11Jul

Life and Shopping as a Plus Size Woman in South Korea

South Korea is known around the world for its skincare, makeup, and dermatological advancements. It’s also known for K-Pop and its idols, as well as its fashion. While all of these are things to enjoy and take advantage of while living there, it’s important to remember that beauty standards in Korea may be very different to what you’re used to at home. As a Canadian plus size woman, there were some things I found harder in Korea, while there were other things that I was worried about but didn’t even notice once I arrived.

What’s it Like Plus Size Shopping?

The biggest issue for me when shopping was finding clothes and shoes in my size. I love Korean fashion, and this was a huge disappointment for me! I had heard that this might be an issue, but was certain I could make it work. However, for the first few months, it was really hard to find anything that fit. I eventually found clothing in places that worked for me such as Zara, H&M and some thrift stores as well as the men’s section of certain stores, but it was definitely a frustrating process! As for shoes, I managed to find running shoes and sandals in the men’s section, but things such as boots and heels were much harder to find.

One thing I discovered was that the selection depended on where I was. I lived in Daegu, and found that even H&M was hit or miss for having my size there. However, when I visited friends in Seoul or Busan, I found that their selection was a bit more diverse! Seoul also has a couple of bigger-size stores including Romi Story, Mariang Plus, and Richmood Showroom. Hoya in Seoul makes beautiful plus-size hanbok (Korean traditional dress) inspired clothing as well. There is also Lady Plus, but they only have boutiques in Ilsan and Gyeonggi-do. Also, a lot of stores carry oversized clothing because that’s just the style in Korea, so you may be able to find something that fits in an average Korean store – just try it on and see. I found one of my favorite sweaters in a store in Gyeongju, and I didn’t think it would fit me until one of my friends encouraged me to try it on!

(A dress I scored at a thrift store in Daegu)

Can’t I Just Order Online?
There are a few plus-size Korean stores that only sell online, including 09Women and JStyle Evelett. I never used these websites personally because I’m more of a try-on girl, but I have friends who did. The only issue they had was figuring out how to return the items, but I’m sure a Korean speaking coworker could help if asked. If you’re down to do a bit more searching on Instagram, there are quite a few accounts that thrift and sell clothes, and most of them will deliver across Korea. Mikku xLarge, Modern&J, and DewA are just some examples, but if you have time to peruse, you can search #빅사이즈 on Instagram for more. A lot of these accounts will have links to their Naver stores which you need an account for, but signing up for one is simple. Another option is to browse on Coupang, but it’s a bit harder to sift through clothing on their website because of the sheer amount of stuff for sale.

A final option is to order from North American or European stores, but the shipping fee when ordering online from Canada or the United States can be atrocious. There are some companies like Ppali Ppali Express who can help you to ship things from the United States to Korea for a slightly cheaper delivery fee (by sending your items to their warehouse located in the USA, and having them send it to you in Korea), which I found worked best when shared with friends (which cut the delivery fee down significantly).

(Busan in one of the dresses I found at H&M, and sandals I ordered on Coupang)

So What Should I Bring With Me?
As you can tell, it’s not impossible to find plus-size clothing in Korea, but there are definitely more limited options. Because of this, I would recommend bringing jeans and other pants, undergarments, a bathing suit (if you plan on going to the beach and swimming) and shoes (if you’re above a size 6). Dresses, tops and skirts were easier for me to find since they’re often looser and less tight-fitting.

In summary, if you’re worried about finding clothes in Korea, just make sure to pack your favourite items and bring the basics that make you feel good. As for makeup, bags, socks and accessories: you don’t have to worry about bringing any of those. You can find those in nearly every other store in Korea!

(Some of my favourite jeans I’ve ever had that I ordered on Coupang, and my FILA Korea jacket that I got from the men’s section!)

21Mar

Cherry Blossom Chronicles: A Friendly Guide for South Korea’s Newest Teachers

Welcome to South Korea, future teachers! So, you’re gearing up to teach in South Korea – how exciting! Let me tell you about one of the absolute highlights you won’t want to miss: cherry blossom season.

Picture this: late March to early April, when the air is filled with a sweet, floral aroma and every corner of the city bursts into a riot of pink and white petals. Yep, you’ve stumbled upon one of the most magical times of the year!

woman, on a beautiful outfit sitting on stairs under cherry blossom trees

Now, here’s the scoop – you don’t need a treasure map to find these beauties. Nope, they’re sprinkled all over the cities, turning even the simplest streets into breathtaking scenes straight out of a fairy tale. But hey, if you’re looking for the cherry on top of the cherry blossom experience (pun totally intended), let me introduce you to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae.

Oh, Jinhae – it’s like stepping into a painting. Imagine strolling through avenues adorned with cherry blossoms as far as the eye can see. Yep, that’s what awaits you. And the best part? It’s not just about the visuals. Nope, they’ve got you covered on all fronts. Gift shops? Check. Street food stalls? Double check. You’ll find yourself amidst a vibrant tapestry of colors, flavors, and experiences.

Cherry Blossom Streets
cherry tree on busy street

Let me share a little anecdote from my own adventure. Back when I was living in Busan, I decided to spice things up and joined a tour group called Enjoy Korea (nope, not sponsored, just spreading the love!). And let me tell you, it was a day for the books. We kicked things off with some good ol’ strawberry picking, followed by a delightful session of decorating chocolate-covered strawberries.

