Five Surprising Things I Learned in Korea

I taught English in Korea for about six years way back when I was in my twenties. I was so adventurous then. Somehow I managed to curb my anxiety enough to be able to fly halfway around the world alone to do a job that requires me to stand up in front of people and talk. That’s nearly unbelievable to me now.

I learned a pile of interesting things while I was in Korea. Unfortunately how to speak fluent Korean wasn’t one of them. I had to settle for speaking pretty good broken Korean.

Anyway, living in a foreign country for a few years can teach you a lot. Here are the five most surprising things I learned while living in Korea.


1. Sometimes Spam tastes good. There are a couple of Korea dishes that involve Spam. They harken back to the days of the war. There were a few occasions that I found myself in a restaurant saying a phrase that I would’ve never thought of saying before, “Could you pass me more spam please?” or “That Spam sure is good.” or “They didn’t put enough Spam in my soup. I’m complaining.”

2. Canadians really do exist. I’d heard of these magical beings called Canadians before and how they pronounce words like about and refer to Kraft dinner, but I’d always thought they were the thing of fairy tales, like elves. Then I went to Korea and a majority of the English teachers were Canadian. When they like you they like to say things like, “You seem more like a Canadian than an American to me.”

3. I can sleep on the subway. In my bed, I struggle to get a good night’s sleep, but once I find a seat on a crowded subway I’m out like a light. There’s something about the gentle rocking of a subway car that lolls you to sleep. I’ve even seen people sleep while standing up on subways in Seoul.

4. Drinks named after bodily fluids are delicious. Who ever thought that I would seek out the peachy sweetness of Coolpis or reach for a can of Pocari Sweat after a workout?

5. Kimchi makes everything better. I’d used kimchi to play a particularly cruel trick on someone in college once. I won’t go into that because I have my angelic reputation to uphold, but when it came to eating the fermented cabbage I was lukewarm. It was good sure, but it certainly wasn’t a necessity. Then I went to Korea and started to expect kimchi with every meal. I got to the point where a meal wasn’t complete without it. It’s so versatile. You can have kimchi soup, kimchi fried rice, and no hamburger is complete without a little kimchi on top.