Before I moved to Korea, I read a ton of blog posts about Seoul. I figured that living in neighbouring Yeonsu, Incheon would allow me to relive the glory days of my foreign exchange days in Hong Kong, partying in a multicultural bubble with a perfect balance of East meets West. What I didn’t realize at the time is that depending on where you live, you’re not really “right outside” Seoul, even though it seems like it is on a map. If you’re stuck in Yeonsu like I was (the far end of Incheon) without a car, it takes over two hours to get there.
So after six months, do I regret having made the move to Incheon?
Thanks to my distance from Seoul, I avoided the sleep-eat-drink-repeat lifestyle that defined part of my twenties, forcing me to face real challenges and cultural immersion.
Reflecting on the last six months, here are some of my main takeaways from a city I now call home.
On Making Friends
Though I’ve always been a social butterfly, making friends in this neck of the woods (with the exception of a few foreigners) has been a little tougher due to my limited Korean language skills (please avoid this mistake if you plan on moving here, or at least learn the alphabet). As a result, I’ve had a limited scope of friends to choose from, considering that foreigners here are an ultra minority compared to Seoul. English speaking women are an even greater minority in my neighbourhood, which means most of the folks I have met are men – and most with the same intentions as the eternal bachelors below:
There have only been a few times where I haven’t walked into a local expat bar without being told by a gross, older married dude that I should come home with him to experience a “real dick” (kinda agree with you there, dickhead), get drunkenly slobbered over by men who aren’t interested in learning or remembering my name, or have men reason that I should sleep with them because “life is short”.
But I digress.
All that said, I’ve met some awesome people here – both Koreans and non-Koreans alike. Some, like my co-worker Elizabeth Alessandro, I wouldn’t trade for a hundred drinking buddies in Seoul – even if I have to endure a couple of expat fvckbois along with way.
By now, I’ve gotten the Korean alphabet pretty much down, I know the “survival” words and phrases, and I can direct a cabbie entirely in Korean – but my life would be infinitely easier if I didn’t have to depend on my bosses/ co-worker/ friends to translate stuff for me most of the time. My friends in Seoul have gotten by for years without speaking much Korean, but outside of Seoul, it’s a much bigger challenge (rightfully so; the world doesn’t owe us service in English). Just recently, it took me nearly two days to buy a ticket to Guam because the tour site was entirely in Korean, and I very nearly gave up as a result. Be smarter and more culturally savvy than me. Learn some Korean before you arrive.
If you’re looking for cheap transportation and a cheap thrill, ride a local bus. Nearly all bus drivers believe in braking suddenly, burning red lights and shutting doors on people. Olé!
Taxis are ridiculously cheap for local trips, so half the time my co-worker grab a cab home instead of the death bus from hell. Most cabbies are usually pretty sweet; some will even try to practice their English with you and teach you some Korean along the way. Good times all around.
On the Bar Scene
Here’s a fairly exhaustive list of the most popular foreigner friendly bars around Incheon:
A fairly big bar in the Songdo area run by an English-speaking Korean man. They have occasional open mic nights, and are the only bar I know of in Incheon that serve veggie burgers.
Owned by a super chill American expat named Aaron, this local bar is a popular hangout among the foreigner/ local crowd.
Standard Mexican fare and a friendly staff make this a fun place to have dinner and drinks before heading upstairs to O’Malley’s Pub.
I’m usually at O’Malleys once every 1-2 weeks. Karen, my favourite bartender in Korea, always greets me with a big hug, shares her fruit snacks with me, gives me tons of free tequila shots and even lets me DJ. She, her husband Tom and their staff are spectacularly warm, and it truly is the kind of bar where everyone knows your name. If you visit one bar in Incheon, definitely make it O’Malleys (and give Karen a big hug hello for me).
Cheap Shots hosts an open mic night on Wednesdays that is usually jam packed.
This small bar run by a couple of super friendly Kiwi expats is the number one bar in Incheon on Trip Advisor. The area is a little dead and it’ll be tough to get a cab home, but it’s definitely worth checking out for it’s cozy, laid back vibe.
A popular spot to get in-house craft beer in Songdo, with pretty good pizza to boot.
Standard dance club in the Arts Centre district. I spent twenty minutes here at the end of a drunken night with a Canadian and two French expats. From what I remember, it was rather meh.
My advice: if clubbing is your scene, ditch Incheon all together and head over to Hongdae, Itaewon or Gangnam.
On Working in Songdo
Songdo is one of the wealthiest areas in Korea, built from scratch from reclaimed land from the Yellow Sea. It features upscale housing, the tallest tower in Korea and beautiful development projects including the Tri-Bowl, Central Park and the NC Cube/Canal Walk – but as one of the youngest cities in the world, it becomes a ghost town at night. That said, it’s nice to take advantage of the peaceful, calm vibe of the city before it gets flooded with more people in the years to come.
On the Vegan Scene
HAHAHAHAHA just kidding. There is no vegan scene in Incheon. I’m the vegan scene in Incheon. With the exception of High Miso in Bupyeong, the Veggie Delight option at Subway’s and side dishes (banchan) at Korean barbecue joints, vegan resources are sparse. As a result, I usually prepare my own food at home, including vegan bibimbap, gimbap and japchae. I get yachae juk and yasai korokke takeout on occasion, though chances are they’re likely not completely vegan. When I make the occasional trek to Itaewon, I make sure to pick up vegan goodies from Sprout. It took me a while to get my vegan meal plan in order, but after six months I’ve managed to finally maintain a (mostly) vegan lifestyle in a meat worshipping land.
As you can see, my experience living in Incheon has ranged from heaven to hellfire, with a hundred anecdotes in between. But one thing is for certain: Incheon has built my resilience, made me more creative, and given me insight on the struggle of being a linguistic and cultural minority. I’m now stronger, much more resourceful and a lot more humble than I was before.
I wouldn’t trade that for all the Seouls in the world.
Have you ever worked or lived abroad? Share your stories below 🙂