After all that, we made our way to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jinhae. Iit was everything I’d hoped for and more. The vibrant hues, the buzzing atmosphere – it was like being in a dream. And the best part? I got to share this incredible experience with friends.

friends under cherry tree

Now, I know what you’re thinking – do I really need a tour group to experience all this goodness? Well, the short answer is nope. You can totally DIY your way to cherry blossom experience. A quick bus ride here, a scenic stroll there – you’ll get there just fine. But hey, hear me out – joining a tour group isn’t just about convenience (though that’s a big plus). It’s also about the people you’ll meet along the way. Trust me, there’s something special about bonding over cherry blossom sightings and shared awe.

cherry blossom map

So, there you have it,  – a little sneak peek into the wonder that awaits you in South Korea. And hey, if you’re curious about when and where to catch those cherry blossoms in full bloom, I’ve whipped up a handy-dandy prediction map for you. Yep, consider it your personal guide to cherry blossom paradise.Safe travels and happy cherry blossom hunting, friends!

20Mar

10 things I love about South Korea

Of course, I can’t write an article about 10 things I hate about South Korea without balancing it out with a list of 10 things I love about South Korea! There are so many things that I adore about life in this country and that I will miss when I head back to the United States.

I’ve been in Korea for a grand total of 5 months and while some aspects have been challenging (as would any move abroad, I think), Korea is such an amazing place to live and I will always sing it’s praises and encourage anyone to move here if they’re on the fence or considering it. It has been such a life changing experience, and I’m not even halfway through!

Whether you’re coming to visit or coming to live for a period of time, I hope you love Korea just as much as I do.

1. The Cafes

I know I complained about how the cafes here don’t sell savory food in the list i wrote about things I hate about south Korea, but in reality – Korean Cafe Culture is absolutely insane and I LOVE it (I just have to remember to eat a real meal before I go to one). The cafes here are as if they were made with Instagram in mind. They’re always so aesthetically pleasing and the desserts are absolutely gorgeous. Even if coffee isn’t your thing, all the cafe’s I’ve been too have refreshing tea options as well. 

It’s a running joke that now, when I Facetime my friends, they ask me how many cafes I’m visiting that weekend instead of what my plans for the weekend are. There are so many to see and too little time! I like to justify it by calling it blog research LOL gotta find the best of the best for you all!

aesthetic looking korean cafe
korean baked goods

2. The Food

If you read my post about the time I spent wasting away in quarantine, you’ll know how apprehensive i was about Korean food. I hadn’t had a lot of experience with it prior to coming, but what I did eat in quarantine had me worried for my survival here in Korea, especially with me having to eat all the school lunches. 

In a fabulous turn of events, however, Korean food has turned into one of my favorite parts of living here. I LOVE Korean cuisine. From the infamous Korean BBQ (which really is as incredible as they all say), to Shabu Shabu (my personal favorite), to rice cakes and hotteok, Korean food just does. not. miss! I’m completely obsessed with it and am terrified for the day when I can’t find a barbecue place on every single street when I move back home.

korean bbq
korean food

3. The Honor System

Another thing about Korea that I had heard rumors about before coming but convinced myself that I would need to see it to believe would be the honor system thing they have going on here. Crime here is SO LOW; people just don’t really do bad things. They don’t take what isn’t theirs. 

One time I left my Lululemon water bottle at a bus stop for four hours, and I came back to find it sitting exactly where I left it. I can leave my laptop out in a cafe and run somewhere for food or snacks from the convenience store and come back without a single doubt that it will be right where i left it. Sometimes people leave their wallets outside the grocery store (idk why but i’ve seen them lol), their umbrellas outside the restaurant, and their shoes in the cubbies at the front of the establishments that require you to wear socks, and people just leave your stuff alone! 

Although there are always kind people wherever you go, I’ve gotten my fair share of property stolen back in the United States or in Europe, as have all of my friends! It’s just not the same anywhere else I’ve been to.

4. Movie Theaters

Okay this might be a little bit of a cheat because of course I can’t speak to all movie theaters across Korea, but the only ones I’ve ever been in have full on beds instead of chairs, or even reclining chairs, and it’s just so fabulous. 

I’m not even a movie person, but I will never say no to a movie here – the seats can be adjusted three different ways, everyone is so spread out, your butt doesn’t get sore from sitting 2.5 hours in the same spot (movies these days are so long amiright?) and I will never be able to go back.

5. Public Transportation

Okay so hear me out. I don’t know if I’ve just never lived in a big enough city, or I’ve always just been blessed enough to have a car available to me, but public transportation in South Korea is NEXT LEVEL. Between the subway, the city busses, the inter-city busses, the KTX high speed trains, and the insanely cheap domestic flights, but you can always get wherever you’re trying to go for CHEAP. A swipe on the subway costs about a dollar, as does a bus ride. 

Taxis are also something I will miss so much when I go home to America. I’ve heard stories of my friends paying 40 dollars for an uber to take them 10 minutes away- and I just revel in the fact that 40 dollars in a taxi could literally take me 3 hours away from my starting destination. 

While I miss driving back in America, I do not miss paying car insurance or the increasing prices of gas – I’ll stick with my dollar metro swipes that can take me all the way across town in about an hour. I really don’t know how I’m going to go back to the way it was before — Definitely ranks very high in the top 10 things I love about South Korea.

woman wearing mask and gracefully sitting in front of korean temple.

6. Safety

The majority of the response when I announced that I was moving to South Korea was: “Is that safe? How close will you be to North Korea? What if the two countries break out in nuclear warfare. Do they get tsunamis there? What are you going to do – Dye your hair?” 

