Military Expat: 9 Great Experiences for Spouses in South Korea

I’m living it up in South Korea as a military spouse! I’ve enjoyed vibrant festivals, deep historical insights, and stunning natural beauty. Local connections and creative pursuits have transformed my expat experience. Keep reading for the colorful details!

Daegu Biseulsan Mountain

As a military spouse in South Korea, I’ve explored extraordinary aspects beyond the everyday. Vibrant festivals and historical insights deepen my appreciation for Korea’s culture and history. I engage in events showcasing Korea’s beauty and build strong connections with locals. I also share my creativity. Below, I’ll share how these experiences have enriched my expat life in South Korea.

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Table of Contents

Embracing Adventure: A Military Spouse’s Guide to Thriving in South Korea

1. Daegu Lantern Festival

As a military spouse in South Korea, attending festivals like the Daegu Lantern Festival provides a beautiful glimpse into the vibrant local culture. I’m not often left speechless, but the 2016 Daegu Dalgubeol Lantern Festival amazed me and made me feel like a kid again. The festival, held in April at Daegu’s Durya Park, is one of the prettiest sights I’ve encountered since moving to South Korea. Last time I went, someone shouted, “Hey DuffelBagSpouse!” which was crazy. She turned out to be a lovely person, and we quickly became friends. Click on the link to see what I mean.

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For a few thousand Won you can add your own lantern to the thousand other ones flying over Daegu.

2. Busan Fireworks Festival

Fireworks are always fun, but a show that lasts almost an hour, synchronized to music, with laser lights over South Korea’s longest suspension bridge, which changes colors, and with over a million people, is a spectacle.

The Busan Fireworks Festival takes place every October on Gwangalli Beach in Busan. The festival has cultural events and entertainment, high-tech laser light shows and culminates with one of the, if not the best, fireworks display I’ve ever seen. It is one of the area’s most popular festivals, drawing crowds of more than 1 million visitors every year. Though most people flock to the beach for a closer view of the festivities, nearby Hwangnyeongsan Mountain also offers a great view of the fireworks. This year the festival was on October 22nd.

It’s been a few years since we attended, but I remember that day vividly. We watched two old men yelling at each other. We spent the entire day on the beach to ensure we had a prime view of the show. A large Korean family adopted us and set up their blankets right next to ours, even though they had the entire beach at their disposal. We spent the evening eating their food and drinking their soju. Click here for the video.

Tip

Book one of the nearby hotels. The train and roads will pack with travelers, so stay at a budget hotel or homestay within walking distance for convenience. Be aware– the larger hotels will increase prices as soon as the festival dates are announced.

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Make sure to come early for a good spot on the beach. We went extra early thinking we could watch from one of the local restaurants. But they all close for private parties around 4 pm.

3. DMZ Tour

The DMZ isn’t your typical tourist destination. Learning all the things that happened there, watching them watch and photograph you and signing the “possible death” waiver adds to the tension.For every military spouse in South Korea, exploring the DMZ offers a profound insight into the geopolitical climate that shapes much of the region’s history. I did learn a lot and seeing it firsthand put most of it into perspective. I was shocked to see the distance that Soviet asylum seeker had to run with 20+ North Korean soldiers chasing and shooting at him. He made it but he had to haul ass to freedom!!! Nothing really brings it home until you see it for yourself.

Update: we had a recent defection while we lived in Korea. Pvt. Travis T. King defected but was returned to US Custody after weeks of negotiations.

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You receive a security briefing and you are always escorted by UN security forces.

4. Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival

The Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival is a must-visit for any military spouse in South Korea, showcasing the country’s stunning natural beauty during spring. I decided to spend my birthday in Jinhae (or Chinhae) a week ahead of the annual cherry blossom festival. I definitely recommend going down there before OR after the festival that began April 1 last year and ran through the 10th. Even though the blooms weren’t completely mature yet, it’s beautiful, and there are already many people – but not the overwhelming crowds during the festival. The event also features street performers, food vendors, and nighttime fireworks. It’s a popular opportunity to welcome the spring weather after a long, cold winter. The crowds can be overwhelming. And the cherry blossoms like all the stunning flowers around Korea are forecasted in advance, so you can make plans to see them.

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Steven on the famous bridge at Jinhae Cherry Blossoms Festival where it’s near impossible to take a bad photograph.

5. Changdeokgung Palace and Secret Garden

I got a chance to watch the colorful changing of the guard ceremony at Changdeokgung Palace in Seoul. It is one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon Dynasty. Although you cannot roam freely about in the latter, there are English (and other languages too) guides that will escort you and relay the history. Known as a place of rest for the kings, the rear garden boasts a gigantic 300-year-old tree. I think it was my favorite of the five because of its stunning ponds and pavilions. Buy a palace combo pass to save money. It is well worth it.

Secret-Garden Military Expat: 9 Great Experiences for Spouses in South Korea
The beautiful ponds and pagodas inside the secret garden are best seen in the fall when the foliage turns bright warm colors.

6. N Seoul Tower

I climbed the N Seoul Tower. Did you know the N stands for “new” because of the renovation that took place way, way back in 1980? The tower is the tallest structure in Seoul and sits atop Namsan Mountain offering a panoramic view of the city and beyond.

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7. Teaching English

Expat Life Tip: Get involved in the Community. I teach a free conversational English class to 5 ladies who have become my friends for life. Engaging in community activities, such as teaching English, is a fulfilling way for a military spouse in South Korea to connect with locals and build lasting friendships.

