It’s Hard Not To Compare

It’s been about a month and a half since I peninsula hopped. I know I haven’t written too much about it so far, and I’m not sure why that is, but it may be because I don’t feel like I’ve settled just yet. My heart is still wheeling for Korea, and I’d say all around I don’t have the feels I initially got when I began life in Koko.

I can’t stop comparing things, which I know is totally normal given the whirlwind I bestowed upon myself, but I also feel like maybe it’s hindering my enjoyment of Spain. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying myself – because I am. It’s just taking a little longer to wrap my heart around the continent that was my favorite just 4 years ago, before Asia and the family I made there stole it.

I guess this is what homesickness feels like. Just whack when it’s for your 2nd home and not the 1st.

In an effort to make this more than a sap story, I have taken mental, and when applicable, pictoral notes, of those noticeable differences between the 2 peninsulas that have had the great pleasure of hosting my American ass.

Because comparing is inevitable, here we go.

1. Drunk Ajussi vs. Señors Who Siesta

It is by no means a rarity in Korea to find a ‘salary man’ in his glittery tie passed out in his own vomit whilst molesting the trash laden curb, or passed out in the fetal position in a corner, or basking in his glory on a subway bench at nearly any time of the day.


Or in his case, traditional ajussi garb.

In Spain this is nonexistent. Instead, you’ll find a gentlemen fully dressed to the nines having his afternoon siesta in the middle of the hustle bustle of the city center on a park bench.


2. Ajummas vs. Señoras In Pearls

Ajummas are a breed all their own. They don’t care what they throw on in the morning (unless it involves hiking a mountain), and I’m convinced do not own mirrors and/or have someone to veto the clashing patterns they’ve got draped. When they hit a certain age, the only hairdo is one of tightly coifed curls, and their elbows can kill.


My eyes!

The señoras in pearls are women who have not given up on life, and will go down looking their best. Perfectly tailored dress sets, strings of pearls around their necks and dazzling their ears, and the best designed hand bags to boot! Please note that this element of putting oneself together translates to the señors as well.


Arguing the proper marrying age of a young woman. I’m officially on the shelf in case you were curious.

3. Early Bird Special Plus Round 2, 3, Noraebang vs. Tapas Then Dinner Whenever

I had never eaten dinner as early as I did than while living in Korea. School would finish at 4:40pm and then the whole faculty was off to dinner together en masse. We’d sit down for Round 1 around 5pm and everyone was prepared to get smashed. After a couple hours and a couple drunk falls by the maintenance man, or principal, we’d move onto Round 2 at some hof. I usually tried to duck out around this time. But if I stuck around, that would ultimately lead to noraebanging the night away.


Germ swapping builds a strong immune system, and is good for health.

The Spanish will eat tapas at the time when we Americans would typically eat dinner (or really anytime), around 7-8pm, and dinner no earlier than 9pm. That’s even pushing it. I have come home on multiple occasions to a roommate cooking dinner at 11pm. Don’t they know that shit sits in your stomach and makes you fat?! Both enjoy their food though, there is zero arguing of that.

Tiny bites of bomb.

Never thought I’d crave mushrooms as much as I do whilst looking at this photo.

4. Korean School vs. Out Of Control Spanish School

Of course, the reason I am allowed to legally live here, duh. I must admit, even though this is only my 2nd teaching gig and I was in Korea 3 years longer than I have been in Spain, no one has anything on Korean kids. Maybe I’m biased, but then so I am, but they just latched onto my heart so much quicker. Maybe it’s because I was so novel to them. Whatever it is, Korean kiddos, even at their worst, are FAR more obedient and attentive to authority figures than Spanish kiddos. And that’s just the kids.

The teachers do NOT know how to discipline the students here and spend the majority of class talking over the kids because they don’t quiet them down. I work in a bilingual school, so all subjects are taught in English. They’re little, so obviously they aren’t going to understand everything and every direction being thrown at them. Yet, I have co-teachers who bark at the kids and expect them to understand everything right away. I have never experienced such coldness from teachers to children, or kids so out of control off their rockers. It’s like a vicious circle of non-discipline, shouting, students running around throwing pencils in class, crawling on the floor, and of course nothing getting done. I teach only 16 hours a week, and am in the biggest hurry to get out of that school when I’m done. By this time in Korea I had already sold my heart over for a 2nd year, Spain on the other hand, I’m majorly leaning towards negatory.