But for real: I feel safer living here than I do back at home. I don’t know what it is about America that is so conducive to crazies but I live on an unlit street in a really old apartment building, and never once have I felt uneasy walking home in the dark. I’ve never had a strange encounter on the subway (Looking at you New York), and while people stare (I am the only natural blond in probably a 3 mile radius), everyone keeps to themselves. 

Like I said before, crime is very low, CCTV is everywhere, and I feel so safe living here.

7. Nature to City ratio

I’ve always loved nature, but I’ve always labeled myself as a city girl. The best thing about living in South Korea, and Busan in particular, is that it is the ~perfect~ ratio of city to Nature. 

I get all the perks of living in a city – the public transportation, accessible shopping, hip and trendy restaurants and cafes, the connection to all other major cities and activities, but I have countless beaches in front of me and towering mountains behind me. I could go hiking and surfing in the same day. It is IDEAL. 

Sometimes all you need is a little nature to rejuvenate you when the city becomes a little too suffocating – but on the flip side, you always need the liveliness of the city to balance out the calm and relaxation of nature. When I can get both in a day, I am a happy girl – and I can’t wait for summer to roll around to I can actually start living my best beachy life.

blonde woman with brades looking over geological formation
some mountains next to the sea

8. Convenience Stores

Although America has convenience stores on every block, one of the things I love about South Korea is how NEXT LEVEL their convenience stores are. You can buy handles of liquor, soju, a whole meal, fully cooked sweet potatoes, fried chicken, you can cook your ramen, make your iced coffee, and even eat there at the tables and chairs they usually provide. 

They have anything and everything you could ever want, and if you’re on a budget and visiting Korea, just know that you can always do one convenience store meal a day to keep the budget in check!

The guy at the convenience store I go to for coffee every day is basically my bff and gives me all the one-day-expired treats for free — and that may sound gross but who cares LOL.

9. The Fashion

I thought that I had decently good style before coming here, but it’s just like I talked about HERE, if you’re moving to Korea to teach English, to study abroad, or even just to visit for a while, don’t pack as much as you think you need. The shopping here is out of this world, and Koreans are so perpetually put together that even in your pre-planned outfits you’ll feel frazzled when you stand next to them. 

There is a plethora of areas to shop in any given city in South Korea, between boutiques, western stores, and the underground/subway shopping malls (it’s a strange concept but those 5 dollars sweaters don’t miss), you’re completely covered in the fashion department. 

One thing I love about Korean fashion is how baggy everything is. They’re not overly obsessed with showing skin or having a perfect fitted shape and it makes the fashion look so effortlessly cool and is so so comfortable. 

Also, I simply will not wake up in the morning and wear color; that’s pretty much the vibe here too and it makes shopping an absolute breeze. On the other hand – if you’re a fan of color, you might be out of luck!

Ft. me trying my very hardest to stay on par with the fashion – I promise it’s better than this but im trying my VERY HARDEST to save my money okay you can do better than me I know it.

blonde woman, wearing ICONIC clothes. Very fashionable.
woman wearing revealing, yet dignified outfit. She looks like a fashion model.

10. Health Care

And last but not least: I swore to myself that I wouldn’t make this a point on my list, as literally everyone who’s ever written a post like this does, but I recently had a run in with a horribly infected cartilage piercing that had to be surgically removed and it was so seamless and cheap that I have NO CHOICE but to add it into my list as well: the health care. 

I was initially terrified when I saw how swollen my ear was and how difficult to get out my piercing was proving to be, and I was SO SCARED to go to a doctor that didn’t really speak English. Also I had no idea how far back this was going to set me.

So you can imagine my surprise when the doctor completely cleaned out my ears, calmly removed my piercing, bandaged me up (an ear bandage?? who would’ve thought) and sent me on my way after taking no more than 25 dollars from me. 

AND THEN I went to the pharmacy to pick up the literal 48 pills this mans prescribed me, once again terrified at how much it would cost. After all, one time the pharmacy back home tried to get me to pay 800 dollars for a cream for rash, because insurance wouldn’t cover it. 

The pills cost $2.38 – and the pharmacist APOLOGIZED that they weren’t completely free. OMG. 

It’s amazing. I’ve definitely been fortunate to not realize what a struggle it can be for people in the United States, but I 100% understand now. It’s insane, and something I will have to RELUCTANTLY give up when I move back.

And that’s a wrap!

I know this mini-series started off on a little bit of a bad note – although complaining about all of the things I struggle with was all in good fun, it has definitely concluded on a good one. 

Although there are a lot of challenges that come with living here, or even visiting for the first time – and that come whenever you move or travel anywhere new and out of your comfort zone, I have found so many things to love about this place. I know I still have a solid 7 months left here but I already know I will miss all these things when I go.

14Mar

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List

No – this isn’t Rome, it’s one of Korea’s many cafes that seem to have been MADE for instagram – there are so many for you to add to your Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

If you know anything about me, it’s that I have the worst case of FOMO you’ve probably ever encountered. Because of this, whenever I go to a new destination, I obsessively plan everything out so that there’s no chance that I miss the opportunity to do something, especially if it’s seasonal. So when I moved to South Korea to teach English for a year, I went full type A and made a list of everything I needed to do in the calendar year, fittingly naming the note in my phone: The Ultimate Korea Bucket List.

