Coming to Korea: Nine myths debunked or confirmed

It’s sometimes hard to tell truth from myth when looking at a job (and country) from across an ocean. If your research / due diligence has brought any of these doubts to mind, it’s time to debunk them.

Myth #1: you have to be super skinny to find Korean clothing that’ll fit you.

PARTIALLY FALSE. While it’s true there are ‘slim fit’ shirts, there are also quite a few outfits designed to be baggy. They seem to hang off the smaller-framed women, which is a look I personally don’t get. In any case, some larger sizes are getting easier to find, while some people will find it easier to shop online and have their stuff shipped to Korea.

Myth #2: being vegetarian / vegan means cooking, starving, or compromising.

PARTIALLY FALSE. I’d love to say vegetarians have it easy here, but vegetarianism is in the early-middle days. Even kimchi may have salted shrimp or anchovies in it. There are a few options out there, but you’ll likely find it easier to cook for yourself and frequent the nearby restaurants. Alien’s Day Out is one of the best resources for vegetarians in Korea.

Myth #3: I won’t be able to eat the food / the food is too spicy.

PARTIALLY FALSE. Not everything in Korea is spicy – in fact, I dare say spicy stuff doesn’t even comprise a majority of menu items. Some stuff definitely is – 닭도리탕 (dak do-ri-tang, or braised chicken) is marinated in soy sauce and hot peppers along with the usual gochujang (red pepper paste). 닭갈비 (dak gal-bi, or stir-fried chicken) is still spicy, but it’s something most people can handle. Remember that Korean restaurants offer up plenty of side dishes, including a helping of rice that’ll balance out anything spicy.

Even if you can’t eat spicy foods, the choices are plentiful. You won’t need much help finding things like 비빔밥 (bi-bim-bap, or mixed rice / veggies), 된장찌개 (doen-jang-jji-gae, or soybean paste / tofu stew), or 치킨 (chi-kin, or chicken) of all kinds. Let’s not forget about the Western restaurants, either.

Myth #4: Koreans will think I’m fat.

POSSIBLY TRUE, but don’t let that faze you. People that Westerners might perceive as anorexic may still be told by parents and friends that they ought to diet. See the excellent Eat Your Kimchi duo for their take on the subject.

Myth #5: Imported stuff is hard to find and expensive.

PARTIALLY TRUE, but it depends on the product. By the time it begins getting spotted in E-mart and Homeplus there’s only so much that can (or will) be knocked off the price. Recall that Korea has quite a few imported brands there, then head to Dongdaemun, Namdaemun, and the other import markets as you like. Finding clothing to fit has gotten a bit easier of recent, especially at E-mart. Keep your eyes open, ask your friends, and stock up when you find it.

The very last item I had been unable to find in Korea – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – were recently found. I heard of a store in Seoul with a steady supply of them. Head to Saruga shopping mall – 서울특별시 서대문구 연희동 131-1, nearest to Hongik University station, or take bus 567, 110B, 153, 7017 or 7612.

Myth #6: Koreans don’t date foreigners.

FALSE. Dating isn’t usually a problem, although language difficulties and cultural differences can make a long-term relationship more work. If you accept the parents role in their child’s relationship, you will find some open minds. There are quite a few foreigners married to Koreans – Roboseyo and Zen Kimchi are the first two that comes to mind, though there are others.

Myth #7: it’s hard to make Korean friends.

FALSE, BUT… You won’t make them in the same way you make waygook friends. Busan Haps advice columnist ?? Suggests meeting them at foreigner-friendly bars. That’s pretty good advice, but don’t limit yourself to them. In addition, go play sports, read books, dance, or whatever it else you enjoy doing. The key is to be enthusiastic, patient, and (of course) friendly. Exchange phone numbers, accept language difficulties, and use the opportunity to better understand where they come from.

Myth #8: Fan death.

OH BOY. Brace yourself, folks. The number of times I heard fan death talked about by a Korean living in Korea, in the past two summers (2010 and 2011)?


It’s mentioned in the blogosphere and on the news sources sometimes, and occasionally comes up in conversations at bars. The writers or speakers in question, however, are invariably foreign. I’ve come to embrace the fact that a small minority of people are concerned about having a fan on in a windowless room. I’ve also come to embrace the fact that Americans voted Bush the Second into office, and that a fair amount of people believe in ghosts. Some people also think the Matrix is real, that the government has mind-control techniques, or that their cousin is kinda cute. I won’t debate what a minority of people believe, and suffice it to say it’s merely a minority that find themselves genuinely concerned about the matter.

Myth #9: you can only teach English in Korea.

FALSE. Plenty of jobs exist in the country for people with the experience and ability to do them. Some are marketed on English-language websites, while others might require putting together a Korean-language resume or networking with a different sort of crowd. Qualifying for these jobs requires experience, some skill in the Korean language, and a potential willingness to take a cut in compensation. If your only real job experience is an English teacher in Korea, said other jobs will be a bit more difficult to get.

There’s also the side gigs – anything from playing in a band to teaching private lessons to performing in a theater to taking (or offering) dance lessons. Teaching English is still the day job, but for some it’s clear where their passions lie.

If there’s an overarching theme to these myths, it’s that the country or the people are somehow preventing you from doing something you want to do. This is a good sign to start thinking proactively, rather than knocking back another Jack-and-Coke at the bar and whining about your job.


Readers, what myths about life in Korea or coming to Korea have you heard?