Seoul versus Busan
A reader asked me to compare Seoul and Busan. Readers who plan to teach here want to know where to live in Korea. I asked the same question when I applied to teach in Busan. Now, that I am here, I have a better opinion.
Which is Better Busan or Seoul?
As of today, March 12, 2009 I have only been to Seoul twice, but I plan to spend more time there. Busan is the 2nd largest city. There are buildings everywhere, and most people live in apartments rather than houses, so there is a developed skyline. I believe this is true of even the smaller neighborhoods, however I have not been to all the areas in Busan. It’s a sprawling city. Yes. I would say that it is a big, busy city with a lot of people.
Busan and Black People
I have long locs and people freak out about that in Busan. They always want to touch my hair. I run into people, in this large city, who act as though they have never seen a black person before in person. I was told that in larger cities like Busan and Seoul, Koreans do not give foreigners a second look. That may be true of foreigners, but it was not true for me in Busan.
One of my Korean friends said that she had never met a black person before. She is 28. I was the second foreign teacher to teach in my school. Most Korean people do not speak English beyond hello in my school and community. The Korean people who speak a little English are usually younger, in their 20s or 30s, and they may have lived abroad or visited abroad. Although everyone studies English in school, I think that they only learn it for tests. Even if they can speak a little English or understand simple words, they will say that they don’t speak English well or they don’t speak English at all. Most Korean people will avoid talking to me because they are shy or afraid that they do not speak English perfectly. Perfection is a big deal here. My two co-teachers at my school speak broken English; they struggle with it. In my case, they have not invited me to hang out or anything. Every case is different, however, some co-teachers hang out with foreigners.
My Korean friends are people who approached me, and began talking to me. Usually my communication with Korean people is a struggle, and I have to my Korean dictionary and hand signals. Even when I pronounce Korean names of areas (besides Busan) they do not understand or I have to repeat it over and over again. Remember, we have an accent.
The first teacher at my school was a Korean-American. In class, I have had instances where the kids jump as though I scared them when I passed by. I really hate that!
I walked into a booth in one of the gigantic multi-level malls (Milligore) and the salesgirl was on the phone; she was startled and screamed (a short scream, like eek) when I walked in. She scared me!! I catch people staring at me on the street. It could be because of my hair or because of my hair and my complexion. I really don’t know. I think that if you are black, and do not have locs, people will stare at you in Busan. In fact, I believe that foreigners in general, are stared at to some extent. It’s really hard to know what people are thinking when you don’t speak their language, and they don’t speak your language.
Seoul and Blacks
In the short time that I spent in Seoul, no one tried to touch me or stared. There are also actual hair salons in Seoul that braid and weave black hair. Africans run the shops. There is a random person who does black hair in Busan, but most women travel to Daegu, which is an easy trip, an hour away by train. There’s an army base in Daegu.
There is also an army base near Seoul, so if you can meet someone from the base who can sign you in, you can shop and easily get American-made products. I think that person is responsible for you while you are on base, so I wouldn’t just choose a random person and ask. If you happen to be in a sorority or a fraternity, it’s easy to get a connection on base. I didn’t know this when I came here, but there is a fairly large community of folk from black fraternities and sororities from the different bases.
The Weather in Busan
The weather in Busan is a lot milder than Seoul, but it’s not warm in the winter. We have had days when it’s 20 degrees (F). I think that most days, it’s around 30 or 40. It’s a wet-cold, here. It feels like the air is wet. Some people say that it’s humid and cold. It only snowed here once this winter so far, and the snow stuck for a day. I am from Miami, and the winter is not warm like it is in Miami. In my humble opinion, I would say that the winters are similar to Georgia or South Carolina. Speaking of Miami, popular beaches are in Busan, so people from Seoul like to come down to go to the beach.
The Weather in Seoul
In Seoul, it snowed several days. They got what I would consider to be a lot of snow. I believe that they had feet of snow, and teachers still had to go to work. In the summer, it’s hot in both Busan and Seoul.
How Does it Feel to Live in Busan or Seoul?
I have heard that the atmosphere in Busan is different than that in Seoul, and people are more laid back. I’m not sure about that, really. I just haven’t spent that much time in Seoul, and I have not worked there. Maybe people mean that Seoul is like New York, and Busan is like Cali. I recall a friend telling me that people were friendlier in Busan than in Seoul. In Busan, I have had a couple of instances where random strangers would come up to me and try to talk to me. What your name? How long you been here? You English teacha? and my favorite. Where are you going?
There are plenty of black people in Busan. It’s easier to meet friends here if you come through the EPIK program, because you will meet people in orientation who are going to areas throughout Korea, including Busan. If you teach in a hagwon (private school) and meet one black person who has a Facebook page, you will probably get connected with other friends thorugh FB in Busan.
Socializing in Busan
Just like in the states, people are in their cliques in Korea. So, you may know 40 people or more in Busan, but hang out with five or 10 people regularly. Busan is spread out, but Seoul is even more. To get to your peeps in Busan,you may have to take a subway for 45 minutes depending on where you live and where they live. If you live farther out in Busan, you may have to take a bus and a subway. When I say farther out in Busan, I don’t mean out in the country. I mean that you may not be close to a subway line. Most people do and can walk to the subway.
Black People Teaching in Seoul
There are a lot more black people teaching in Seoul. So there are more social events planned by and for black people. Brothas and Sistas of South Korea is a huge Facebook group with mostly black people in and around Seoul. Check it out. In the Seoul area, I also noticed that there were more signs in English on buildings, and think that more people can understand English (and help you out) in Seoul. People also said that about Busan, that people speak English here, and that is not true.
Seoul or Busan
Weather was a big deal for me. I hate the cold. After spending the winter here, I think that experiencing culture shock and a frigid winter in one year is too much. I wouldn’t mind living in Seoul, only if I was near a military base. I like the laid back atmosphere of Busan, and I like that I am near the beach, Jeju Island, and Japan. I don’t like the idea of being near North Korea, either. Now that I have been to Seoul, I see the benefits of being there. Seoul is the it spot for socializing and having an American hook-up while abroad. Busan is for socializing with a smaller network, but also chillin’, going to the beach in the summer, and plenty of canceled classes. So, it’s your personal preference. I’m so glad that I came to Busan for my first year, but I wouldn’t mind spending more time in Seoul, too.
Oh, and it’s easier to catch the subway in Busan. I didn’t even get lost here, and people came up and helped me when I looked lost. They may touch my hair, but they are usually friendly! The Seoul subway map looks complicated, like spaghetti.