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

Whether you’re living in Korea for a year to teach English, or simply trying to decide the best time of year to visit, I’ve decided to publish this Ultimate Korea Bucket List for your convenience. It isn’t a travel itinerary, and is definitely geared to people who are either studying or teaching here for a year! After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to live somewhere for a full year, and not take full advantage of it? For convenience’s sake, I’ve started with September, as that’s when most English teachers arrive to Korea, but feel free to skip to whatever month you’re arriving (or visiting!) in. Let’s dive right in.

The Ultimate Korea Bucket List:

September

Exploring your new home!

Because you’re probably just settling in as an English teacher or a student, chances are you won’t be super adventurous, as you’ll be so preoccupied with surviving your first month in Korea. In light of this, I just suggest doing some of the main tourist attractions in the city that you’re living in. This also helps you familiarize yourself with public transportation and build confidence in doing things alone. Whether it be Seoul, Busan, Daejeon, or a smaller city in Korea, there are lots of things to do no matter where you are.

Personally, I chose a job in Busan so that I could live in a city and be by the ocean, and I’ve not regretted my decision once! My first month, I Hiked the Igidae Coastal Trail, visited Gamcheon Culture Village and explored the famous temple by the sea, Haedong Yonggungsa. I hauled my tripod with me, as I hadn’t made friends yet, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me!

Chuseok Holiday

*** Also something to note is that the Korean Thanksgiving holiday (called Chuseok) happens in September, and I had a 5 day weekend! This would be my third longest break as an English teacher, and even though I didn’t have friends, I made the trek up to Seoul and explored on my own! I took advantage of this time to wear a Hanbok on a traditional Korean holiday – and wearing a Hanbok is, in and of itself, an item that should be on your Korea Bucket List! Traveling alone was very freeing, empowering, and a travel opportunity that shouldn’t be missed if you have holidays off at your job or school. If you’re based in Seoul, Consider coming to Busan, as the weather would still be warm enough to relax on the beach!

Another great location to spend Chuseok during September is Jeju, as the flights are cheap and the weather is still definitely warm enough to lounge on the beach and play in the crystal clear water.

 

October

Ulsanbawi hike – Seoraksan National Park

If you’re into hiking, October in Korea is a dream. if you’re not into hiking, it’s still a dream and you’re just going to have to give hiking another try! The main hike that I was dead set on doing was the Ulsanbawi hike in Seoraksan national park. It is a beast of a hike, and although not long, was straight up stairs the entire time. The view at the end, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in Korea, and if you have the opportunity to take a weekend and spend in in Seoraksan National Park, it will be well worth your time.

Nami Island

Another thing I knocked out in the same weekend, was visiting Nami Island. Since, I’ve been two more times, and although I’m a bit “Nami’d” out, it is still a really special place to see, especially in the fall. The Ginko trees (all the little leaves that I have all over my blog are Ginko leaves!) turn Neon yellow, and although I went to early for the leaves to be covering the ground as well as the trees (timing is tricky!) it was still an incredible day trip.

I took a tour with the company Enjoy Korea (the best tour company in Korea ever), and we knocked out Nami and Ulsanbawi in the same weekend. They made it very accessible and they’re definitely something to check out if you want to take all these adventures but are intimidated by logistics.

Daedunsan Hike – Cloud Bridge

A hike that I was dying to do in October was Daedunsan Mountain. They have an incredible suspension ladder as well as a suspension bridge they’ve nicknamed “The cloud bridge”. The fall foliage that time of year is absolutely incredible, but by the time I had a free weekend to visit, the trees were already bare and It didn’t seem worth it. I’m still hoping to get this hike checked off the ultimate Korea Bucket list before I leave, but the weather is warming up and it’s not looking like it’s going to happen!

November

Naejangsan National Park

This is something that you’d want to accomplish either in October or early November, as the main draw for this is, once again, the fall foliage. Once again, figuring out the transport logistics would’ve been crazy, but I looked into it and there were tons of tours offering day trips from my city! Defnitely check out Viator for some affordable options if this is something you want to do. I didn’t end up making the trip, and I’m kicking myself for it, as I won’t be staying another year!

It’s definitely hard to fit in everything you want to do, and while I did my best there’s still boxes left unticked 🙁 Do a better job at planning than me!

Temple Stay 

Another perfect thing to do as the weather is cooling off but before it gets too freezing, is to attend a temple stay. Living with real Buddhist monks for 2 days and going through their daily routine is an incredible experience that you shouldn’t miss!

I have yet to do this, and summer is approaching, so I’m definitely going to be sweating profusely for my two days, as I’m not entirely certain of the state (or existence) of the air conditioning in Buddhist temples to be completely honest.

Still, it’s something I’m not willing to leave Korea without doing, so I will complete this tick this item off the Ultimate Korea Bucket List and report back shortly. Stay tuned.

December

Christmas Break

Chances are, you have at least a week off for your Christmas break. What you do with this is completely up to you! Because I was visiting while there was still a mandatory 14 day quarantine upon entry to Korea (meaning I couldn’t leave the country during my holidays:( , I didn’t venture too far! Again, I was based in Busan, and had only been to Seoul once, so I used this time to really explore Seoul deeper than I had been able to over Chuseok. Oh, and I had friends with me this time, which definitely made things better!

One thing that I didn’t get to do that you should NOT miss is to visit the DMZ! you can actually set foot inside North Korea, and I’ve heard great things about the tours – plus you get bragging rights LOL!

Use this time to either travel somewhere tropical, or if you want to stay in Korea, go somewhere new! There are plenty of cities left for you to explore, or even day trips to be taken from your home city. December is a choose your own adventure kinda month!

