South Korea: Why I prefer to live in the East rather than the West

Published: June 16, 2013

The Han River. PHOTO: REUTERS

After reading an article on life in South Korea, I decided I should add to it by writing about my own experiences here. I came to Seoul in December 2012, bang in the dead of winter. There was snow everywhere!

Being a fan of K-pop, I knew about Seoul or I thought I knew a lot about it! I expected buildings, trains, well-built roads and busy people all around in one of the most overpopulated cities in the world. What I didn’t expect was the striking natural beauty; stunning mountains and the breathtaking view of the Han River is what I’m talking about!

The Han river

Seoul Grand Park

Later, my friends and I went to see the light show that happens every night around 8pm to 9pm. We visited one of the many bridges that divide the North of Seoul from the South of Seoul. This place is called Banpo Park and is frequented by couples, families, friends and those who enjoy a nice walk or love to ride bikes.

When I first came here, I was a bit afraid because I had read too many articles about Koreans being ‘racist’. However, this was not true. I stood shivering in the cold early in the morning of my second day in Seoul. A woman walked up to me and asked if I was American. I told her I was from Pakistan.

At this point I wasn’t sure how she would react to my country but she smiled and said,

“Ah, Pakistan! Well, you’re very pretty.”

I was taken aback because strangers don’t really offer compliments so openly back home. In my broken Korean, I told her that I needed to catch a cab. She nodded, stopped a cab for me and told the driver to take me to the place I needed to go.

Hospitable and polite is all I have seen here.

So far, the taxi drivers have been extremely kind, going as far as offering me candy, conversing with me and giving me advice. Taxis in Seoul are a little expensive because the meter charges you per time and not per distance.

Seoul has an impressive public transport system and I usually use the subway or a bus because as I’m on a student budget after all. You simply purchase a transport card from a nearby store, top it with cash and use it for public transport. It is extremely convenient.

Another thing that impressed me was the promotion of their local brands rather than international ones. It is almost impossible to find international products at any local store. You usually need to go to Itaewon for that. Itaewon is an area which is frequented by foreigners and has a lot of foreign restaurants and shops. There’s even a Pakistani restaurant here by the name of Usmania, which I am dying to try out.

A famous South Korean cosmetic company

Gangnam is an area in Seoul, on which the song Gangnam Style is based. It’s actually one of the more affluent areas in Seoul, comprising Cheongdam and Apgujeong. Apgujeong is known as the ‘Celebrity Street’, where most actors and singers live and shop. Needless to say, it is not a place for people on a budget but fun to roam around in, nevertheless.

Apgujeong area

Myeongdong is another place that is popular with Koreans and foreigners alike. It is full of cafés, shops and K-pop merchandise. It, too, is expensive and very crowded.

Korean food tends to be a bit on the spicy side, but if you are from Pakistan, nothing can take you by surprise. The spiciest food so far has been ‘ddeokboki’, which is rice cakes mixed in chilli sauce. It is delicious, especially if you’re shivering in the -13° C and having it from one of the food stands along the road with friends.

Street food in Korea

Koreans eat a lot of pork but there are always other options. ‘Bibimbap’ is one of my personal favourites. It’s usually a mix of vegetables and rice but sometimes has chicken, depending on what you order.

South Korea seems to be unheard of and I was mocked at when I told people that I plan to live here in the future as well because it is a common choice amongst people my age to prefer the West. However so far, so good; I have no regrets.

The East has been great to me. Aside from the language barrier, there is nothing that could make you dislike Korea. The people are inviting, the scenery is breathtaking and Seoul itself is a sleepless city.

Korea is not just Gangnam Style. There is so much more to this amazing country and its people. The history and culture is extremely interesting, and traditional areas such as Insadong really showcase Korean traditions.

If you plan on visiting South Korea, do brush up on your Korean because hardly anyone speaks English here. However, the language barrier shouldn’t stop you from visiting this beautiful place. It is worthy of your time and money.

