A change of Korea
Are you a Kiwi living overseas? How does it compare to New Zealand? Brendan Porter has found a family-friendly city in South Korea.
My family and I embarked on a working adventure to Korea. I was a secondary school teacher in Dunedin and wanted to experience another culture and teaching curriculum with my young family. Our youngest was 10 weeks old when we left - I know, crazy! Our eldest was nearly 4.
We wanted to get on to the international teaching circuit and were initially looking at South East Asia (Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia) but as our family was young, and we were unsure of how we would cope with a developing nation, we decided to look further in Asia. When a job vacancy opened up in Suwon, South Korea, we thought why not?
South Korea is such a family-friendly, community-minded country.
We arrived at the end of summer, and were amazed at the numbers of families with young children around at 10pm. It was still hot, but pleasant enough to meet your neighbours in the communal play area between apartment complexes.
Person-on-person crime here is very low and we feel safe walking around at night.
Korean students are some of the most studious that I've met. They spend hours at night studying, which inevitably means they are quite sleepy the next day in class. Korean 'helicopter' mums take the main responsibility for their children and their education. You know an issue is serious, when Dad gets involved!
Koreans have a Confucian saying, "the route to prosperity is through education" so they are happy to pay money (and lots of it) to educate their children.
Recently it was mandated that students under 10 years of age are not allowed to be at private tutorial academies (hogwan - in Korean) after 10pm. These academies are huge businesses in Korea. So the main goal of Korean parents is to get their child to an American University - which is a little narrow-minded for us coming from the Commonwealth but it suits their purpose.
Many of my friends have asked me to buy them the latest and greatest Samsung smart phone, sadly, they are unbelievably expensive, as are Kia and Hyundai cars. Local brands like LG, Samsung, Kia, Hyundai are set to international prices and there's enough demand to keep the price high too.
In terms of shopping, we find we can get most brands or a suitable alternative to what we were used to from home in New Zealand, it's just a little more expensive.
We get a cooked lunch provided at school so our dinner doesn't have to be the main meal of the day, however, we're still spending about $200-250 a week on groceries.
Clothes are cheaper than in New Zealand and there's so much more variety - only that it's in Korean sizing mostly and sometimes we just don't fit into their small shape.
I have eaten more pizza and doughnuts here than in my whole life in New Zealand. Coffee shops and pizza parlours are everywhere. One friend counted 20 pizza places within a 10 minutes walk from his apartment complex. Mind you, in his complex there are close to 1300 apartments (16 buildings, 20 floors high, four apartments on each floor) and around him are a number of other similar-sized apartments.
The construction industry is huge here and it is a major contributor to the economy. Some say, once Korea is developed, what next? Well, they'll probably start again, knocking down apartments over 40 years old and building newer ones. I'm sure they can find new roads and subways to build too.
We've been able to travel a fair bit of the country and have enjoyed its four distinct seasons. Autumn and spring are the seasons when people get out an enjoy the outdoors. Winter and summer have extreme temperatures.
When we do go out and about, we are constantly bombarded with Korean paparazzi, well, Korean girls, with their smartphones taking pictures of our blonde, blue-eyed daughter and moppy-haired, big-eyed boys. Many-a-time will a Korean ajuma (married older lady) wipe our boy's noses when dripping and also make a fuss when our boys have bare feet outside, especially when they perceive that it is cold.
We were in South Korea last year during the rhetoric from the North's leader about "burning Seoul to the ground". While we were a little concerned, those around us knew this was the norm.