January and February

Lunar New Year

Obviously, South Korea has some pretty brutal winters. There’s not that much that you can comfortably do in January, besides trying out lots of new restaurants, going to all the aesthetic cafes that Korea has to offer, or going to different exhibits and galleries! There’s nothing pressing for you to do in January, to be quite honest, except towards the end! Typically, the Lunar New Year holiday falls towards the end of January or the beginning of February, and most schools give you a long, typically 4 day weekend. With this short little holiday theres a few things I suggest you doing:

Garden of the Morning Calm

This is probably the best place to see Christmas Lights in all of South Korea! The Garden of the Morning Calm is the biggest private Garden to put on a light show like this, and although the weather at night when the lights turn on is absolutely freezing, all you need to do is grab some spiked hot chocolate to keep you warm while you take in the beauty! It really feels like you’ve fallen into a magical fairy forest with all the lights everywhere. It’s something I’m really glad I didn’t miss!

Ski Resort

Korea is famous for being an extremely mountainous country, and between that and the brutal winters, it makes for some really excellent skiing and snowboarding! There are many to choose from, but I personally went to YongPyong Ski resort through a tour company, and it made getting there and renting gear super easy! I had never snowboarded before, but they gave me a small lesson and the bunny slopes made it really easy to learn!

YongPyong has a few olympic hills that you should definitely try out if you get the chance, and regardless of you’ve ever done anything like that before, I think it’s definitely worth a shot while you’re in the country.

March

Weekend Trip

While the weather is still pretty cold in March, you’ll probably get a fake little spring where you get a really warm weekend! When I was here in March, we took advantage of that by going to Daegu for the first time, and it was awesome! It’s definitely important to get out of your comfort zone and go experience something a little different from the usual routine, so I say take as many weekend trips as you can while living in Korea! Whether you visit Pohang, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, or even Seoul for a weekend, the odds of you coming back to Korea after your study abroad or your teaching contract are probably slim so it’s important that you don’t let opportunities like this slip by.

Jjimjilbang

Another thing that’s perfect for the tail end of winter is going to a Jjimjilbang. a Jjimjilbang is a traditional Korean bathhouse, where there are loads of different saunas, pools, hot tubs, and areas for you to relax. The real kicker of these bathhouses is that you generally have to strip naked for them! Although it sounds intimidating, it’s just the way things are done so no one really looks twice.

If you happen to be in or near Busan, there is a massive Jjimjilbang in Centum City called Spaland, where they have at least ten different sauna rooms made of different materials, ranging from mosaic tile to pink Himalayan salt blocks. They have cold plunge pools and hot tubs, and you can even pay a little extra to get scrubbed head to toe. This activity is perfect for winter, as it’s super relaxing, it warms you up, and it adds in a little self care during the months that are a little bit extra hard on all of us.

April

Jinhae cherry blossom festival

Without a doubt, the greatest thing to do in South Korea, and maybe top item on the Ultimate Korea Bucket List, is to see the cherry blossoms come to life. There are so many different places you can do this, and there are incredible places to view the cherry blossoms, especially in major cities like Seoul and Busan, but if you’re committed to the cause, the 100%, hands-down, best place to see these gorgeous flowers is by attending the famous Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival.

I’ve never quite seen something like that in my life, and while it was very crowded, everyone was very respectful of everyone else’s photos and experiences, and there were so many iconic places to capture views of the cherry blossoms. If you can make it happen, as it is fairly out of the way, definitely do so; you won’t regret it.

May

Biseulsan Azalea festival in Daegu

Although I missed my chance to visit this festival, I’ve heard incredible things about it! Flowers in South Korea are absolutely no joke, and during the springtime, it seems as if every two weeks another gorgeous flower seems to overwhelm the entire country, and in May, azaleas blanket not only the countryside but also the cities. There are a few mountains just outside of Daegu that are completely covered in azalea shrubs, and for two weeks in the beginning of may, it turns the mountains completely purple.

Still kicking myself for missing this one, but it is truly an incredible sight to see if you get the chance!

Buddha’s birthday

Another absolute TREAT that happens in South Korea during the month of May is Buddha’s birthday. It is a national holiday and a nearly month long celebration, where cities hang up lanterns along major roads and Buddhist temples absolutely COVER the grounds with scaffolding that makes it seem as though you’re walking through tunnels that are made completely of colorful lanterns. Wherever you are in Korea, be sure to visit your local Buddhist temple to partake in the festivities, but if you happen to be in Seoul or Busan this month, some of the best temples to see are Beomosa, Samgwangsa, and Jogyesa.

June

Beoseong green tea fields

One of the greatest things I go to see in Korea, and definitely something that you should add to your ultimate Korea Bucket List, regardless of how far away it may be from you, is to see the Green Tea Plantation in Boseong. You can see these mountains covered in lush green tea bushes between the months of late May to August, although I recommend going in the first few weeks of June before the intense heat that is so characteristic of Korean summers rolls in. All the different shades of green were just absolutely LUSH, and as my favorite color is green, I was living my very best life.

Obviously, be sure to try not only the green tea itself, but also the green tea ice cream, and whatever you do, ~DON’T~ skip out on the green tea churros.