I will say though that the differences in schools are very telling of the cultures and how completely opposite they are of one another. Koreans strive to be the top of the tops and get into the best university possible, while the ability to finish school at 16 years old in Spain is a welcomed one.  Not to mention, I can’t help but notice how impassioned Spaniards are. While I hate the shouting with a passion, emotions and creativity run wild in the Spanish classroom, something that is 110% lacking, in Korea. You win and you lose I suppose.

Since I'm not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here's a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child's photobooth ride.

Since I’m not supposed to take photos of my Spanish kids, here’s a photo of me trying to squeeze my large ass into a child’s photobooth ride.

5. Table Staples

Seeing the staples on any given country’s table is so fascinating to me. I was thinking about this the other day, how I guess in America it would be salt & pepper, maybe some ketchup and mustard. In Korea you’ve got one of the millions of kimchis and gochujang on every single table you sit down at.  Which also makes my mouth water and my mind explode with the notion that I have not stuffed kimchi in my face in over a month. It’s tragic really.

Well in Spain you’ve got extra virgin olive oil and what I missed with tremendous abandon for 3 years, balsamic vinegar, on nearly every table. If not balsamic, you’ve at least got oil and some other kind of vinegar. But it is ever-present and they slather that shit on every piece of jamon or pan con tomate they devour.


Since you know what oil & vinegar look like, this is a sampling of snack time my first day on the job. Chocolate cake with sprinkles for breakfast.

6. Cafés Of Every Theme vs. Cafeterias

I could step out of my apartment in Korea and find a million cafes in every direction I turned, and they’d be of any theme imaginable. It was perhaps one of my hands down favorite things about Korea and something that that country reigns supreme in. Café culture in Korea is TOP.OF.THE.POPS. While some of my best cups of coffee were definitely not had in Korea, the best slices of cake were. HELLO HACKNEY DARK BABY AND FRANK’S RAINBOW CREAM ROLL CAKE. And anything Earl Grey flavored, because they have it.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Too bad I discovered this an exact week before my departure. ME-OW.

Café culture in Spain isn’t so prominent, and that’s probably because Spaniards are a little more adventurous in their outings with other individuals. While the coffee is a million eons beyond Korea, the experience is lightyears different, and not really my style. I LOVE sitting in a cafe with my computer typing away, and so far that experience has been pretty hard to replicate. Most caféterias are bar style and you order a cafe con leche from the bar and drink it standing up alongside others who are also at the bar. They’re also not a very grab-your-coffee-to-go type of people.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be up the street from me.

Except for La Bicicleta, which happens to be one of the trendiest cafés, and also happens to be just around the river bend from me.

7. American English vs. British English

This is a bizarre as all hell thing people! It’s adorable slash makes me feel a little heeby jeeby inside. Hearing little Spanish babies speak in British accents might be one of the most precious things I have ever willfully exposed myself to, and hearing a 1st grader ask me everyday “Teacher, where’s my rubber?” will never cease to make me cackle with dirty abandon inside.

That aside, while my co-teachers encourage telling the students what we’d say in America, I find it to be hardly enforced. It’s merely brushed over, probably because it won’t be on the Cambridge Exams. Needless to say, I miss teaching American English, even if the kiddos thought every black person on the TV was Obama.

Well, there you’ve got it! Did you like that British English I just threw at you?! I thought you would. These are just a month’s worth of immediate observations that have tipped my senses. I hope I didn’t come off as so unbearably whiney about my new life in España, I’m trying here people! Now let me know about your experiences in your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th homes. What things really shocked your pants off, or merely stood out to you?


38 thoughts on “It’s Hard Not To Compare

  1. Matt Inman says:

    Perfect description of ajummas! And you’re right…they’re almost complete opposites to their Spanish counterparts.

