If you want to trek through the country, make a little money, taste the local culture, and go to the next exciting destination, THIS GUIDE IS NOT FOR YOU.
Some of us are looking to settle in, put some roots down, and revel in the profound satisfaction of maturity. Some of us don’t feel that need to nest but know it’s getting to that time to own and/or build something. Some of us woke up after a bender with a headache, a wedding ring, and two angry in-laws.
In any case, there are plenty of obvious reasons to want to stay somewhere. South Korea, specifically the fast-paced Capital City of Seoul, may not seem to be the obvious choice to raise a family on the surface. However, there are some understated reasons to lay the foundations for the next generation here in Korea.
When I lived in China, I was robbed 6 times. It was common knowledge that if you didn’t lock your doors, you were going to get robbed. I usually locked my doors. One night, I fell asleep and left my door unlocked, the next morning my laptop and phone were gone. At a different place, on one of the upper floors of a tall building, one night I left my door unlocked. The next morning, my laptop was gone, and the cash was removed from my wallet FROM MY BEDROOM. Here In Korea, I’m amazed that people leave bags, phones, and even children unattended for long stretches. I’ll see a dog trotting freely for like a minute before seeing an owner slowly sidle next to it. There’s a place in Seoul where you can access a FREE video studio. In the US, that place would be trashed or stripped down after a week. In Korea, that studio has been in operation for years and it’s been renovated twice, and all the very expensive, original equipment is still there. How awesome is that?
They say the night is dark and full of terrors. A lot of times, it’s true. A lone woman may not feel safe walking at night in some big cities. A group of women may not feel safe walking at night in some big cities. A group of huge men may not feel safe walking at night in some big cities. I was walking home really late on a balmy summer night here in Korea. To my surprise, I heard some voices nearby. There was soft laughter. On a bench under a streetlight, a pair of old ladies were just chatting it up. They were in no hurry to leave. They didn’t seem to have any awareness of how late it was. The vibe I got was that this was something they probably did all the time. I remember thinking at the time that I could not recall another place I’ve ever lived where this could be a thing. These days, I take my 2-year-old on walks at 8 pm in Seoul without a second thought. Am I being negligent? Perhaps, but it speaks to a level of safety you cannot find in many developed countries.
If you want high-quality care at bargain-basement prices, come to Korea. No question. Coming from the US, it took me a year to stop picking up my jaw from the floor at the prices quoted by doctors and dentists. “What? I have that much just sitting in my wallet!” In the US, I was used to thinking of credit card limits, payment plans, installments, then I just stopped going to the dentist. The average doctor in Korea will see at least 5x as many patients in a day than their US counterparts. You benefit from their suffering! They get a lot of reps. They are experts in their respective fields. And under National Health Insurance, you get that world-class care for a fraction of a fraction of the cost. Just make sure to book your appointment for the afternoon… some of the doctors have to shake hangovers.
Go on your favorite map app, zoom in on an area near apartments, and you will find a scattering of public playgrounds. Most of these playgrounds have assortments of slides, swings, and other obstacles. Each one usually has its own flavor. Near my home, there is a park 2 minutes away with lots of wooden elements, and lots of things to climb. Down the road, there’s another area with huge plastic curly slides. Down even further, there’s another with a bunch of science stations, where movement translates into windmills turning or turning on lights. Many of these playgrounds are within walking distance of another, so you can make a circuit of 2-3 if you want to wear your kid out for a nap. You can turn a corner somewhere, and there will be a massive play complex. A lot of department stores and malls have elaborate playgrounds for your kids to enjoy. They are free. They are usually well-maintained (TRUSTING ATMOSPHERE). They are different. What more could you ask for?
If you are sick of free stuff, or if you want something to do on a rainy day, or if you want your kids to see a monkey up close while you are sipping coffee⸺ you can do it in Seoul! There are so many themed cafes to enjoy. I took my kid to an “animal” cafe with a cat, 2 dogs, a bunch of fish, a turtle, and a meerkat. I want to say there were also 2 giant raccoons in the front as well. I think the only cost of admission was a drink. My kid loved that meerkat. I’ve heard of cat cafes, dog cafes, goat cafes, and believe it or not, there are cafes with no animals at all. There are kid activity cafes, with floor to ceiling courses with ball pits, wood pits, giant interactive wall projections, rooms filled with building blocks, full kitchens or grocery stores with plastic or plush food. In the town where I grew up, there was one toy store, one place with kid activities, and no place to touch a meerkat. In Seoul, you can do it all in one morning. It’s unfair.
A lot of big dense cities, like Hong Kong and New York, have one big natural area sitting in the city. That’s if you’re lucky. Some cities have little to no green at all. Seoul has parks and gardens everywhere. Some cities have mountains in surrounding areas, but how many big cities have mountains IN them? You can hike up a trail behind the Blue House and get natural views and scenic city views. There are mini green areas dotted everywhere within the city. Down the street from my home, there is a sizable hill with several snaking trails and exercise complexes. There’s even a gazebo up top with a decent view of the surrounding areas. There are four more comparable parks within a 15-minute walk. There are biking and walking trails up and down the Han River. I admire Seoul’s commitment to having a green presence readily available in such a dense urban center. If you are fond of watching old people exercising and walking around, there is no shortage of places!
So let’s put it together: You have all the benefits of living in a big city. You add an overall trusting vibe. Then you add that it is safe to walk around at night. And then you have amazing healthcare, which is super cheap. Plus you have access to all kinds of free playgrounds. Now throw in the multitude of family entertainment that you can pay for. And then add a healthy dose of natural beauty readily present around many corners. Does that sound like a place you would like to raise a family? It does to me.