Temple Stay

Another thing you should be sure to tick off your list before leaving Korea is participating in a temple stay. You can do this at most Buddhist temples for a fairly inexpensive price, and I’ve heard it’s some of people’s absolute favorite things to do while in the country. Apparently it’s a really eye opening experience: getting to participate in rituals and Tai Chi and having tea with Buddhist Monks sounds like an unforgettable experience, and while I haven’t been able to experience it just yet, I’m hoping to squeeze it into the three months that I have left in South Korea – and if I do I will be sure to update you!

July and August

Beaches and Boats

If you aren’t already familiar with the climate in South Korea, the summers are SWELTERING. The humidity is very high, and some parts of the country get unusually hot. It’s difficult to do a lot of things outside, unless you’re at a beach – so that is just what you should do during the summer. It definitely helps if you’re living somewhere that you have access to a beach, but if not, be sure to make the most of your weekends by traveling to places that do! Take surf lessons, go paddle boarding, or my personal favorite – charter a boat! As long as you have a big group, chartering boats in a place like Busan is very simple, and it’s a fun, inexpensive way to elevate your summer experience.

This is also another great time to visit Jeju island! Crystal blue water, waterfalls, more green tea fields, and pristine beaches can be found all over the island of Jeju, and if you’re not traveling internationally for your summer vacation from work or school, Jeju is the perfect place to unwind and relax.

That concludes the Ultimate Korea Bucket List!

Of course, there are endless things to do in South Korea – especially if you’re really into hiking! I don’t have a lot of hikes on this list, because although I am very into hiking, I know a lot of people aren’t! And I haven’t found many friends that also enjoy hiking so that’s definitely put a damper on my exploration of the mountains here. Additionally, there are so many more smaller cities that have so many hidden gems that are just waiting to be discovered.

Whether you’re trying to decide what month to visit South Korea, or trying to figure how to maximize your time as an English teacher or a student living here for a year, hopefully this comprehensive bucket list helps organize your schedule and gives you ideas for how to explore this lovely country.

04Jan

Choosing Your Ideal Location: A Guide for Future ESL Teachers in Korea

So, you’ve made the decision to teach English in South Korea—congrats! Now comes the exciting part: choosing where you’ll call home during your adventure abroad. While most ESL teachers don’t get to pick their location, here at Kolaris, we want to make sure you have a say in where you end up. Let’s dive into the top locations and what each city has to offer!

My Personal Journey:
When I applied to teach English in Korea, I wasn’t exactly a seasoned traveler. In fact, I didn’t even have a passport! Coming from a small town in North Carolina, I felt overwhelmed by the idea of living in bustling Seoul. But then I stumbled upon vlogs about living in Busan, and when I found out the vlogger shared my birthday, I took it as a sign. Fast forward to today, and choosing Busan was one of the best decisions I ever made.

City Breakdown: Now, let’s talk logistics. Here’s a rundown of the benefits and quirks of each location we offer:

 

  1. Seoul: As the bustling capital of South Korea, Seoul offers a dynamic blend of modernity and tradition. From towering skyscrapers to ancient palaces, this vibrant metropolis has something for everyone. ESL teachers in Seoul can explore trendy neighborhoods, indulge in delicious street food, and immerse themselves in the city’s rich cultural heritage.
  2. Incheon: Located adjacent to Seoul, Incheon is a bustling port city known for its vibrant atmosphere and historical landmarks. ESL teachers in Incheon can enjoy scenic waterfront views, explore bustling markets, and take advantage of the city’s convenient transportation links, including its international airport.
  3. Gyeonggi: Surrounding Seoul, Gyeonggi offers a mix of urban and rural areas, making it a great choice for those seeking a balance between city life and countryside tranquility. Many ESL teachers find Gyeonggi to be an ideal location due to its proximity to the capital while still offering a more relaxed pace of life.
  4. Daejeon: Known as the science and technology hub of Korea, Daejeon boasts a vibrant cultural scene and easy access to hiking trails and natural parks. ESL teachers in Daejeon enjoy exploring its innovative museums and lively downtown area, all while being surrounded by picturesque green spaces.
  5. Gwangju: With its rich cultural heritage and vibrant arts scene, Gwangju offers a unique blend of traditional and modern attractions. Plus, its central location makes it a convenient base for exploring the southwest region of Korea. ESL teachers in Gwangju have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Korean history and art, all while enjoying the city’s bustling markets and lively festivals.
  6. Gangwon: Nestled in the scenic mountains of northeastern Korea, Gangwon province offers stunning natural beauty and outdoor recreational opportunities. ESL teachers in Gangwon can explore picturesque hiking trails, relax on pristine beaches, and experience traditional Korean culture in charming mountain villages.
  7. Sejong: As the administrative capital of South Korea, Sejong is a modern city known for its innovative urban planning and cultural attractions. ESL teachers in Sejong can explore futuristic architecture, visit world-class museums, and enjoy the city’s vibrant culinary scene.
  8. Ulsan: As the industrial powerhouse of Korea, Ulsan is a bustling city known for its thriving economy and modern amenities. ESL teachers in Ulsan can enjoy shopping in trendy boutiques, dining at gourmet restaurants, and exploring the city’s scenic waterfront.
  9. Busan: South Korea’s second-largest city, Busan is a coastal gem known for its stunning beaches, vibrant nightlife, and fresh seafood. ESL teachers in Busan can relax on sandy shores, hike scenic coastal trails, and explore bustling markets in this dynamic city by the sea.
  10. Geoje: Located off the southern coast of Korea, Geoje is a tranquil island known for its natural beauty and maritime heritage. ESL teachers in Geoje can unwind on secluded beaches, hike scenic coastal trails, and immerse themselves in the island’s laid-back atmosphere.
  11. Jeju: Often referred to as “Korea’s Hawaii,” Jeju Island is a breathtaking destination known for its volcanic landscapes, pristine beaches, and unique cultural attractions. ESL teachers in Jeju can explore lush forests, relax in natural hot springs, and discover the island’s rich history and folklore.
  12. Daegu: Located in the heart of South Korea, Daegu is a vibrant city known for its dynamic arts scene, bustling markets, and historic landmarks. ESL teachers in Daegu can explore ancient temples, shop in bustling markets, and experience the city’s lively nightlife.

