worst drivers I’ve (me, not you) ever shared the road with. When you get here you will be required to pass the driveŕs exam. As soon as you do go ahead and just forget most of it… it’s not the Thunder Dome. But you’ll see quite a bit of crappy driving every time you get behind the wheel. So before you come to Korea, no stop signs and red lights are just suggestions. Parking in an active driving lane to go to the pharmacy.

Speeding from one to the next is routine and motorcycles, scooters, and taxis do whatever the hell they want to. My husband put a black box recorder in my car last year which seems to deter some people from doing really crazy stuff.

Luckily… I have only seen a ton of near misses and fender benders. I have yet to see anyone get seriously injured.

korean-bbq 5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea
Korean BBQ. How it became so popular to go out to eat and still cook your own food amazes me. lol

4. Korean BBQ is a Way of Life.

I guess its just BBQ in Korea. lol. The most popular restaurants are the ones you cook your own food. Beef and leaves and bbq’s are everywhere. And they are pretty ingenious. Every table comes with its own grill and overhead vent. You select your meats and they bring them to you raw. You can add a bowl of noodles, kimchi, and salad.

But… there aren’t many opportunities to bbq at home unless you have a yard and who doesn’t like bbq?

socks 5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea

5. Shopping is Great, Maybe.

The shopping is amazing if you’re a size 6 or smaller, wear less than an 8-8 1/2 shoe, don’t possess hips, thighs, booty, or cleavage. But even if it fits, it may not be complementary because black girls (white and Latina girls) and Korean girls don’t exactly have the same shapes. They zig where we zag, actually, they don’t zig or zag, lol. Every once in a while, I luck up and find something that looks good on me at H&M or one of the department’s stores. Lucky for me I wear an 8 in shoes, so I have bought some really cute shoes.

However… you can shop for socks, jewelry, and handbags. And you are in the “land of copy”. If you don’t see what you want, have it made in one of the numerous custom tailor shops.

5-things-to-know-about-SK-683x1024 5 Things to Know Before You Come to South Korea

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  1. Batty

    I know Brittany has already responded to you, but I just wanted to pop in, say hello, and thank you for stopping by!

  2. Leah

    I am so glad I found this blog! My family is moving to Seoul in about 4 weeks (well, maybe… no order yet, even if they say May 1st LOL)
    Thank you for all of this information!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Hi Leah, how did you find my blog, what search words did you use? I am happy you did find me, that’s what I’m here for. Make sure you subscribe to the blog and follow me on all other social media to make sure you don’t miss anything. And comment, like and share– I love interacting with readers. I think you’ll like Korea, make sure you holla when you get here.

  3. Nadine Cathleen

    Cool, good tips. Apart from the bad air I was already well prepared 🙂 It’s sad that the air is so bad.. I bought two really fancy masks in Vietnam and have been wearing them quite a lot while on the scooter over there 🙂 They wear them in Korea?

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes they wear masks here too. It does suck that the air is so bad, sometimes I feel like I can actually chew it. But it has gotten better for me because I didn’t realize I wasn’t controlling my asthma and now I am.

  4. E H

    Wow, you are so lucky to be able to visit Korea! I would love to go some day, it is my dream, definitely on my bucket list. I have seen so many Korean shows, and have even started learning the language, I am so hooked on this culture.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Living here for the second time has been a great experience. It can be challenging, but if you give it a chance, it can be a very rewarding experience.

  5. Shannon

    Korea is definitely on our bucket list of travels. Curious if you can debunk the rumor we’ve heard about interracial dating and the presence/presumptions of African Americans in the country who are not military?

  6. Lia

    This is really interesting, thank you for sharing! I would have never thought that Korea’s drivers are the worst of the world, really. And I didn’t know about Korea’s geography, so thank you! It’s an interesting place I should have in mind when looking for my next travel location!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Hi Lia, Korea is a beautiful country with lakes, mountains and forests. And because of its nature beauty and that its not completely on the tourists trail and thus inexpensive, many people are coming to explore the amazing hiking, culture and food experiences.

  7. Jazz

    The driving would be the biggest issue for me. I already am not a fan of it here in the states so can’t imagine dealing with it overseas. Lol! Your post made me giggle a lot due to your honesty. I’d be up for BBQ any day though!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I’m lad you enjoyed reading the story. The driving is unbelievable here, no doubt. I have a blackbox recorder in the front and back of my car that records everything– it would make good TV. And btw… Koreans have really upped the game on BBQ. lol

    1. duffelbagspouse

      South Korea is getting on the tourism radar to travelers because there are a lot great attractions, food and culture.

