What to Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting… Korea!


I have a horrible memory, but I will NEVER forget the moment when I first found out we were PCSing to Korea. We were stationed at Ft. Knox, and I was in the kitchen in our house in Elizabethtown, cooking dinner, when my husband walked in and said “I found out where we are going next!”

I turned and gave him my full attention, anxiously awaiting the news… he said, “Korea”.

I said, “Korea? KOREA?? What is that? KOREA?! Are you sure? KOREA?!?!?!”

He may as well have said we were going to Mars. I mean, of course I knew that Korea was a country in Asia, but past that, not much. Then the panic set in. A foreign country (like REALLY foreign)… What do they eat? Do they speak English? Can I even go? Where will we live? What will it be like? How can I move to another country to actually live there… for a long time (two years seemed like a lifetime!)?

what to expect korea


Well, I am here to tell you, that we are over 2 years in to our *second* Korea tour (that first shock was in the early winter of 2006), and I absolutely, positively LOVE Korea. If I could stay here forever, I would.  It truly is that amazing! Those two years that felt like it would be forever? Not enough time (luckily both of our tours ended up being 3 years)!

I want to share some of the things I have learned from life Korea, in the hopes that when other spouses find themselves standing in the kitchen like I was, and hear “Korea” come out of the lips of their Soldiers, they will somehow find this article and be reassured that it will not only be “OK”… it will be wonderful!


Do some research. Thanks to the wonderful world of Facebook and other internet sites, there is a plethora of information at your fingertips. Many websites (like KoreaYe!) and Facebook groups are dedicated to providing information for a smooth transition. It would also be helpful to learn a little of the language (basic phrases, hello, thank you, etc), but you will be amazed at how much English is spoken here. Learning some language, though, shows respect, and respect is still a BIG DEAL in this culture. It also helps to teach your kids a few phrases as well; the Koreans LOVE that!

what to expect korea

I taught my son the basic phrases that I know, to include “Have a Nice Day”. I thought this lady was going to faint (from shock and joy) when he said that to her after he made his purchase!

Expect it to be a tough PCS. There’s no sugar coating it. The overseas PCS is hard. What to pack? What to store? What to send first? What can wait? This is hard. I wish we had packed more in our express baggage. Sheets, towels, pillows – things that would have made life a little more comfortable in the weeks we had our house, but before we got our furniture. Loaner furniture is available, but little comforts like this I had to go buy at the PX. You’ll also be jet lagged for a while, but it doesn’t take too long to adjust on the trip this way (the trip back to the US is what is brutal – more on that later). The good news? This too shall pass. Try to remember that and just laugh instead of cry. It WILL be ok, and after about two months when you are all settled in, will be a distant memory.

We got a house, before we got our stuff:

what to expect korea

Get settled with the things you need. Acquaint yourself with the biggies on post first: PX, Commissary, ACS, schools, etc. Your Soldier will start in-processing right away; I recommend a stop at the ACS first for a newcomers welcome packet for the family. The faster you find your way around post, the faster you will begin to feel comfortable and settled.

ACS does a newcomer’s tour (on post and off post) as well as a transportation class. Take both. Those will help you feel more comfortable on post as well as getting you prepared to get off post!

what to expect korea

Get off post as much as possible. You will be living in Korea. KOREA! How many people do you know that have lived in Korea for a few years? Other than people you know here (and in the military), probably not many! So take advantage of this great opportunity and get out there and explore. Palaces, markets, folk villages, restaurants, shopping malls, parks, and so much more are all waiting for you! The best news? Most things here are FREE, and if there is a charge, it is very cheap.  And the shopping… oh my goodness, the shopping. I am constantly amazed by the amount of stuff in each market. It is overwhelming and you are going to want to stock up because it is so cheap!  The subway is a fast and easy way to get around the city, and it is marked in English for easy use.

At one of the markets (Dongdaemun); this is just ONE stall of hundreds with just as much stuff! The markets are amazing, overwhelming, fun, crazy…

what to expect korea


Adopt a “When in Korea…” attitude. Kind of like “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” You are going to see a lot of strange things here, but it works. Off AND on post. You will encounter situations that will feel WAY out of your comfort zone, but once you get used to life in Korea it will feel normal (however, you will find yourself thinking, there is NO way I would do this in the states!). Enjoy it. For one of the largest cities in the world, it feels a bit like Mayberry here. People are generally kind, trustworthy, and respectful.

One of the best examples I can give is summed up perfectly by my son. When I asked him, “If you could give advice to another nine-year-old who was nervous about coming to Korea, what would you say?”

His response: “There are a lot of good people here, and if you are nice, you will get a candy bar from them. But watch out for the ginseng candy – it tastes like dirt!

True! Koreans love children and strangers frequently touch them and give them candy. It’s harmless. I let him eat it on the spot. But in the states? I would say “Thank you, we will save it for later!” And then it would go in the trash as soon as we got home.

what to expect korea

Does this help a little? What questions do you still have? This is a broad overview of what to expect when you first get here. I would love to continue this with a series of posts about military life here, and how to get settled.

10 thoughts on “What to Expect When You’re (Not) Expecting… Korea!

  1. Kelly says:

    I think everyone moving here should be required to read this post. You always have such a great attitude even in tough situations. Life’s an adventure and you definitely take advantage of it, as we all should!


  2. Jessica Hill says:

    Amy – I know this post is a very helpful, to-do guide for a military family adjusting to Korea, but I read it as a person who will probably never live there and experience what you and your family have. From my perspective this is so thoughtful, well-written and heart warming! I think you should write a book on your life overseas, I am a definite fan!


  3. amy says:

    Thanks, Kelly! There are definitely challenges I have faced here, and times when I have wanted to close my eyes and click my heels and be “home”…but that passes when I realize what awesome opportunities I have here and I need to make the most of it!


  4. Jessica D says:

    I love this post, thank you so much for sharing your experience and advice! My husband and I are PCS-ing to Korea in April! It’s my first move with the military, although he has been to Korea twice before. This information is helpful, and I’m so glad to hear how much you loved it!


  5. amy says:

    You are welcome! I feel like our first time coming here was a big leap of faith for us. But it has turned out to be my favorite duty station! I hope you will love it too!


  6. Michelle says:

    My family are moving there next month, and I have had moments of excitement and of fear! I loved reading this to know those feelings are normal! We are very excited to begin the next chapter in our life there and are so grateful for this website!


  7. amy says:

    Totally normal!! As I mentioned in the post, we are on our second tour here. There was a lot less apprehension coming back for the 2nd time, but it still was an adjustment. Welcome in advance, and I know you will love your time here in Korea!


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