No matter where you end up in South Korea, each city has its own unique charm and opportunities waiting to be discovered. Trust your instincts, do your research, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Happy exploring!

There you have it—a comprehensive guide to choosing your dream location in South Korea. Whether you’re drawn to the bustling streets of Seoul or the tranquil countryside of Gangwon, there’s a perfect place for every ESL teacher. 

14Oct

Best things to do in Seoul

Oh Seoul – South Korea’s biggest city, home to cute cafes, streets lined with K-pop merch, and endless things to do – I love you. Although I lived across the country from Seoul, it is so well connected to the rest of the country that it made frequent visits from my home in Busan a breeze. There are so many things to do in Seoul that it can seem overwhelming to plan a trip there, especially if it’s only for a few days. Thankfully, though Seoul is a sprawling city,  the metro/bus system is SO superior, and you can be all the way across the city in an hour or less. This makes fitting everything you want to do into a few days not as intimidating as you would expect, especially if you group all the things you want to do into blocs by proximity.

I’ve been to Seoul a few times, and here’s a list of what I believe to be the best things to do in Seoul – and some things that I have done that were ~fine~ but not my fav – But I’ll include pictures of even these so you can at least have everything in one place in case we have different tastes or ideas of fun! It’s a choose your own adventure kind of day over here at Emma’s Daydream.

Visit a Palace

Seoul has 5 palaces in total, but if you only have time for one, the best option is Gyeongbokgung Palace. The grounds are enormous, and its very centrally located smack in the northern middle part of the city. If you rent a Hanbok – a traditional Korean outfit worn on special occasions – your entry ticket is free! Plan on spending an hour and a half here to make sure that you hit everything!

Changdeokgung Palace is still on my list, but I’m waiting til the summer to visit until the secret gardens are in full bloom. If that sounds like something that would interest you, or you’re visiting in the Spring or summer, be sure to book a tour, as that’s the only way you can see these secret gardens.

Walk Around a Hanok Village

One of the best things to do in Seoul is to visit the Bukchon Hanok Village. When my friend and I got off the metro stop near the Hanok village, we looked at each other in confusion. Were we even still in the city? It was so quiet, the skyscrapers and packed buildings of the concrete jungle seemed to be so far in the distance. A Hanok is a traditional Korean house/style of architecture, and smack in the middle of Seoul is a beautiful neighborhood that has preserved all of the Hanoks that were there as the city originally started to take shape. It’s definitely a hike of a walk through the village, and we kept to the main street and looped around to the left. The views are gorgeous, but our favorite part of the whole experience was that we stopped to cool off and rest our feet at THIS tea house. We ordered the iced flower tea (INCREDIBLE) and a sweet red bean bingsu – but only because they were out of Mango Bingsu. Bingsu is a sort of milky shaved ice with different toppings, it’s so refreshing and such a classic thing to eat in South Korea. This tea house had a gorgeous garden in the center with picture windows panning out to views of the mountains. It was a secluded escape from the city, one that I would recommend a thousand times over.

The second time I went, we started our day by stopping at Onion cafe – a hanok style cafe that’s right by Bukchon Hanok village – before we started our tour of the village. After we had gotten our fill of sightseeing, we stopped by the Asian culture museum of art for a cup of hot tea and to enjoy their rooftop – a gorgeous vantage point from which you can see all the hanok roofs as well as some of the city in the distance.

A lot of people choose to rent Hanboks here as well – and if that sounds like something that interests you there are plenty of rentals at the start of the Hanok Village. Speaking of Hanboks….

Wear a Hanbok

You can’t go to Seoul and not wear a Hanbok – whether you choose to do this at Gyeongbokgung Palace or the Hanok village, its not a want, it’s a NEED. Renting a Hanbok is not only an incredible photo-op, but it’s so cheap. A lot of places even give foreigners discounts or do their hair for free because it is so special to them that we participate and appreciate their culture! I’ve had a few people ask me about cultural appropriation, but it’s not seen as anything even close to that here. It is encouraged with the discounted entrance fees, and it was an honor to wear. I wore a Hanbok over the Korean Thanksgiving holiday weekend, when everyone was out and about in their Hanboks too, and it was a really special experience.

They typically go anywhere from 10,000 won to 15,000 won for two hours – which when converted to USD is less than 15 dollars max. You get to choose your skirt as well as your top, your hairpieces, your bag, a locker for the rest of your things, everything! I got my hair done, chose a Hanbok in my favorite color, and had myself the best day ever.

Starfield Library – Coex Mall

There’s really no good reason to come here other than the crazy photo ops- most of the books are written in Korean, so unless that’s your jam, you’re probably out of luck. There are 50,000 books in this library/book store, and it’s unlike any Barnes and Noble I’ve ever been to. In true Korean fashion, the sheer magnitude of the bookshelves are mainly just for show and serve no practical purpose. Like….how do you even get to the books at the top??