  8. Jessica Harlow

    I so appreciate your honest and authentic post about the real things to consider when traveling to Korea! I would much rather be prepared for some of the negatives so that they don’t have such an impact on my visit!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks Jessica. South Korea is a great place to visit, but not unlike some other places around the world, has some not so great issues.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks, that was my point, there are a lot of great things about living in South Korea, but you’ve got to be honest. No destination is perfect and none of them are for everybody. Thanks for your visit. 🙂

  9. maria criselda

    I am quite surprised that the air quality is not good. If you watch those Korean television series, the place looks like a haven of fresh air.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Tv. There is an everpresent haze over most blue skies because the air quality is so bad. We get the pollution from China during a few months of the year. You have to watch the pollution monitors from time to time. It doesn’t keep people indoors, they just wear masks to filter the air. When its really bad you feel like you can chew it. It affects our breathing and skin.

  10. Becki Svare

    Wow! What an adventure! It looks like a beautiful area and I’d love to see it, but I’m not sure I could handle the driving! I’ve seen bad driving in a few different countries, this sounds like the next level, lol!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      My hubby says they drive even worse in the middle east because they are dodging camels too. lol I heard a Korean comedian say Koreans are the best drivers in the world because they have hundreds of “near” accidents daily, but few “actual” accidents. haha

    1. duffelbagspouse

      There are so many wonderful experiences to be had here. Unfortunately we have to take the dust along with everything else. Thankfully, it only last for a few weeks and its gone.

        1. duffelbagspouse

          I will, it takes about 4 months from start to finish if you get the orders on time. It’s funny because just as soon as you get settled in this life its time to prepare to move again.

  11. Kirstin Street

    This was a seriously helpful and insightful post! Makes me want to visit Korea much more now. ‘Korean BBQ is a way of life’ hahaha – this is even true where I’m from in Melbourne, Australia!

  12. Elizabeth O.

    I would love to go to Korea and experience their culture. They have so many good food and beautiful sights to see. I’m ver interested in the temples and the shopping too!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      The food is pretty good here and getting better. I love hiking in the mountains to the temples. They have gorgeous views and the chants are so peaceful and echo softly through the air.

  13. Hannah Green

    A really fab read! Korea is somewhere that has always fascinated me, I love travel and it’s something I often think about to distract me from my flare ups and pain. I never though anywhere would have driving as scary as Dubai but maybe there is a rival out there haha

    1. duffelbagspouse

      The only reason countries like Dubai are scarier to drive in is because you are also dodging camels. We have to dodge ajjummas (little old women) and they don’t move as fast, lol.

  14. mira pstr

    thank you for those Tips, I think we are ready to do to Korea, I would love visiting some places close to china with my husband , will check this article if we decide to do so .

    1. duffelbagspouse

      There are a ton of resources and blogs to help you plan your travels. I hope you do come, its a very interesting country.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Ashlea, don’t count yourself out completely. There are quite a few full size Korean girls here, they must buy their shoes and clothes somewhere.

      You just gave me an idea for a blog post. I am going to stop a few and ask them where they shop. Sounds like a good idea, right?

  15. 9buckcrossing

    I feel like I will get claustrophobic being so high up with so many people – what is the yellow dust that comes in from china? And shopping – guess I’ll be shipping in clothes LOL

  16. Chianti

    It’s amazes me how safe this country with the amount of ppl living here. You don’t have to worry about thieves! Yes the air quality does SUCK, but so does the water. Dries out the skin soooo badly! Use plenty of moisturizers!

    When in Rome, do as the Romans when it comes to driving. Don’t be like me though and play chicken with the bus! They do not stop either, my poor car 🙁

    There are sooo many restaurants and coffee shops, I am amazed at how they stay open. The competition is real.

    And the shopping…. it still trying to figure out the biggest mall in the United States is a big as one of the malls here. I don’t think there is one I can compare it to. I love it.

    I love it here! Best place I’ve live thus far!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      You are so safe in part because of the CCTV. It’s everywhere except some intersections and the locals know too. That’s where they drive the craziest. lol. I too have played chicken with a bus, I won the last round– they should be ashamed of themselves in how many lives they put in danger every single time the go from the curb, two lane changes to turn left without caring who they have to bump out the way. I’m a New Yorker and I have stepped up my aggressive driving game, haha. It’s fun most days, stressful most days, and I love it and I am glad you do too.

  17. Charise

    You know I’ve been in Korea for quite some time now, and I still haven’t been to a beef and leaf or BBQ restaurant yet!!!! Something just always comes up, but I’m not leaving Korea until I do. Driving in Korea in my opinion will make you an aggressive driver if you were not before!!!! It still amazes me the things you see while driving!!! Yet I must say I’ve adapted some of their bad habits, ( parking in front of store doors, parking on the side walk) lol.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Lol, you’ll get to a BBQ soon I think. As far as the driving, its always an experience, isn’t it? It still amazes me too and yes I’ve parked in front of stores on the sidewalks too. I get even more aggressive than I was on the street of New York.

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