    And you are right on about the food. Probably my favorite two cuisines I’ve had so far. Both styles are awesome too. Whether it’s banchan or tapas, all of it is amazing!

    That’s disappointing to hear about the students in Spain but it doesn’t really surprise me given the loud nature of the people.

    Great write up of two very different, yet equally awesome countries!

    • Danielle says:

      Thanks Matt! I guess students are a crapshoot wherever you go, but these kids are especially nuts haha.

      And about the food, while Spanish food is good and I love potatoes and bread, that is like all they eat. It’s insane, but no one is fat! I still miss Korean food hardcore, and need to find an Asian market around this joint!

      Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  2. Taylor says:

    it’s certainly impossible not to compare when you move to a new place. and there are always going to be things you will miss about your last home. but don’t fret, i think in time spain will show you all the reasons she is wonderful and you won’t find as much frustration each day. i hope. or you will just move somewhere else next year!

    • Danielle says:

      I keep telling myself that! I’m sure it’ll come around, just a rough patch since there was pretty much no break in btwn leaving Korea and coming here. Though, I am already figuring out my next step 🙂

  3. kaleenaskaleidoscope says:

    Hahaha I would not be able to keep a straight face with a child asking me where his rubber is, either. Sounds like a complete 180 from Korea but I’m sure you’ll come to love it! I personally won’t miss the drunk passed out ajosshis and your school in Spain sounds a lot like my school in Korea. But that rainbow cake looks DELISH, where in Korea can I find that??

    • Danielle says:

      Speaking of rubbers, I think I’m going to have to edit this post by adding in a picture I took today in class of the student reading material. A little girl named Yuki is talking about all the different rubbers she collects; the shapes, sizes, colors, and smells. My co-teacher and I lost it while this poor little kid had zero clue!

      As for the rainbow cake, it’s at a beautiful cafe called Frank’s in Kyungridan (by Itaewon/Haebangchon). It is SO GOOD!!!

  4. Elle says:

    I love this! As I was halfway through reading this I had to stop and immediately send it to my best friend living and teaching in Spain. We usually find ourselves talking about how different the two places are and I feel like you captured this beautifully. I think several of our conversations have been about the differences between dinner times like you mentioned!

  5. Nailah Rivers says:

    That’s what happens right? We make where ever we are home so much so that when we leave, we miss it.

    It’s going on three years in Korea and I can probably ride this train for forever.

    • Danielle says:

      Haha, yea, it’s pretty cray. Though I felt like if I had stayed longer than 3 years I’d just be comfortable and I needed a lil change of scenery….though I think I’ll be back for a bit come summer to make some cash monies and fill my homesick heart. Glad you are still rockin it!!

  6. Charisse Windebank says:

    I love this post! I’ve tried doing the same, but I not been to many different countries. Granted I am a Filipino native and lived in the States for years before venturing off to Korea. I too was homesick more for my 2nd home than my first, but that is to be expected when I only lived in my 1st for 11 years vs. 28 in my 2nd.

    • Danielle says:

      Thanks! I think a lot of the homesickness comes mostly from the people we meet at different times of our life. I feel like those I met in Korea get the part of me that those at home don’t always get, so it’s quite the adjustment!

  7. rafiquaisraelexpress says:

    I like the comparisons, they quite interesting because I’ve A) never taught anywhere besides Korea and B) Never been to Spain. I think I’m going to miss SO much about Korea if I ever leave, and probably will compare everything to this place!

    • Danielle says:

      Oh man, homesickness for Korea is a LEGIT emotion all its own! I have friends who left after our first year and still miss it like crazy. So I’m trying to just kept my head in check and miss it, but try not to let it affect everything else. It’s one of those things too, where you know it’s the time to leave and staying would make you feel stagnant, but then you’re just so torn because it was the best time ever. GAH! 😉

  8. Evan and Rachel says:

    That’s one thing I definitely did not enjoy about Spain, I felt like they were either very cold and unfeeling or losing their shit. haha I couldn’t imagine teaching in a school there, but at least you only work 16 hrs a week!

