Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in Korea as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Rocio will share her expat life while teaching in Daegu – the fourth largest city in Korea. She will discuss her moving procedure, good and bad things about living in Daegu, places to visit in Daegu, cost of living in Daegu and more!
1. About Daegu
Daegu is located in the center of the South Korean peninsula. Although the city doesn’t get as much attention as Seoul, it is the 3 largest city in South Korea. Daegu is known for its sweltering summers, delicious apples, and beautiful women. Seriously, Koreans believe gorgeous women hail from this region!
Living in Daegu is a wonderful experience because of its perfect size – it’s big enough to have plenty of activities to do yet small enough to not cause overwhelm the way Seoul does – and tight-knit expat community.
On top of that, its location is perfect as several day trips can be done and the convenient KTX (Korea’s fast rail trains) easily connects it to Seoul, Busan and everywhere else.
2. Moving to Daegu
I moved to Daegu two years to work as an English teacher. My reasons were to focus on my writing – I was working on a book that I published last year – and to save up money for backpacking Southeast Asia. My time is almost coming to a close and I’m so excited to finally travel like I’ve dreamed of doing for so long!
3. Why did you choose to live in Daegu?
I was initially attracted to the hustle and bustle of Seoul but I needed a smaller place to focus. My problem in Chicago was that I didn’t know how to say no to fun [laughs] and instead work on my writing. In Daegu, I found the perfect sized city – not too big to distract me but also not too tiny to bore me. The fact that Daegu is also more affordable than bigger cities was a huge factor. I also had a couple friends that lived in Daegu and they recommended it.
4. How to prepare to move to Daegu?
Well, I came through Korea’s government English program and they set everything up for their teachers. From our apartments to our bank accounts, to our cell phone contracts, they make sure to help us settle in. But I did a lot of research beforehand as well. I read tons of articles online and connected to friends of friends who had taught before. They were gracious enough to answer my million questions.
5. Cost of living in Korea
Korea is a very affordable country to live in but costs vary depending on the city. In Daegu, studio apartments cost between $300-450 depending on the area. Utility bills are very cheap but summer and winter months are high due to air conditioner and heater. Groceries are the one thing that I find expensive – I struggle to stay within my monthly budget of $100. Lastly, transportation is also very affordable. My public transportation card usually lasts a whole month if I put $35 in it.
6. Did you experience any difficulties while living in Daegu?
Oh absolutely. I’ve always prided myself on being a strong and independent woman but moving to Korea left me feeling dependent on my coworker and somewhat clueless due to the language barrier. I found it demoralizing that I couldn’t do something as simple as open a bank account on my own or order food at a restaurant.
I really struggled with this in the beginning but it was all a blessing in disguise as slowly I started getting more and more comfortable with asking for help. For a long time, I wanted to improve in this area, to be okay with being vulnerable and moving to Korea proved to be a crash course in teaching me this.
7. Discrimination from the locals in Daegu? Yes or No?
Not directly per se. But I happen to appear more Caucasians than other people of color, so I’ve been spared the staring and sometimes uninvited touching that some of them have endured.
8. How’s about culture shock?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it culture shock, it was more a phase of adjusting and feeling quite homesick but at no point was I shocked the way I felt when I first moved to the US.
9. What do you like about Daegu, Korea?
How manageable it is to navigate it. The average time to travel anywhere via public transportation is about 30 minutes which is great given that I meet up with friends a few times a week.
I also love the thriving expat community here – it’s easier to stay in touch and hang out with people in Daegu than it is in Busan or Seoul. When the average commute time is more than 40 minutes, it can become a hassle.
The third thing I love the most about my city is the neighborhood I live in – Suseong gu. There’s this nearby lake that I go to all the time for a stroll or picnics.
10. Is there anything that you don’t like about Daegu?
Daegu is the hottest area of Korea and summers are hellish humid. I suffered a lot my first year but I fared much better the second time around.
11. What are your favorite things to do in Daegu?
I love going to Suseong Lake for walks and picnics. I also often meet up with friends in cafes. Korea has an amazing coffee shop culture and it’s great fun trying out all the different ones they have. There are even dog and animal cafes! I also love eating out because Korean food is delicious and super affordable.
12. How to make new friends in Daegu, Korea?
Oh yes, there are many expat Facebook groups to join. And the city organizes frequent events to connect expats with one another. Going out downtown at night is also a great way to make friends.
13. Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
Mostly foreigners. I’ve found that Koreans are shy and take a long time to warm up and get comfortable but once they do, they’ll probably be longtime friends.
14. Where to hang out with friends in Daegu?
Suseong Lake, cafes, restaurants, at dinner parties in my apartment… I also enjoy doing domestic weekend getaways with them.
15. A memorable experience in Daegu
I went to Daegu’s famous lantern festival in the springtime. The celebration is to honor Buddha’s birthday and WOW, seeing so many glowing lanterns slowly ascending in the sky was a very special moment. I’ll always carry this memory in my heart.
16. Did you change your perspective about Daegu living here?
I guess in the first few months I was hesitant about my city, I kept wondering what it would have been like to live in Seoul. But over time, Daegu has really charmed me and I’m happy I’ve spent two years here.
17. What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Daegu?
Mentally prepare yourself for the summers [laughs]! Other than that, have fun, you’re going to love your time here.
18. Would you recommend others to live in Daegu?
Absolutely! While I do think recommendations should be based on each person, I would recommend Daegu to most.
19. What have you learned from living abroad?
To always be flexible and adaptable. One good friend said once that being flexible is the only way to be because those that are don’t break, they simply bend, and living abroad has really taught me what this means. While challenges and difficulties will arise, try to embrace these instead of resisting because they are often beautiful life lessons. So, get out there and travel! Be awed and expand your horizons :)
More About Rocio
Rocio Cadena is a Mexican-American writer, and editor by way of Chicago. She was born and raised in Mexico and moved to the cold US Midwest when she was 11 years old. Growing up in Mexico, she always dreamed of traveling and living a full life. She’s realized that a rich existence entails exposing myself to different countries, cultures, and people from diverse backgrounds while pursuing my creative aspirations.
Rocio is the creator of THIS IS ROCIO, a collection of writings about Latinx culture, travel, lifestyle, and interviews. Her career ambition is to become a freelance writer/journalist. After two years of living and writing in South Korea, she will embark on a 6-month long backpacking trip through Southeast Asia in March. Follow her adventures on her Instagram and Facebook.