How to Enjoy Family Life in Korea
“I’m 4. I’m American,” my blond-haired, blue-eyed son will answer perfectly in Korean when people want to know more about him. We’re quick to explain to him that while he is technically “from” America (though, not really, he was born in Korea!), he and his sister Poppy, now 1, are citizens of the world.
My husband and I have been in Korea since 2007. Never would we have dreamed we would still be here when we first took a teaching job back then. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed I would birth and raise my children here. But here we are. Still eating kimchi. Still traveling in Korea and across Asia. And still loving our unique and interesting life as American expats in South Korea. People often ask me, what’s life like for your kids? Well. It’s pretty amazing. Despite the fact they are a minority living in a foreign country, they are treated like royalty (their blond hair and big blue eyes certainly don’t hurt matters).
Here are some ways that I’ve found it easy to enjoy family life in Korea.
For the love of children
From its restaurants to shops to hidden mountain temples and colorful markets, Korea wants to visit with your children. The it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child tenet reigns superior across the peninsula and your child will immediately be welcomed with open (and often outreached) arms. I can’t tell you how many times I looked at my young son and thought, ‘he’s going to get in trouble for that’ and then someone comes by with a smile, wink, or tussle of his hair. Our children are constantly getting free items, from fresh oranges at the market, to free drinks at the local diner, to even $10 in cash once from an elderly gentleman with a kind-hearted smile on the subway.
For the amazing invention of kid cafes
They’re ingenious. Large indoor playgrounds that double as coffee shops for mom or dad. And they’re found in every neighborhood and large supermarket in Korea. My mommy friends and I love to meet at our local kids play cafe and let the kids loose. They play their little hearts out. We sip our Americanos and chat our little tongues off. The kids get a break from the moms. The moms get a break from their kids. Win-win.
For the great outdoors, especially outside of the cities
Korea is famous for its modern cities. They’re large, sprawling, and ubiquitously concrete. But outside these cities lies one outdoor paradise after another. From sprawling, rocky mountain ranges to untouched beaches, marshes, and miles and miles of dedicated bike paths. With so many places to explore, we are frequent campers, hikers, and bike travelers in Korea. We spend our summers at the beach (they’re never far from you when you live on a peninsula), fall in the mountains and along the bike paths, and spring in forest near our home, where the cherry blossoms bloom in romantic hidden lanes.
For the family-friendly tradition of bath houses
Soak. Scrub. Submerge. And then sit in your underwear and drink some juice. That’s what my husband and son usually do about once a month at our neighborhood bathhouse. They’ll go on a Sunday afternoon, when there are other families there too, and they’ll enjoy the hot and cool pools together as father and son. Read my husband’s blog about this tradition here. This is simply a tradition you just won’t find back home. And it’s a special time. My daughter is only 1 now. But in another year, I’ll start doing the same with her. And I can’t wait.
For the respect of early education
My son has been going to Korean “school” since he was two. When he first started, it was basically a day care program known in Korean as “oh-rin-e-chip” (어린이집). He is now four, and is near fluent in Korean, and attends a Korean kindergarten program and after-school taekwondo program. He loves his school, his teachers, his friends, the Korean language, and what he sees as just regular ol’ life in Korea.
For a day made for children
Yes, in Korea, there is even a day made especially for kids, known as “Children’s Day.” It’s a national holiday that comes every May, and the Korean government stresses the importance of stopping for the day and spending time with your kids. Take them to a park, read to them, play with them. Just be with them.
While we teach our children that they are citizens of the world, they definitely think of Korea as home. And, I have to say, it’s a terribly lovely place to spread a welcome mat for this American expat family.
What do you think? Would you like to live in Korea and raise your kids? Share your thoughts below.