Sunday, May 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Korea soon

Our four years in Korea will come to an end within a month.  Of course, this occasion calls for a bit of reminiscence and reflection, so please indulge me.

Chances are I will have written about most of these things at one time or another but here we go.

Korea is an amazing country.  We have spent most of our time living and and traveling around the Gyeonggi-province, which is the area in which Seoul is located.  I believe few people from the western hemisphere ever dream of coming to Korea to live or vacation, but I highly encourage you to do so if given the opportunity.

I believe I was most surprised by the presence of nature - the mountains with hiking paths everywhere and the intentional planning of green space along the rivers, with plenty of public parks.  And people of every age are out there enjoying these spaces.  Families look happy enjoying a walk or bike ride or a park or setting up a tent at a park.  Elderly people are hiking or exercising at the public exercise areas.

In the city itself there is plenty to do: shop, see shows, tour museums or palaces, attend festivals, eat, get a massage or go to a sauna, or shop at outdoor markets, hike, walk or bike.

The city is safer and cleaner than most anywhere you can go.  Public transportation is affordable and easily available.  There are specific services for English speakers who need help in Seoul and specific ongoing events for foreigners.  The air quality is quite good most of the time, too.

There is a sort of innocence here that is refreshing - somewhat like going back to the 1950's USA.  Education is clearly a priority here and international teachers are well respected.
You might get mixed reviews on expats interactions with Koreans, but my personal experiences have been very positive.

These are the upsides.  Certainly there are a few downsides.
First, the drivers are rarely aware of others.  Korea's value of education borders on obsession which tends to wear out the children and create imbalance in their lives.  Confucianism has both its benefits and drawbacks.  And having just a few major companies driving the economy has created some issues for the people here too.  Seoul is an expensive place to live and there is less English than you may think; this can create problems when traveling or buying products or simply trying to connect to the Korean people.  Certainly the population density is much higher than most people in the midwestern US would have ever encountered.  And life in an apartment is much different than that of living in a home in a neighborhood (but not necessarily worse).

Having said all this, I can conclude that I am still delighted to have had the opportunity to live and work here and raise two children in this culture and in the international school culture.  Our family has had the opportunities for travel and savings and top notch education that we may never have experienced back home in the US.  I shall be saying more farewells in the upcoming weeks, and this will be hard.  But I am so grateful for all that Korea has given to me and my family.

If you have been following my blog, please stay tuned as we transition to Hong Kong in August.  New adventures await!