The Ways I Fit in Korea

Re-acclimating to US culture hasn’t been too difficult during this first trip home.

Driving for the first time was slightly scary (for about 5 minutes). Casually greeting my neighbors while jogging felt really awkward the first few times. (I’m used to giving people blank stares now.) But all in all, slipping back into daily life here has been easy.

There are, however, certain ways I’ve realized I fit more naturally in Korean society than American:

1. Being emotionally expressive.

The other night, a character started crying in the Korean drama I was watching with my mom. A common phenomenon in Korean dramas. My mom said, “In Korea, people are much more open about crying than they are here. People in the US get really uncomfortable when someone cries. Good thing you live there, honey.”

I was like, “Haha, thanks Mom..”

But it’s true. I have a lot of emotions, and living in Korea feels like being set free in how I express myself.

For instance, texting. Koreans use a tone of emoji’s when they text. When someone says they can’t make it to dinner, a crying emoticon with tears streaming down the face, is considered a normal response.

2. Avoiding the sun.

While driving to the beach with my step-sister, she commented, “You are extremely white. You really need a tan. But I guess you blend in well in Korea.” I laughed, but then realized that was perfectly true.

In Korea, whitening cream is a best seller, and people use umbrellas in the summertime to guard themselves from the sun.

I meanwhile, have been paranoid about skin damage since high school when I attended a compelling skin cancer presentation. (Any tan is a sign of skin damage, if you didn’t know!) Also, I don’t like how the sun tries to steal the smoothness of my skin. And how it gives me new freckles.

So yes, I’m pretty white, and that is considered ideal in Korea, which is convenient.

3. Not needing a personal bubble.

I’m not sure if I was always like this or if Korea has changed me, but I’ve noticed that I don’t mind having physical contact with complete strangers. As long as they aren’t creepy and smell okay, I sometimes slightly prefer it. While riding the subway, my shoulder rests against the person next to me, and it’s kind of nice. Pretty sure that isn’t considered normal in the US


I would probably be missing Korea a lot more right now if I didn’t know I was going back in a week.

It’s so cool that I am, in fact, going back.

Sometimes I still can’t quite believe that I’m living this adventure. I always thought of myself as a homebody, as someone who played it safe. I went far away for college because I thought it might be my only chance to live away from home. Though I always dreamed about living in Korea, I never thought it was a real possibility. I certainly never thought I would/could stay. But now I have an apartment and roommate in Korea; I have a visa that doesn’t expire for another 3 years; I have a Korean phone and bank account; I have a church family awaiting my return.

This is real. This is really happening. Wow.

But as I realized last night when I fell face down on my bathroom floor, overcome by the presence of God, it really doesn’t matter where I live as long as He is with me. I love that He has brought me to Korea, but I would follow Him anywhere.



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Elizabeth is an American living in South Korea who believes in destiny, miracles, and living life intentionally. She holds to simple faith in a complex world, values the beauty of the everyday, and strives for vulnerability with other imperfect humans. She is always learning, laughing, and finding herself in awe of grace.

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