I taught English in Busan, South Korea for two and a half years. Living abroad as a single woman can be daunting to some, so I wanted to tell you a bit about my experience. I’ve had many female friends tell me that I am brave for having lived outside of the country alone, but honestly I was not too worried about it. You can chalk it up to bravery, or naivety, but once I’d made up my mind to start looking to teach abroad, I never had second thoughts. South Korea stands as one of the safest countries on earth. Civilians are not allowed to have guns, and there’s an overall lower crime rate. I had done the research, spoke to folks I knew who had lived in Korea, and felt that I’d be safe living there as a single woman. Mind you, I’m not saying that there is zero crime in Korea, and that women are always safe, (I wish!) Overall, Korea has a much lower crime rate than many other countries.
During my stay there, I lived in a studio apartment alone, and had no problems coming home late at night. There was a safety that I felt in Korea that I did not have in America. After I broke a bone in my foot, I would even take a shortcut to my place down a dark alley. Taking alleyways in Korea is pretty commonplace, and I found myself doing things in Korea safety wise that I’d never do back home! Personally, there were few experiences that stand out as having made me feel unsafe/ uncomfortable.
Since I’m sure many of you are now curious, as to which experiences made me feel unsafe, I’ll gladly share them. One night I was stressed, and decided to take a late night walk. I’d done it before, and like to take walks to clear my mind. As I was walking, a drunk older man stepped in front of me slurring something in Korean. I sidestepped him, and quickly walked away. There was another time I took a walk at night, (I know, I know), and two women walking a bit in front of me kept turning around and smiling at me. This isn’t too unusual being a foreigner in Korea. Long story short, they turned around, blocking my way, and tried to convert me to a mother god cult. They had a video with English subtitles using Biblical scriptures to support their claims of their being a mother god. They then invited me upstairs to their church for tea. Having grown up hearing stories of what happened in Jonestown during the late 70’s, (Google it) I politely declined, sidestepped them, and rapidly walked to my apartment, all while frequently looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed.
That particular incident freaked me out more than the previous one because a friend had told me just a few days earlier of how people from that same cult approached her. Another friend of mine also had a creepy experience with people from this cult, so I was a bit shaken up because it had happened right in my neighborhood. I got approached a year later or so by another group of mother god people who were handing out flyers right outside of one of the schools I worked at. Since this was during the day on a busy street, I was more annoyed than creeped out. The woman speaking to me spoke fluent English as she was from the Philippines, and insisted I take a flyer. Afterwards, she literally followed me for almost the entire 10 minutes it took to walk to the bus stop, trying to convince me to join their church. This was one of the few instances where I was straight up rude to a person in Korea, because “No ,thank you” was not registering.
The last case where I felt weirded out by someone happened on the subway. As I mentioned earlier, I had broken a bone in my foot during my first year in Korea, and wasn’t out of the cast for too long before I took a subway ride. I don’t remember where I was going or why, but on the way back, a middle aged man sat next to me, and decided to sit with his legs wide. This was in August, and it was hot out, so I had on shorts, and he did as well. So his leg was rubbed up next to mine. I was sitting in the coveted end seat, so I kept inching over and away from him, only from him to continue to widen his legs. After doing this a few times, I was highly irritated. I noticed that there was a young woman sitting on the other side of him, so I looked to see if he were doing the same thing to her, which he was not. I didn’t immediately want to get up when he kept rubbing his leg onto mine, because my ankle was still not completely healed, and I didn’t want to have to stand, as the subway was pretty full at that time. Disgust outweighed the discomfort in my ankle, and I decided to get up, walk to another car, and had to stand up until it was time to get off.
I want to reiterate that these are some of my experiences in Korea, and I do understand that this isn’t the case for other women. When it came to safety, I was definitely able to let my guard down much more than in America, however it is important to always keep your wits about you. Play it smart wherever you are. No matter how safe a country may be, you still need to take precautions. Go with your gut reaction. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right for you.