In 2013, I moved from Portland, Oregon, to Daegu, South Korea, to teach English. I intended to stay for one year, but I'm still living here nearly a decade later.
I'll always have roots in the US, but Daegu has become my home away from home. Not only have I gotten used to the way of life here, but also I've come to prefer certain aspects of it.
1. Taxes are included in South Korean prices, so I'm never surprised
Most price tags in the US don't account for sales tax. I hated that the number attached to an item wasn't an accurate indication of how much I owed at checkout.
When I moved to South Korea, one of the first things I noticed was that value-added tax, which is typically about 10% of the total price, is already included. So, there are no surprises when you get to the cash register.
If you look at a receipt, you'll find that the cost of the good or service you purchased is listed separately from the VAT, making the transaction very transparent for customers.
2. Tips aren't compulsory here, so I don't have to spend time factoring them into my bills
Tipping can be considered rude and insulting in South Korean culture. Some service providers interpret the extra payment as customers' belief that workers' wages aren't sufficient enough to provide for themselves and their families.
There's a large US military presence in South Korea, and many Americans have brought their tipping habits with them overseas. As a result, I've watched the gesture become more acceptable and commonplace, however, it's not compulsory like it is in the US.
I always go out of my way to thank waiters, drivers, hairstylists, and barbers for excellent service, but I don't miss factoring in tips.
3. In South Korea, restaurant servers never interrupt my table's conversations
When I used to dine out in the US, I got annoyed by servers who interrupted my table's conversations at inopportune times, or worse, didn't check on us at all.
Here, waiters at sit-down restaurants don't drop by your table to check that everything is in order. Instead, each table has an electronic bell that patrons can ring to get servers' attention.
If the restaurant doesn't have a bell system, patrons shout "chogiyo," the Korean word for "excuse me," to the nearest staff member.
At first, this custom felt awkward and rude. But after I got used to it, I came to prefer it to the system in the US.
4. Instead of relying on a car, I make the most of the public transportation system
Many residents in major American cities use public transportation every day. However, I grew up in the suburbs before moving to Denver and Portland, so I relied on a car the entire time I lived in the US.
When I moved to South Korea, I was delighted to find an extensive and well-maintained public transit network. Because I've had such a positive experience getting around on the high-speed KTX train, subway lines, and regional buses, I don't miss driving at all.
Plus, these modes of transportation are very affordable. A one-way ticket to travel three hours on the KTX from Seoul to Busan costs about $45. A plane ticket for the same route would cost at least double the price. Flying would also take just as much time, if not more.
5. South Korea's universal healthcare system has saved me time and money
South Korea has universal health coverage. The wait time at pharmacies and doctor's offices is usually short, and my appointments typically cost less than $10. A hospital visit racks up a heftier bill, but it's still affordable compared to what I used to pay for similar services in the US.
My favorite thing about the healthcare system here is that I can get replacement contact lenses without vision insurance or a special prescription. I can walk into a shop that sells contacts, show them the empty box from my last set, and leave with a fresh supply. And they cost less than they do in the states.
To get a contact prescription in the US, I had to visit an optometrist annually for an eye exam. The checkups were good for my overall health, but the frequency of the appointments felt excessive.
Through my vision insurance, I'd be able to get a six-month supply of contact lenses. If I ran out early, I sometimes wore my contact lenses longer than recommended to avoid paying for new, expensive ones out of pocket.
I really prefer the healthcare system in South Korea.
6. I feel safer here than I ever thought I could
South Korea has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and I feel much safer here than I did in the US. Even though I'm always aware of my surroundings (after all, no city is completely danger-free), I'm much more trusting and comfortable here than I expected to be.
I often leave my laptop, purse, and wallet unattended when I'm in a café bathroom. No one has ever taken any of them. If I left my belongings there for long enough, I feel confident that someone would turn them in to the lost and found.
I also never worry about being out alone at night and often go for runs after 10 p.m. wearing headphones. It helps that there are CCTV security cameras everywhere, but I would still feel safe even if there weren't.
7. The election seasons are shorter and feel less tense in South Korea
South Korea's national and local election cycles are over in what feels like the blink of an eye.
Presidential candidates have a small window of no more than 23 days to campaign. That's a big change from the US, a country without laws limiting campaign length. Some campaigns span multiple years.
Because South Korean campaigns last less than a month, it feels like there's less drama and build-up surrounding election day.
The campaign tactics are also fairly tame here compared to efforts in the US. For example, in South Korea, I've seen candidates ride around in the bed of a truck blasting their campaign theme song.
8. I expected to miss having a dryer in my home, but hang-drying has saved my wardrobe
Having an in-unit dryer isn't as common in South Korea as it is in the US. The machines are more expensive and not nearly as efficient here.
When I first moved to Daegu, I was nervous to hang-dry my socks, towels, and bedsheets. But I've been astounded to find that all of my clothes have held up longer as a result of the more gentle drying method.
Even though a laundromat opened down the street a few years ago, I continue to hang-dry my clothes and am convinced it's the best way to care for them. I do, however, lug my bedsheets and towels to the laundromat.