PHOTOS: HERA IFTIKHAR

iftikhar.hera

Hera Iftikhar

A 20-year-old graduate from Nixor College who is currently studying Korean at Seoul National University. She is living the dream in Seoul whilst planning for the future.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Expat

    Your title is extremely misleading. It implies that you have a choice to live there, but that choice isn’t there. It is almost impossible for an immigrant to get a citizenship or even a permanent residency, because the requirements are difficult to fulfil. South-Korea takes pride in being homogeneous, while the West takes pride in diversity, although the support is declining in the latter. South-Korea has not been exposed with the immigrant problems like the West has.
    South-Koreans have little problem with visibly non-Korean looking outsiders like whites, some even admire them, but most know there are temporary visitors, such as tourists or business men. South-Korea does have a racism problem. It’s however more virulently directed towards other Asians, like the Vietnamese. It is very common to hear South-Koreans call them South-Eastern monkeys. It is somewhat akin to the treatment many Arabs display towards South-Asians, although they come from a similar cultural and ethnic background.Recommend

  • Umair Waheed, IBA Khayban e Hafiz

    You sure the taxi drivers only gave you candy?Recommend

  • BlackJack

    Why this juvenile generalization – you visit one country and come up with these global statements; would you like to live in North Korea instead of, say, the UK? After all, It is in the East too, you know, and has a lot in common with the South – even your education will come in handy. Second, I am pretty sure that if you had spent the same amount of time in one of several Western European countries, you would probably be gushing about them too – you don’t appear to have any such experience, so I don’t really see a realistic basis for comparison to merit this title.Recommend

  • Silas

    The candy was probably laced with sedatives. Didn’t anyone ever teach you not to take candy from strangers.Recommend

  • adeel

    well appreciated writing by a student… keep it up and hope to hear more from youRecommend

  • Khurram Awan

    A woman walked up to me and asked if I was American. I told her I was from Pakistan.
    A typical sentence of my friends when they visit some place abroad and then come back and tell us stories of how Caucasian looking they are. No you dont look like American. Even from the picture i can safely say that this type of face can only born in Pakistan. Recommend

  • Parvez

    Liked reading that…………..thought you gave a good picture of the people and the city.Recommend

  • Abdul Bhatti

    You are wrong about South Koreans. In Los Angles where Koreans and Iranians both live there is a lot of animosity. South Koreans make fun of hairy Iranians. In North Korea if a women gets pregnant by a non-Korean her baby will be aborted. Recommend

  • Asiya

    안녕!
    I’m also Pakistani and following the K-Pop scene closely, along with the few dramas that have K-Pop celebrities in their cast. I’m also learning my Hangeul through various Internet sources and pdf books that I can get my hands on. I would really like to know how you got yourself enrolled in a Korean university to improve your language skills and other details about what all a Pakistani could do in either Seoul-si or Busan-si as far as jobs are concerned.
    On another note, 소녀시대 과 씨엔블루 노무 노무 좋아에요. 장 근석 오빠 진짜 졸아해요.
    I would REALLY appreciate a reply because I’m trying to figure out what I should do with my love for Hangeul and K-Pop once I have graduated.
    감사합니다.
    아시야Recommend

  • Bilal

    Good writing Hera. Seoul is indeed wonderful!
    Stay safe and don’t take candy from any cabbie or stranger for that matter lolRecommend

  • Umer

    For foreigners wishing to learn everything about Korea in English here is a great site; http://seoulistic.com/Recommend

  • Nandita.

    @Author : Nice write up. As Parvez said, you presented us with a good picture of Seoul and its people.

    Not sure why ET chose this blog title ( Blog titles are usually chosen by ET, not the bloggers ) when the author is in no way indicating that she prefers the east to west.

    I may be mistaken but this is how I interpret her words :

    All she has said is – people her age might prefer living in the west and it surprises people that she wants to live in seoul . She’s just saying she thinks S.Korea is a good country, has no regrets of moving there and wants to continue living there.That in no way means she thinks the east is a better place than the west etc etc. Liking one place in no way implies that you think it’s the absolute best and no other place can be better. For eg – If I say I love Bangalore, the people, food, culture etc of the city is awesome. Does that mean I think that no other place could be better ? No, it’s doesn’t. I’m sure there are a lot of better cities in the world but I would love to live in Bangalore simply coz I love it there.
    This is the second blog in as many days where ET has put up blogs with misleading titles.Recommend

  • nauman

    I’m sadly not surprised by the amount of hate some of these comments have towards you. Don’t worry, it’s just travel envy, very common in everyone sitting back home with the lights out. Enjoy your time in Seoul, and I hope you are able to find work there after graduation. Good luck. Recommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Khurram Awan:
    I wasnt implying that. Foreigners are still a bit new to Koreans so,because America is so multi-cultural,they ask every foreigner if they are from America. Its a very frequently asked question. :)Recommend

  • Uzma

    Nice article Hera!
    it was really fun to read about your experience :)
    I will look forward to more posts on your South Korean experience ^^

