We’re in single digits, people. Nine days till I fly the coop!

It feels too negative to write a 10 Things I Hate About You–Korea post, so instead I’ll write the top three things that really irk me. Still a Debbie Downer, but fair is fair.

3. Smelly food. There’s a restaurant down the street from school that seems to be very popular with our neighbors at the rehab place across the street. The place is always doing business, though I’m not sure how. Five meters before reaching the front door, you’re hit with the most pungent, unappealing smell you could ever imagine. I think the place serves octopus or squid, so maybe that’s where the smell comes from? I’ve taken to holding my breath when I walk past, or even crossing to the other side of the street to avoid the smell. This restaurant is really one of the worst. Most Korean foods don’t smell quite this bad, but the certainly don’t smell good–especially kimchi. That’s why I love this woman. She’s created an odorless, just-add-water kimchi. Brilliant, not to mention kind to everyone around her. If only all Korean foods were odorless…

2. Social structure. In Korea, it’s common for someone to live with his or her parents until marriage. Unfortunately, that aspect of Korean society is moving along with the West. Many of the Koreans I know have not married young, and are still living with their parents, despite their age. One friend, a 29-year-old former coworker, still has a curfew. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been out with Korean friends, only to be interrupted by a cell phone around 11 p.m. or midnight. “It’s my mother–hold on a minute” is usually the first thing out of their mouths. Much as I love my family, I think we’d all go crazy if I lived at home until I was 30. Agree or disagree, Mom and Dad?

1. Culture clash. Duh. The problem here is that I work for an English school. They strive to make this a Western environment–yet it’s run entirely by Koreans. Throwing foreign teachers into a building and having them speak English doesn’t always work. I’ve done a lot of complaining this year on the subject, but sometimes it seems as if there’s no thought put into what we do. We have teachers making bullshit lesson plans (an Alternative Lifestyles class for elementary school students?) when instead they could be bettering the lesson plans and materials we already have. We’ve got some great classes, and if we had variety within those classes, then they would be really enjoyable for both students and teachers. But at some level, Western ideas clash with Korean business. At the end of the day, this isn’t a feel-good institution for kids and foreigners. It’s a business. A Korean business. And working six or seven hours a day with these kids, you forget that you’re not there to fill some gaping need in the system. You’re there to show your Western face and make money for the company.

That’s not to say this hasn’t been a good year. My year in Korea has been full of ups and downs, but the positive outweigh the negative. There have been a lot of changes this year, which I’ll post about sometime in the next week, but this has been an overwhelmingly good experience. We’ve all got our down moments, our I-hate-Korea moments, but you can have that anywhere. We’ve all had a few I-hate-America moments (especially around the 2000 election, eh?) or I-hate-Kingston moments–we’re only human, it happens. The only thing you can do is make the best of the situation at hand. Korea’s not a bad place to spend a year. Would I do it again? Absolutely not. But do I wish I hadn’t done it? Not in the slightest. This was the right place for me to be this year. For someone not used to making good choices, Korea was definitely the right choice for me.