After one year in Korea, I think it's time to share my perspective of this country. Although I have witnessed the good, the bad and other stuff, my knowledge of Korea is on the limited side, so I am writing only from first hand experiences..
Life in Korea is a test of everything and it is up to an individual to decide what shall be overcome. It's a question of what matters and what doesn't. In order to survive here in Korea, you need to assimilate or you'll be crushed!
Being in Korea is the same as being in any other country. At first you move to a new place and everything is new and exciting, and you love it. Then eventually I realized I was in a totally alien environment, and I was the alien!. Then it came to a point that I started to hate the culture, more than anything in the world. But eventually I began to accept the good and the bad of the this new culture. In short, I assimilated. No matter how much I rejected everything, when I made up my mind to coexist with Korea, things got easier....
Like the Philippines, Korea is a country of unsurpassed beauty, covered with mountains, and surrounded by seas. It's culture is ancient, refined, and filled with vitality. Techologically speaking Korea is a developed and an advanced country.
The foods are healthy. Tastes range from bland, to bearable, to downright salty and spicy. It took three months before we ate kimchi. After that, like all koreans we always had kimchi in the fridge. Basically, Korean foods takes some getting used to. Whenever we take a break from it, my mouth gets watery at the thought of spicy korean foods. I love the rice too, large sweet pearl rice!
There is little crime here. Cars are left untended and running, house doors unlocked, and goods out in the open. No cellphone snatchers either! The worst you'll see are 'ajushi' being taken by police in their squad car. These are old men who end up sleeping at the bar or in/outside the store after some bottles of Soju.
Their writing, called Hangul, is not very hard to learn. If you're motivated and determined enough, within six months you'll be able to read and write it.
People are warm when you get to know them. They are known for being racist but we never experienced any anti-foreign sentiments. However, I do find it annoying when we get those 'korean stares'. Some try to be friendly and helpful but overdo it. In some ways they are narrow-minded and sensitive. I dont know if it's part of the culture or the language, but the little etiquette issue can be very annoying. Sometimes when you're walking down the street, people will just flat out walk into you or push you out of the way. It's not in any way personal, they're not being rude, and they don't even think about it. Sometimes if your unlucky you'll be pushed out of the store if you don't buy anything.
It's so frustrating because it's a one-way street. It's often the case that you are expected to respect, excuse, and understand every aspect of Korea, while Koreans seem to have no interest in respecting or understanding anything else. They tend to pass judgement freely.
As for working here as an ESL teacher, in some ways it's an easy job. If your white, flexible, inqusitive, and open minded you can come to Korea and earn decent money. Inspite of all the horror stories about people getting screwed over while teaching in Korea, my husband had a pretty decent experience. He landed in a small hogwon with a not-so-terrible director. We do watch our back though, because at anytime something could happen out of the blue that would shake things up! The directors have a lot of power over you while you're in Korea, and that can be both a very good and a very bad thing.
One thing to remember, once you come to Korea you have to learn to live in a truly different culture. You'll be amazed, Korea will teach you survival skills :)