    P.S. I see what you did there coughTVXQcough :pRecommend

  • bangash

    Anti-Americanism has really gone to new heights if it is causing this lady to move all the way to Korea and start learning Korean!Recommend

  • Khan

    @Hira Iftikhar: you forgot to mention about the “Kimchee” :)Recommend

  • Asiya

    @Abdul Bhatti:
    Koreans aren’t any different from any other Asian races, and mocking other races is something that has happened across the world for centuries. The kind of gender struggles imminent in their dramas is no different from what we see in Pakistani TV shows, but their only positive is that they present themselves in a light much better than Pakistan ever managed to do. It is inherent in our cultures to be intolerant of inter-racial marriages, and therefore such practices can be considered likely in a highly conservative society. Added to that is the fact that North Korea is the complete opposite of South Korea and all Koreans should not be judged by the standards of the North. Yes, they have some common characteristics, but their societies are poles apart.
    I’m highly fascinated by the fact that it was the Five-Year Plans that Pakistani economists came up with in the 60s that were adopted by South Korea and have landed them in a place where they are gradually capturing the attention of the world, while the people who came up with the Plans are far behind them, economically. The way South Korea has banked on their entertainment industry and their electronics industry is simply amazing, and despite all the Western influence on them, they maintain a level of sincerity to their own culture and traditions. I may not have been to South Korea but I admire them a lot. Recommend

  • Asiya

    it’s the cosmetic shop picture that has Dongbangshinki?Recommend

  • Umer

    @Khan:

    you forgot to mention about the “Kimchee” :)

    That…..and plastic surgery, the reason most Korean girl looks so pretty.Recommend

  • Salman

    @Hera Iftikhar:

    Don’t stress yourself over some of these stupid comments. These people obviously are suffering from a mental depression.Recommend

  • Taimoore

    I think your write up states far from the true reality about Koreans, Koreans do not welcome foreigners to live in their country and neither do they believe in Diversity. They prefer a homogeneous society. This I have seen very closely in the close knit groups South Koreans living in USA. They do not mix with other cultures only if they are Caucasians. Yes they are racist nation who despise mixing and marrying among other cultures and nations.

    Going as a tourist in Korea is completely different than living there permanently. I would rather live in Brazil or Turkey where there is diversity and tolerance towards other ethnicities. Sorry but do not agree that Koreans are a humble and tolerant nation as compared to the western countries such as Canada, UK, Brazil and USA.

    The look down upon other Asian nations and feel superior to them. Just like the Japanese see Chinese and other nations as inferior.

    FYI I even met an american male who had married a Korean female from Seoul. He mentioned the amount of racial discrimination he had to endure was very sad and tormentable that he had to leave the country and decided to come back to USA.Recommend

  • http://NewYorkCity,USA The Observer

    Wait till SK grants immigration status to a few Pakis. Then it will be just another Paki hating country like the West.

    Yes, we prefer that you go to SK or other Asian countries. Please don’t come to the West. We are already filthy enough. Recommend

  • http://dubai saleem

    Nice article, went there in 97 lovely place and people. Managed to go thru Seoul with English, may be as i was tourist. Very friendly people. Recommend

  • The Khan-Waterloo,Ontario

    The only non racist countries are in westRecommend

  • Shahid

    @Taimoore: Are Taiwanese also racist? I am thinking of visiting but have no connections or Taiwanese friends. Just wondering if you think the same applies to them.Recommend

  • Pakistani living in S.Korea

    Though the title’s a bit misleading, an interesting article nevertheless and I agree with most points mentioned in the article about Koreans and South Korea. (Just one advise to the author, don’t take candy from strangers! :P)
    What we have to understand is that Koreans have a very strong and unique culture which is more the reason for them of being like they are (not so open to foreigners) but yes Racism does exist for the laborers and foreigners from other east Asian countries (Vietnam, Philippines, etc.)
    I think it would be better for the criticizers to have experience of living in Korea themselves and they should mention this fact in their comments before criticizing the article. Just speculations and I-know-someone-who-experienced-racism-from-Koreans do not make the criticism justified!Recommend

  • Pakistani Ostrich

    At this point I wasn’t sure how she would react to my country but she smiled and said,
    “Ah, Pakistan! Well, you’re very pretty.”
    Recommend

  • http://abdussamad.com abdussamad

    I don’t understand why there is so much hate in the comments. I for one would like to read more about your experiences in Korea. Recommend

