Seoul's Gyeongbok Palace

Despite being one of the world’s economic leaders, and a culturally rich society, Korea doesn’t get a ton of attention when it comes to international tourism.  If you ask the majority of Americans where they want to go in Asia, you’d expect to hear Thailand, Japan or China, but South Korea doesn’t make the cut.  So allow me to present to you ten reasons why you should plan a visit to “The Land of the Morning Calm.”

10. Proximity. Korea is about a hundred miles away from Japan, and is just a ferry ride away from several major Chinese cities, making it a great launching point for a trip around Asia.  Despite it’s considerable distance from Southeast Asia, discount airlines like AirAsia make it both easy and affordable to travel around the continent.  A round trip ticket from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur will run you around $400 including taxes and airport fees.   Booyah, baby.

9. Bowing. While this is rarely listed as the highlight from someone’s experience in Asia, it is one of my favorite parts of Korean culture.  Aside from the fact that it makes me feel like Jesus, the act of lowering yourself when you greet someone is really humbling and symbolic, and I vote that it gets brought over to the Western World.  In Korea, you don’t need to bust out a full bend-at-the-waist bow (a simple head bob will do) making it easy to dish out some respect on the go.

8. This song. SHINee’s Lucifer is a staple in the Korean musical diet, and three notes from this song are enough to reduce my middle school girls to sobs of desire.  K-pop (Korean pop music) features artists like SHINee, Outsider, 2AM, T.O.P., BIG BANG, and 2NE1, who are all worth checking out if you’re looking to broaden your collection of guilty pleasure pop songs.

7.  Traditional architecture. I can spend hours taking pictures of Korea’s palaces and temples and never tire of their beauty.  Traditional Korean architecture is quite ornate and striking, but you don’t have to be the next Gaudi to appreciate it.  Like most things in Korea, it simply shows attention to detail and great pride in appearance.

6. Diversity. Are you looking to get lost in a mountainous landscape?  The capital is surrounded by mountains of varying difficulty and the East coast of Korea has some gorgeous national parks.  Do you prefer crowded cities to a tame countryside?  Seoul, Busan, Incheon, and Daegu all have millions of people waiting to steal your seat on the subway.  Would you rather spend your vacation kicking it back on a tropical island?  Located south of the peninsula, Jeju Island is known as  the “Hawaii of Korea.”  For such a small country, Korea boasts a lot of different attractions which can appeal to just about anyone.

5. The cost of living. Is the dollar getting you down?  Do the Euro and pound rates make you cringe?  Korea has all of the  comforts of a well developed country while still being reasonably cheap to visit.  A ride on Seoul’s ridiculously well developed subway system will only set you back 900₩, which is around $0.80.  A pint of Korea’s local beer, Cass, is around $2.68 and a medium pizza is $4.46.  We all know I’m a penny-pincher, but it doesn’t take a cheapskate to appreciate a half hour taxi ride costing 15 bucks.

4. English. Korea has tried really hard to make its cities accessible to foreign guests and it really shows.  All of Seoul’s subway signs are written in Korean, English and Chinese to help international tourists who aren’t comfortable with Hangul (the Korean alphabet).  When your subway train is pulling into a station where you can transfer lines, a little jingle comes on the speakers, and the station walls are painted with the colors of the transfer lines.   Once outside the station, all exits are marked with nearby attractions and maps, making it easy to explore every last corner of Seoul.  Now that’s some impressive city planning.

3. 48 million people can’t be wrong! Around 60% of the world lives in Asia, and after visiting the continent, you will be one step closer to understanding over half of the people we share the world with.  South Korea alone has over 48 million citizens, and getting to see their culture and mentalities first hand will help bridge cultural gaps and improve international communication.  As Albert Einstein once said, “Peace cannot be kept by force.  It can only be achieved by understanding.”  Being a beacon of world peace = good.

2. The Korean community. Wow, these people really look out for one another.  Whether it’s old women waking me up when I’ve reached my stop on the subway, or strangers helping you carry heavy bags, Koreans have got your back.  Last month, I walked out of the subway straight into a monsoon, completely unprepared for the sudden change in weather.  Fortunately, an old man hurried over to me and gave me his own umbrella to use so I wouldn’t get soaked.  I don’t think anyone would help out a stranger like that at home.  As a whole, Koreans are really thoughtful, and almost always think of others before themselves.

Which brings me to my next point, and most compelling reason why you should come to Korea…

1. Sharing. Working in Korea is akin to being back in kindergarten, where sharing is caring and it can be fun.  Nearly every day since my arrival in Seoul, I’ve found a small present on my desk from a colleague or a student who is sharing what they have with the group.  This can be anything from tangerines, to walnuts, to chocolates, to the paper flowers that students were making in the class before mine.  The culture here really encourages people to look out for one another, and to put the needs of the group before personal gain.  As a result, Koreans are really considerate and sensitive to the needs of others, which makes for a pleasant stay when you’re far from home.