Why I left Seoul after 1.5 Years
A Korean anthropologist described Koreans as "economically affluent cavemen". While strongly exaggerated, it has some truth in it. After the Korean War, South Korea strained itself and worked itself to the bone to become a wealthy country, but the culture is still stuck where the US and Europe were in the 1960s.
Korea has the highest suicide rate and the lowest birth rate among OECD countries. If you think Korea is actively trying to extinct itself, then you are not that far off.
A highly demanding work culture and education system dismisses friends, family and health over wealth. After regular overtime, you eat greasy meat and drink soju with you colleagues till late into the night. After school, you visit private institutions to learn till late into the evening, not allowing enough sleep for your brain to memorize what you’ve learned in the first place. Women are not treated equal to men and are seen more as servants, so it’s no wonder that many young women don’t want to get married and have children. Pair all this with high costs of living and you have a recipe for disaster.
The younger generations are aware of those issues, but even among them there is resistance. Korean men, who were babysit by their mom all their life, want an obedient housewife taking care of them, not an educated woman who brings home the money.
A few decades ago, Korea was seen as a leading example of a quickly developing nation becoming wealthy, but regardless of the highly advanced infrastructure, what matters most are the people you share public space with and how consciously developed they are.
Nonetheless, living in Korea was a great experience for me. 24-hour grocery deliveries, clean and convenient public transportation, a huge variety of restaurants, cafes and stores, and a highly digitalized society and government were the highlights I would love to take with me wherever I go. And experiencing a different culture and meeting lots of new people comes with its own advantages.
But I like it less crowded, less noisy, and more peaceful. I don't need world-leading infrastructure as long as I have forests and nature around me. And I definitely won’t miss the groups of smokers outside of office buildings or restaurants who spit on the street and leave their cigarette buds behind.
Besides the pollution from cars, Yellow Dust is a huge health issue. The dust comes from Mongolia, passes Chinas East and mixes itself with the insane levels of industry pollution there, and moves over Korea. Every spring the air becomes toxic and the sky turns yellow. The rest of the year you won’t notice it, but it’s still there, making it a health risk for everyone living in Korea.
If you decide to stay inside your apartment, you need to be lucky to have quiet neighbors, because most buildings are built as cheap as possible and have thin walls.
Korea is not perfect, but neither is any other country. Every place you live has advantages and disadvantages. What matters is where you set your priorities. And as long as you are aware of the culture, you can meet great people and make many friends, but even if your social circle is consciously developed, you don’t exist separated from society.
I learned my lessons and moved on. Korea is nice to visit but not a place I want to live for the rest of my life. We packed out things for our next stop: Germany.
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