The last English class of 2016 had us playing games. I taught the ladies rock, paper, scissors and they had fun learning about white elephant gift exchange– w/o the gift stealing– they are too nice for that. I am so happy & proud to see them becoming so comfortable with their English and expanding their comfort levels with the language. And it’s by FAR the most rewarding thing I’ve done here.

Are you looking fir Korean friends, check out DIWA, Daegu International Womens Association.

English-Class Military Expat: 9 Great Experiences for Spouses in South Korea
Expat Life Tip: Get involved in the Community. I teach a free conversational English class to 5 ladies who have become my friends for life.

8. Busan Sand Castle Festival 

We’ve gone to Busan’s Haeundae Beach Sand Festival two years in a row because we both love the artistry involved in these contests. The detail and precision that go into these sculptures are amazing. The competitors come from all around the world for the weekend-long festivities. Busan is our home away from home, just a little over an hour away on the KTX train. The festival takes place one weekend in late May.

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Popular events include a beach volleyball competition and a marathon during the day and fireworks and entertainment in the evening.

9. DIWA Painting Exhibition

After spending months painting in Mrs. Shim’s gallery, I participated in my very first art exhibit in April.  I painted a memory from a trip to Spain from a picture I had also taken on a trip there a few years ago. Surprise, surprise… I even sold my oil painting shortly after displaying it. DIWA, Daegu International Women’s Association is just one of many organizations an expat can participate in here in Daegu. Participating in the DIWA Painting Exhibition was a highlight for this military spouse in South Korea, allowing me to share my artistic expressions with an international community.

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The Yeum Gallery played hosts to our International Painting Exhibit. I painted a Spanish garden I and actually sold it after the exhibit.
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The Yeum Gallery played hosts to our International Painting Exhibit and was a tremendous success if I say so myself.

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41 thoughts on “Military Expat: 9 Great Experiences for Spouses in South Korea

  1. Yes! Teaching English (or learning the local language) is a great way to make friends when living abroad. It’s so sweet to hear you made friends for life.

    1. Thanks Meg. I appreciate your support. I miss my Korean ladies and hope that we get together in a couple years. We planned to go to Spain together as a group.

    1. Yes I agree South Korea has many wonderful cities, festivals and natural wonders to see. It is also relatively cheap when compared to its neighbors Japan and China.

  2. I am so glad I found your website. We are moving to Korea in September. Will it be very cold then? Do you have a packing list of what I should bring?

    1. It will be not be cold in September, it is very mild, maybe some rain though. I have a packing list and that’s a great idea to post. I will post it soon, so stay tuned.

  3. I totally love this. Now I have to put all these festivals in my calender so I can expand my cultural experience here.

    1. You can’t keep track of all the festivals here, but make sure , and I will remind you, to go to the Lantern Festival. That was so freaking beautiful, I can’t wait to do it again. That one is also kid friendly. Just don’t drive, take the Metro.

    1. The cherry blossoms are so short lived. Its sad, a strong wind or light rain destroys the trees. But for 10 days to two weeks, its stunning and smells so sweet.

    1. Fireworks are always fun but one that last almost an hour, is sunk to music and includes a lasers over the longest suspension bridge in South Korea is a spectacle.

  4. It would be nice to visit all of these wonderful places! I think it’s awesome to experience these if you have the chance especially the lantern festival and the cherry blossom too!

    1. South Koreans really outdo themselves with their shows and festivals. They want everything to be a spectacle.

  5. Your pictures tell such vivid stories. I’ve never been to South Korea but it looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. I would love to travel the world more and expand my knowledge and horizons of other countries … this would be perfect.

    1. Thank you Heather. I love taking pictures and with so many beautiful things to shoot, its hard not to get a few nice ones every now and again. Come back again soon.

  6. These are amazing photos! I’ve heard many great things about South Korea and wish to go there someday. My favorite had to be the lantern and painting exhibition. Sounds like you had great time there.

    1. IKR, still takes my breath away. Google lantern festival where you live, you may not have to travel so far. lol

  7. I would love to go to South Korea for the cherry blossom festival. It must look so dreamy, the entire country dressed in pink. The lantern festival sounds amazing too, I can imagine all the sky covered in candle lights.

    1. Everyone looks beautiful in that light. It was so funny because I was looking at how beautiful it was and my husband was wondering how many fires were ignited. lol

  8. The Busan Fireworks display would be an exciting event to watch! I also saw a documentary on TV about the divers of Jeju island. I’d love to see those strong, old women dive into the sea without any breathing apparatus.

    1. They are amazing. I didn’t get to see them when I was in Jeju, but we probably saw the same documentary. Unfortunately every years there are less and less of them.

  9. I just came back from South East Asia – and before then, I was in Taiwan. Now I really want to go to Korea! It’s definitely on my bucket list – It just seems so interesting to me! And now even more so!

    1. I love SE Asia… Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam are amazing. SK has a totally different flavor, somewhere between modern and chaos. Lol

  10. I have seen the video and lanterns all over seems like a star climbing up the sky. I know it was such an amazing experience for you and hope one day I can visit there too and see it with my own eyes.

    1. Cherry blossoms cover this entire country for a couple of weeks. Its so short. The wind and rain wash them away so fast. But its soooo beatiful and smells so good for a little while.

    1. Cherry blossoms cover this entire country for a couple of weeks. Its so short. The wind and rain wash them away so fast. But its soooo beatiful and smells so good for a little while.

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