I came by myself the first, and the amount of times I went up and down these escalators trying to get the perfect shot with my tripod and self timer is actually so laughable. I had a fun time though, and I’m such a book lover that I loved just wandering around, getting a starbucks coffee (they have a store inside the library) and just staring for a good 30 minutes. If you happen to be there during the winter, the Christmas decorations are insane and add to the overall magical atmosphere, but they also decorate for every season so don’t be disappointed if your trip falls over the summer.

It’s truly gorgeous!

While you’re at it, go shopping, the mall is really big and has lots of awesome options.

Visit a Themed Cafe

Cafe culture in Korea is absolutely insane. There are cafes on just about every street, selling their own unique spins on the classics, serving up signature drinks and handmade cakes, and drawing in locals and tourists alike by committing to a theme. There are themed cafes all over Korea, but Seoul is the best place to go to find a themes cafe, as it is definitely the epicenter of it all.

While in Seoul, you have quite a few to choose from! The Pink Pool Cafe, The Cave Cafe, the Poop Cafe, the 2D cafe, the Harry Potter cafe….. your options are quite literally endless! Pick your poison, take some crazy photos, and fuel up for the rest of your sightseeing.

 

Go Shopping in Myeongdong

Whether or not you’re in need of new clothes or not, I recommend you stay in the Myeongdong area during your time in Seoul. It is the most central out of all the locations, and all the other neighborhoods of Seoul are easily accessible by subway. Myeongdong is known for it’s shopping streets, and if you’re looking to try out K-beauty this is the place to be! I’ve only been to Seoul during the pandemic, so the vibes were way less crazy than normal, but I’ve heard that pre-COVID Myeongdong was absolutely the place to be, especially during the evening.

Also in Myeongdong is one of the iconic Stylenanda flagship stores, where its 7 stories of pure pink hotel themed goodness, clothes, and photo ops.

 

Ikseon-Dong

One of the best things to do in Seoul, and my personal favorite, is to spend half a day in Ikseon-Dong. It is also a hanok village, but instead of it being residential, it has been converted into one of the chicest shopping and dining centers that I’ve ever seen. The mix of the old, vintage Hanoks with the trendy restaurants and boutique Jewelry stores is an unmatched dynamic. We indulged in souffle pancakes and Shabu Shabu and it was honestly the highlight of my entire trip. I mean, just LOOK at these streets. When we first took a bite of our pancakes, my friend Victoria said, “I’m going up and making out with the woman who made these” if that tells you anything about our experience.

If you go, I recommend Flippers for the pancakes, Madang flower cafe or Cafe Highwaist for the aesthetics, Water Meal or Saladaeng Bankok for a gorgeous meal, and Ocheneonjip for an incredible Korean meal that will blow your mind.

 

Lotte World Tower

While one of the pricier things to do in Seoul at 27, 000 won a pop (25 ish dollars) the Lotte world tower is the highest point in Seoul, and definitely something that you need to see. Seoul is absolutely freaking ENORMOUS, and going up to the 120th floor withe the clear floors and floor to ceiling windows definitely puts it into perspective and lets you appreciate it even more. You’ll also get gorgeous views of the Han river, Namsan tower, and the mountains in the distance.

Theres a gift shop, a cafe, a bar and lounge on the 123rd floor, as well as countless photo ops and bean bag chairs so that you can just hang out. I went smack in the middle of the day, but I would definitely save your money and come at dusk, just when the city is starting to light up.

Or, instead of spending the money to go up in the tower, maybe you just want an epic view of it. After all, whats a view of Paris without the Eiffel Tower, you know what I’m saying? In that case, head over to Seoulism cafe, where the rooftop and its SEOUL sign take the cake for views of the lotte world tower. Grab a sangria, admire the stained glass-incense-burning-ornate-mirror vibe of the cafe, and then head up to the roof.

 

Flops

Like I said at the beginning of this article – In addition to listing the best things to do in Seoul, I’m also going to list the things that were cool to see but ultimately the flops that I wouldn’t recommend and that you should potentially eliminate from your itinerary.

First up – Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

 

While I got one singular cool photo, there wasn’t much to do. We tried finding different exhibits (we heard there was a really cool digital art one) but the inside of this building was the most unorganized chaos we’ve ever seen, and we didn’t even spend 30 seconds inside. We walked around, tried and failed to take cool pictures, were disappointed by the sad christmas lights installation, and left. If you stumble upon it – great! If you don’t – don’t go out of your way.

Second on my list is the Iwha Mural village in Itaewon. We hiked up a HILL to find this place, and it took us at least an hour to find even one mural. They were all mediocre at best, and while there was a good view of Seoul from this high up, I wouldn’t waste your breath.

Enjoy this picture of me looking very sad, cold, windblown, and unimpressed but feeling the need to at least take a picture because ya know – the blog lol

The Namdaemun market let me down, as did the Jogyesa Buddhist Temple (if you go during Buddhas birthday, however, it should be at the top of your list! without all the festivity, and thanks to the fact that the lanterns didn’t turn on until 7:30 at night, we left a little disappointed.)

 

I’ll probably make a few more trips back to Seoul during my time here, hopefully during the warmer months where I have more outside options available to me, but for now, these are some of the things I consider to be the best things to do in Seoul.

Seoul is amazing. The culture is so much fun to participate in, from the unique food options, to the cafe community, to the k-pop and the cute EVERYTHING, Korea truly is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been, and I hope you can come and visit too:)