If you had asked me a year and a half ago if I would move to South Korea – and genuinely enjoy it – I would not have believed you. In fact, one of my job placement advisors had strongly recommended that I look into teaching positions in Korea, even though I continually insisted on going back to Europe with my savings and Italian citizenship. So it certainly came as a surprise to my friends and family when I made the decision to teach in Asia.
While the initial “shock and awe” of being in Korea has subsided (for the most part,) every now and then I look back on my life back in the States and do a quick compare and contrast. There are, of course, the obvious differences in landscape, habits, and how I’ve developed as an individual. But what also stand out to me are what I’ve come to like and enjoy.
Therefore, I’ve compiled a short list of things that have grown on me in the time I’ve been here.
Believe it or not, I never even tried a single ramen noodle until I came to Korea. Yes, even after all those late nights writing essays, script pages, and editing videos at art school, I was never tempted to go down the slippery (yet savory) slope of the quick and cheap sodium fix. But after seeing drunk businessmen in the CU/Seven Eleven/GS25/Mini Stop slurp down some hot noodles at 3 in the morning convinced me to give it a try on those nights out when there’s no haejangguk or Monster Pizza to be found.
Although I’ve made a conscious effort to not eat instant noodles so often since I first discovered it, I still indulge in a bowl of 진 (shin) ramen every now and again for that hot, spicy, soupy goodness.
Korean Skincare Routine
Just before I arrived to Korea, I was trying out all-natural, DIY facial masks at home. My favorite one involved mashed banana, spirulina powder, and lemon juice, since it left my skin feeling so bouncy and smooth. But that was nothing compared to what I experienced after discovering the Korean skincare routine.
Ever since I collected all the products necessary to do the complete 10-step Korean skincare routine, I’ve been going through the process at least once a week to keep my skin fresh and glowing. (I’ll also do a face mask and cleanser during the week, depending on how my skin feels.) Once I saw the results of what, at first, seemed like a daunting regimen, I was more than pleased. Plus, going through this little weekly spa treatment has also given me that hour or so to relax and decompress as the nutrients seep into my dull/greasy/dry/damaged/dirty skin.
I never thought I would become a fan of anything to come from Sanrio, the company perhaps most famous for creating Hello Kitty. Yet, all they had to do was put a butt on a lazy egg yolk and I became hooked. Now I’m buying Gudetama stationery and stickers for not only my students, but also myself. (I even showed my niece and nephew a few Gudetama cartoons, which they enjoyed as well.)
You know that food that smells so good that you’re afraid to try it because you fear it won’t meet your high expectations? For me, ddeokbokki was that food. Then finally, during a night out in Gwangju, a friend of mine insisted that I try one – and I was not in the least bit disappointed.
In case you’re not familiar, ddeokbokki is basically a chewy rice cake doused in a spicy red chili sauce. As a fan of everything saucy and spicy, I highly approve of this classic street snack.*
A Good Massage
Ok, yes, I’ve always liked a good massage. But it wasn’t until coming to Korea that I truly appreciated a good massage. The second weekend I after I arrived was Chuseok, so I tagged along with some other foreign teachers at my school on a trip to Busan. It was at a spa near Haeundae beach where I had an hour and a half, full body Thai massage. Any remaining cranks in my neck or back from the 14-hour flight were a distant memory by the time those 90 minutes were up.
In a place where I’m continually trying new things and adapting to a new culture, one of my most important virtues has remained the same: the ability to keep an open mind. After all, I wouldn’t have baby soft skin or a go-to late night out snack without it.
*Except when your students gobble it down really quickly before class and then keep asking you to get a drink of water in the middle of class. Have water with your ddeokbokki, children! You know it’s spicy!
Featured Image: Me slurping some noodles at Ichiran in Osaka.