    I know it’s not the best thing to constantly compare two very different cultures but I understand the need to 😛

    • Danielle says:

      The shit losing is on a while different level! And you know, I never really thought Spaniards would be as cold as I find them to be. In buttoned up Korea I actually felt so much more appreciated and welcomed than I do here, and here I “fit in”. It’s a very weird feeling, but think totally makes for a richer experience, in a very backwards way.

  9. Nathan says:

    Wow, this was actually a great comparison! Not that I doubted your writing skills, but considering the two countries…. nice job 🙂

    As someone head over heels in love with Korea’s cafe culture, I agree with you; it’s very hard to replicate!

    • Danielle says:

      Thanks Nathan, especially for not doubting my writing skills 😉 hahah. It actually came somewhat easily because I don’t think two countries could be any more opposite. And that cafe culture, man. Missing it is the worst!

  10. Hedgers Abroad says:

    When you travel, you leave a piece of your heart wherever you go. I know so many of my expat friends who talk about being homesick for Korea after leaving and I know that when it comes time for us to leave, we will feel much the same.

    I really enjoyed the comparisons of Korea to Spain. It seems like maybe they aren’t SO different as the señors and señoras share similarities with the ajummas and ajussis here. Koreans can also be quite passionate… have you heard of Dokdo? haha

    • Danielle says:

      HAHA! Of course I’ve heard of Dokdo, or do you mean Takeshima? 😉 I went! My heart was left there, and so many other places I’ve been, that is so true 🙂

  11. Rebecca @ Rebe With a Clause says:

    Great post! I lived in Madrid for two years, and most recently lived in Korea last year. I’d find myself comparing Spain and Korea all the time. My feelings towards each place are reverse, though — I absolutely loved living in Spain, while I’m not missing Korea a bit…

    Give it some time – hope the peninsula warms up to you : )

    • Danielle says:

      I have been thinking about this a lot actually, and I bet that feeling has a lot to do with where you chose to make your second home when you first moved abroad. Korea will always own my heart, and hoping Spain will creep in sooner rather than later. It’s definitely an adjustment, but I think one for the best 🙂

      • Rebecca @ Rebe With a Clause says:

        Yeah, definitely. I think a huge part of it was the language barrier in Korea, where in contrast after my Spanish skills improved, I could talk with anyone (+ had Spanish friends) – and thus felt like a part of Spanish society and not like a foreigner. But I didn’t have that connection in Korea.

        My second year in Madrid (alone, not with a study abroad group) the first couple of months were lonely, but once I joined a sports team and consequently gained a group of friends, it became one of my best years yet. So things will pick up as you slowly integrate into society and develop friendships. Buena suerte! Excited to follow your time in Spain : )

      • Danielle says:

        Yea, that’s what I’ve heard from a few others. I think the initial integration is a but difficult, esp since I’m still studying ze Español. But I’m hoping it picks up for me! It’s always nice to hear that others felt similar and it picked up soon enough 🙂

  12. Duke Stewart says:

    That was a great post. I loved the “rubber” bit. Made me think about what would happen when that kid says that in the States. What a moment that’d be! Ajummas are a freak of nature that nobody can explain.

    I’m thinking about kidnapping a couple and bringing them to stay with my family, but they probably won’t go if there’s no mountain to look fashionable on. We’ll see.

    • Danielle says:

      OMG I know, about the rubber! It’s like if Korean kids went to America with their English names of Spongebob and Banana and Iron Man. You can never win, but makes for the best stories!

  13. Meagan | says:

    It’s really amazing that you get to live as an expat and immerse yourself in the culture of different countries and completely different cultures. I can only imagine how hard it will be for me to leave Korea. I’ve been here a while too and all of the quirky parts are so normal to me now. It’s hard to remember what is different. I imagine it’s a big adjustment to go from that into another foreign culture, but it’s such an amazing opportunity.

