The 5 Things That Surprised Me Most About Life In Korea

November 16, 2019 6 Comments

I’ve been living in Korea for a bit more than a year now and I’m kinda sorta getting used to it now.

Before the big move overseas I asked my husband millions of questions and spent hours online researching about the culture and daily life in Korea.

Thanks to the internet mostly I was pretty darn prepared for life in Korea. Like I wasn’t surprised when I came face to face with a squat toilet while having morning sickness, or that showers are sometimes just handheld things connected to the sink. But some things really caught me off gaurd. Can you guess what they are?

5. Spam Gift Sets

As the summer ends and the Korean Thanksgiving holiday approaches, the stores fill with displays of lavish gift boxes containing multiple cans of Spam. And then it happens again for the Lunar New Year.

Ok, so I knew that lots of Koreans liked and ate Spam, including my husband, but I definitely was not expecting it to be the go-to gift for the holidays! This was one of the first things that really suprised me after moving to Korea.

If you want to see a picture of a Spam gift box check out this article, “Why is Spam a Luxury Food in South Korea?”.


I spent an absurd amount of time on Instagram studying the typical* Korean home. They all pretty much shared similar layouts and styles and oddly they all seemed to have this fancy looking speaker set up in their loving room.

You guys, that’s not some kind of weird sound system, it’s the air conditioner! Or Air Con as it’s called in Korean. No wonder so many people had one in their house! Certainly not the first or last dumb assumption I’ll make while living here.

* Note: The Korean Apartments on Instgram are hardly typical more like fancy-pants rich people apartments.

3. Air pollution

Of all the surprising things on my list, this is the one that most directly impacts my quality of life here. I knew about yellow dust season before the move. A few weeks in the spring where the air is really bad due to wind bringing desert dust from China. I didn’t look into it more than that.

The reality is the air quality is bad some days all year round, like today for example. I don’t check the weather very often but I check the air quality multiple times a day. Is it ok to take the babies out? Can I open the window? We leave our air purifier on all the time now. Rowan’s finally getting to a point where he will leave a mask on if we go out, but Mason is still too little.

Not every day is bad bad, but I count yellow days as good now, because there are far too few green days.

One of the worst surprises ever! If you are lucky enough to live somewehere with good air quality,  don’t take it for granted. ♡

2. Law Breaking

Now, it’s not like people here are running around murdering and stealing and doing drugs. But there are certain laws that appear to be made to be broken.

Abortions are a regular occurence (they will be legal as of next year). People will park their car wherever they want and even pull over to the side of the road turn on their hazards and run into the store. Food delivery drivers ride their scooters on the sidewalks. People smoke everywhere, often right in front of the no smoking sign.

I was truly surprised by this when I first arrived but now I have a theory. In my decidedly un-expert opinion I think what happens is that in a culture where conformity is super important when enough people start breaking the rules you just have to go along with it and accept it or you risk standing out from the crowd.

The #1 thing that surprised me after moving into Korea is aually kind of related to law breaking. It was so shocking to me though, that it deserves it’s own spot.

1. Car seats

By car seats, I really mean the lack of car seats. Korea has laws dictating that children need to be properly restrained in car seats but hardly anyone actually follows it.

I’m not joking or exaggerating when I say that moms will drive with their baby strapped to their chest in a carrier. Or sometimes there is a car seat in the car but it’s in the front seat and the child isn’t buckled in. It’s still normal here for moms to hold their babies in the car ride home from the hospital after giving birth.

Obviously, as an American, car seat safety has been drilled into my head as being of upmost importance, so I just cannot understand this at all. This study says that the rate of use of car seats in Korea is something like 40% (or less) compared to 90% in the US.

What do you think would surprise people about where you live?


  • Beth November 21, 2019 at 12:06 PM

    My sister really wants to go to Korea, so I’ll share this with her. I had no idea that the air quality was so bad there or that people don’t use car seats like they do in the US.

    • Ashley November 23, 2019 at 9:23 PM

      September might be a good time to visit, the air was pretty good for most of ut. And the worst of the heat and humidity is gone.

      I was totally schocked by the car seat thing too! Luckily, there’s at least one taxi service that always has a car seat available in the trunk!

  • Karen November 21, 2019 at 12:17 PM

    I visited S. Korea a couple of years ago and I was really suprised by the air pollution! The cities were beautiful that we visited and the people were friendly.

    • Ashley November 23, 2019 at 9:25 PM

      It’s not something I’ve seen mentioned on any travel guides either!

      For the most part I really do like living here ♡

  • Linu November 21, 2019 at 5:21 PM

    Oh wow. The air purifier is definitely a surprise. It does not look that is a regular thing you check for while watching Korean dramas!

    • Ashley November 23, 2019 at 9:26 PM

      You’re right, I don’t think I’ve seen it in dramas!

      What are your favorite dramas? I haven’t watched very many yet.

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