  • saqib

    Its a nice simple Article!! I loved it, I don’t know why all comments are criticizing about Hera opinion that Korean are not Racist, They seems to be champion of diversity!!! Huuhhh In this case Pakistani are the most Racist Nation. We kill foreigners, Don’t accept marriages even outside our cast, Ethnicity, Language and show no tolerance for minorities, so one . Wake up Pakistan. Recommend

  • Blunt

    The pictures are blocked only at my laptop or everybodys’?Recommend

  • KAY

    You are only 20 and you are implying that Korea is better than the west. I think Korea is the first country you are visiting outside Pakistan and sub consciously you are comparing Korea to Pakistan.
    You have a long life ahead and you will sure visit western countries to see and compare with Korea. Take your time.Recommend

  • Shahid Ameen Samra

    It’s really wonderful to be here. I’ve been here for more than a year along with my family and I find the people friendly, cooperative and caring. Very surprising is the fact that a nation, area wise almost equal to our Sind Province, who were one of the poorest in the world some half a century back, is now one of the top technologically advanced country in the world. Recommend

  • m.

    Unable to understand the Korea hating and the author hating on the comments?!!
    Why such a strong response peeps?Recommend

  • Truth-seeker.

    Okay tell me honestly. Were you denied any of the west countries visa? :PRecommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @KAY:
    If you read my article you will see I have not even ONCE compared the east to the west. I didnt select the title. Bloggers DONT select the title…ET does :)Recommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Truth-seeker.:
    No. I was never interested in going to the West. Its not that the West isnt amazing..but I was just not interested. Everyone has their own interests :)
    Please dont reduce my article to something as meagre as this. I simply wrote about my experiences on living in KOREA. I havent even mentioned the West apart from saying that other people my age chose to go there but my choice was different.
    Do remember I dont run this blog so I dont have any power over the title given to my entry. :)Recommend

  • CardiffKnight

    I enjoyed the insight into Korean life. Well written article Hera! looking forward to more of the same :) Recommend

  • http://pok darbullah

    North Korea is our friend. South Korea is India’s friend.Recommend

  • Ali

    I’m sorry but i know many Koreans and each and everyone has been the nicest person i have met, both outside and in Korea… do not let these negative comments make you form an opinion about Korea or Koreans until you have met them, they are lovely people and so kind to ALL other nations!Recommend

  • Asiya

    I need help learning the language! Please help a person desperately in need of learning HangeulRecommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Asiya:
    I recommend talktomeinkorean.com and if you enroll into the language program offered in almost every University in Seoul..that would be the best way :]Recommend

  • Umer

    @Asiya:
    Try this;

    talktomeinkorean.comRecommend

  • Citizen

    @Expat:

    Her goal is not to encourage Pakistanis to set up camp there, it is to prove that Asian nations are just as developed, if not more, than Western nations in terms of infrastructure and leisure. Hats off to you for taking the wrong meaning out of a news article that wasn’t meant to be a tourism brochure.Recommend

  • Asiya

    I’m already taking the TTMIK classes, and coincidentally I get Arirang in Pakistan, so that’s cool. But I’d really like to know how I can enroll in a university in Seoul because I’m confused as to whether I should do a TESL course and go there as a teacher of English through the Korean embassy or I should just go to study the language! I really want to get my hands on some Korean books which I can sit and try to interpret or perform comprehensions on. I have started writing short essays but there’s nobody to check them. I also do sit down and read newspapers I got from a grocery store in Lahore and also open Hangeul lyrics which I try to interpret bit by bit, comparing them to the translations underneath. There are times when I can understand completely understand some sentences in a drama but I want to be able to take proper professional classes, not just learn words here and thereRecommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Asiya:
    I think you should come as a student. Simply go to say, Seoul National University website and look up their Language Education Institute. You need to apply for the course for e.g you apply to take Level 1 classes. If youre admitted…you’ll receiving a certificate of admission that you need to take to the embassy along with other documents which you can ask the embassy about.
    Coming here and learning the language is the best way to do so. Recommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Asiya:
    Please send me an email if you have any more questionsRecommend

  • Asiya

    if there’s any way that I could get your contact, privately, I’d be very grateful because I’m bursting with questions :PRecommend

  • Asiya

    @Hera Iftikhar:
    I need to know quite a few things like the tuition fees and so on, if you could possibly tell me, thank youRecommend

  • Hera Iftikhar

    @Asiya:
    Just click on my name under “posted by” and my profile will open up and theres an option there to send me an email I believe.Recommend