    • Danielle says:

      Yea, it’s true. I think culture shock is all over the board and reversed and flipped back again. It’s so weird! But yea, we are tremendously lucky in that we have this “tool” that allows us to live all over the place and experience something other than our own. Be prepared for leaving though, it’s gonna hit you! I know people who have been gone for 2 years now and still miss it everyday. Korea is weird, but in the best ways possible 🙂

  14. ktmcg16 says:

    I loved this! You have only been in Spain a month, my guess is that soon your memories and things you miss about Korea will fade and suddenly you will get those same feelings about Spain! I have just begun my love affair with Korea, have definitely noticed those ajummas and ajussis though, can’t miss them! Look forward to reading about your new life in Spain!

    • Danielle says:

      I hope those Korea memories just take a little back seat, not necessarily fade! But yea, I was thinking the other day about how I’m constantly on Kakao with my Korea friends and thinking ‘Danielle, lock it up! Be present here!’ But it’s hard. I bet with you in time, you’ll come to really miss the drunk passed out ajussis and those ajumma ‘bows. I miss them quite fondly, it’s awkward.

  15. Neysha says:

    This was super cool to read! i’m thinking of Spain after my year in Korea… but it’s also interested to hear your perspective on your time in the land of the morning calm because after 3 months of living here, I’m not getting it. Like you and Spain, I’m trying here! :). Great post, though. I’m excited to see how life in Spain evolves for you.

    • Danielle says:

      That’s a shame you’re not liking it so much! But I guess Korea isnt for everyone! If you have any questions about working in Spain let me known and I’m happy to give you any info I’ve got 🙂 But enjoy your year in Korea. I miss it every single day!

  16. Alphonse says:

    Funny to read your comparisons. I’ll be waiting for your post when you compare the Spanish churros and the current-fad churros on Seoul’s streets. Love that rainbow cream roll, by the way.

    • Danielle says:

      Haha! Thanks! You know, I only tried the churros in Korea once and I don’t really remember them being worth waiting in a long line for. Churros in Spain are delish tho! As are the borras, which are fatter and fluffier, and when dipped in cafe or chocolate. YUM! You should go on a hunt to Frank’s for that rainbow roll. You will NOT regret it. And will probably finish it by yourself. I did.

  17. Courtney says:

    I loved reading this!!!! I had never taught before coming here, so adjusting to the chaos of a Spanish classroom was a real challenge. The only experience I had to compare it to was my perfect little American elementary school – where we were all angels, or course 😉 Spanish kids are so cute until they forget that they’re children, not wild animals. And the lack of lesson planning, zero punishment or reinforcement, constant yelling… oy vey. It’s still hard for me to deal with sometimes. But the cheap wine in Spain makes it all worth it, right…? I think my favorite comparison of yours is the passed out drunkards vs the abuelos siesta-ing. I really can’t think of two cultures more different than Korean and Spanish, so I can only imagine how much of a shock to your system this must be! But I hope that you continue to transition smoothly into life in Madrid and learn to laugh at all of Spain’s oftentimes ridiculous quirks 🙂

    • Danielle says:

      The cheap wine does indeed make it worth it. And just living in a place that’s near impossible for us to is too! I think I really need to stop comparing, but when you see the hilarious comparisons like the drunkards, it’s hard to resist 😉 But it’s true, they really are so opposite, it’s fascinating. I don’t think I thought too much about it til I landed. I think it’ll keep going smoothly, after all, the quirks are why we chose to immerse ourselves right!? Just gotta embrace them and roll with it 🙂

  18. Estrella says:

    When I first arrived in Madrid, I couldn’t stop comparing either. I fell in love with Incheon (probably because of it’s proximity to Seoul) right away, but it took me two years to really love Madrid the way I do now. I almost went back to South Korea this fall, but changed my mind and decided to come back to Madrid instead. I hope you’re enjoying your time here! If you ever want to grab some Korean bbq, let me know. I’m always down for Korean food 🙂

    • Danielle says:

      Thanks! Yea, it’s definitely an adjustment, that’s for sure! Glad to know others are in the same boat 🙂 I’ve already hit up a couple Korean places I’ve found, so if you know of a good place I’m down!

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