I'm at a coffee shop right now and pretty bored, so I thought it'd be nice to post an update about my recent trip to Korea.
A little backstory:
Ever since high school when I moved to California, Korea was the country I wanted to go to teach English. I studied Korean on my own from the Internet and did two formal semesters at the University of Florida. During high school, I had many Korean friends and often ate at Korean restaurants with them and spent time with their families.
Before leaving for Asia, I decided to come to Vietnam over Korea for reasons I've yet to really figure out. Perhaps I had spent so much time mentally preparing for Korea that I knew it'd be impossible to meet my expectations, whatever those were. Or maybe part of it was the many Korean golfers I met on the course in Florida who kind of rubbed me the wrong way -- didn't really make an effort to be friendly or make an honest attempt to understand American culture, which I thought was kind of close-minded because I was making an honest attempt to understand their culture. Whatever the reason(s), I'm in Vietnam now. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to spend a great week in Korea with Dman and his father. I had a fantastic time and the country left quite a profound impression on me.
The following is only my impression and I know many people have had different experiences. My roommate here in Vietnam, Mark, loves Korea and can't wait to go back. He's not very fond of Vietnam or Ho Chi Minh City and will be peacing out as soon as possible. He did meet his future wife in Vietnam, so wasn't all for naught.
I found Korea to be quite an unhappy place. The poverty was much more significant than I imagined, and the lifeless, endless apartment blocks were rather depressing. People crammed into the subway cars after a long, hard day at work, and immediately fell asleep. Occasionally, I'd see a Korean man or woman using the complete stranger next to them as a pillow. Smiles were rare and eye contact was ever rarer. It was a big contrast from Vietnam, where the people pride themselves on being exceptionally friendly. The women in Korea were stunningly beautiful, but I never got the vibe that any were even remotely interested in me. Again, another big contrast from Vietnam. Probably didn't help that I looked like an American soldier with my short hair and Florida Gators sweatshirt. The Korean peninsula, both north and south, doesn't really like the American presence too much.
I found Korea to be much more "foreign" than Vietnam. The food was stranger (but delicious), less people spoke English, the culture was much more rigid, and generally, I felt like an outsider moreso than in Vietnam.
Despite that, I had a great time and would love the opportunity to go back. I loved the "foreign" aspect of it because it was truly a different experience. At times, I felt like I was in a different world.
Obviously, it's difficult to obtain a thorough impression of a country after only one week. Mark swears that the place is incredible once you give it some time and make some friends.