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A Day in the Life of an Expat Living in Seoul, South Korea
We are excited to have a guest blog post from Marie Webb, an expat teaching English in Seoul, South Korea. Marie is chronicling her adventures on her blog, Gone Seoul Searching. Thanks, Marie for giving us a glimpse into your daily life!
When I moved to Seoul in August of 2010, I never could have imagined how hard it would be to balance my abnormal work schedule while experiencing everything Korea has to offer. My biggest worry upon moving here was having work be a means to an end, instead of an ends to a mean. Yes, I’m a starving college graduate that needs to pay off mountains of student loans, but on the other hand I’m in search of the fun and excitement that comes along with traveling in a new country. After 8 months I still find it all a bit unnerving, but when taking a look at my average day, I do manage to fit in a lot of fun, food and culture. So take a glimpse into my life in Seoul and learn more about what this city has to offer to over 13,277 Americans living and working here each year.
9 AM- I wake in my studio apartment in Jongno, the oldest and most central part of downtown Seoul. Usually the non-stop construction and children’s music from the elementary school outside my window wake me before my alarm clock. For breakfast I usually make an omelet, or pour a bowl of Cheerios. My fresh Tillamook cheddar cheese is a luxury for Seoulites as we have 4 Costco’s to satisfy our need for comforting American brand name foods.
9:30 AM- Instead of heading to the dreary gym located in the basement, I spend 20 minutes walking up a hill to a nearby mountain to go hiking. These days I am a bit weary of my gym because of a run in with a couple in the stretching room that I like to nickname "office-tel lust." I could take a small bus for only 7 minutes up the hill, but I enjoy peering into the local shops while walking. Once at Mt. Bukaksan, I jam out to Britney Spears latest album while admiring the beauty of Seoul Fortress and the views of the city below. The Seoul Fortress Wall can be accessed via many different pathways and hiking trails, and many people are comparing its steep steps with those of The Great Wall of China.
10:30 AM- My short hike finishes directly behind the famous Gyeongbukgung Palace, and drops me into the famous area known as Samcheongdong. Gyeongbukgung is my favorite palace in the city because once inside its massive grounds you can take a look back at the surrounding city; the contrast between old and new is simply stunning. Once in Samcheongdong, I usually bring my camera and take pictures of the famous galleries and Hanok, which are preserved traditional Korean houses. There are tons of restaurants here that specialize in foreign foods and Korea’s latest fixation with macaroons, but I stop and buy green tea hodduk (Korean pancake) from my favorite street vendor. The women smile at me as they hand me a cup filled with a sweet hotcake filled with brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon. I also walk by the most famous restaurant in this area Bukchon Kalguksu which specializes in Korean style dumplings. The line around the corner is of no surprise to me because of this restaurant’s outstanding reputation.
11:00 AM- I eat lunch while updating my blog and doing research for upcoming trips. These days I’ve been looking into another trip to Jeju Island, which is known as Korea’s Hawaii. The volcanic island’s crystal blue water and UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Mount Hallasan Natural Reserve and Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak have earned the island a spot as the only finalist from Eastern Asia in the New 7 Wonders.
1PM- I pass by Tapgol Park on my way to work and always admire the 10 story Pagoda famous as Koreas National Treasure No. 2. I work at YBM the largest hagwon (private school) in Korea a mere ten minute walk from my apartment. Today is my good day at work with only 4 teaching hours, the day before I taught for 8. From my classroom I can get a perfect view of Namsan Mountain. Famous for the Seoul Tower, the observatory attracts millions of visitors each year offering a great view of Seoul’s skyline. I always visit Namsan for a hike, and to read the millions of locks attached to the observatory fence. "Locking your love" has become a modern Korean tradition which is said to keep your relationship bound forever. Lately there is a competition to see who can make their lock stand out from the crowds by attaching unimaginable items like stuffed animals, coffee mugs, and even Barbie’s.
3PM- With 5 hours to spare before heading back to work I usually wander around the city exploring new places while doing some light shopping. A walk along the Cheonggyechong stream greets me on my way to Myeongdong. The stream is a strange place because of its beauty and serenity in the midst of complete chaos. Myeongdong is home to the most famous shopping district in Seoul housing hundreds of street vendors and brand name stores such as H&M and Louis Vuitton. Koreans are obsessed with anything Western. Unfortunately I try on a pair of shoes only to discover once again that the vendor does not have my size. I am only a size 8.5, and this is still too big in Korea.
5PM- I head to a local Korean restaurant for dinner. One of my favorite meals is called Deonjang jjiggae. The soybean tofu stew comes loaded with vegetables and sometimes seafood along with a metal bowl filled with rice. I usually take a new route home each day. My latest discovery walking home was the famous Jogyesa Buddhist temple. Here I took pictures of the thousands of lanterns hung in preparation for an annual festival celebrating the Buddha’s Birthday. Buddhist temples are my favorite destinations in Seoul mainly because the city is known for its bali bali! (fast fast!) lifestyle which clashes brutally with my California slow-poke attitude.
8 PM- I head back to work to teach another 2 hour conversation class. Sometimes my night students ask me to go out with them for some somaek instead of having class. Somaek is a montage of the words soju (a Korean rice liquor) and maekju (beer) because many Koreans and myself enjoy mixing the two together. We head to Piano Street where there are tons of night clubs, chicken hofs (bars), and street food vendors. Unfortunately Piano Street no longer has the giant piano lining the middle of its path, but its name still remains in contact because of the areas popularity.
10PM- I’m home for the day and hop right on Skype to talk with my boyfriend who lives in Los Angeles. We usually talk everyday for an hour before I put on my headphones and jam out on my digital piano that I purchased from the well known Nagwon Building just a block from my house. I used to think Nagwon was a run down apartment building before entering the 5 story music heaven. Many foreigners including myself have visited the building to see Sachoom, a dance musical located in an old theater on the fifth floor. Editing and posting on my blog and the "Korea Taste" blogging contest usually consume my final hours before falling asleep. To vote for my articles and help me win a culinary food tour in Korea hit the thumbs up button on the Korea Taste website link above!