‘One big difference between Singapore and Seoul is that most of the moms here are SAHMs because they believe that moms should devote their full attention to raising kids.’
In our latest Overseas Mama series, Singaporean Yvonne Ang, tells us about life in South Korea. Yvonne moved to Seoul in 2019 with her husband when she was 6 months pregnant. She recounts the difficulty of giving birth in a country where she didn’t speak the language “I went through my third-trimester checkups and delivery not knowing what was going on most of the time. My gynaecologist did not speak English so my checkups consisted of just hi-bye interactions. I was a pretty chill mum but I definitely wish I was able to interact more since it was my first pregnancy.” Yvonne says that parenting is pretty similar in Seoul as it is in Singapore and that education is just as competitive. Read on for her full interview!
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi, I am Yvonne. My husband is Benjamin and I am a stay-at-home mum (SAHM) to our two young kids, Elijah who is 3.5 years old and Ellie who is 17 months old. We have been residing in South Korea since May 2019. We moved here when I was six months pregnant with my first kid. It was our first time ever in South Korea.
What brought you to Seoul, South Korea? How long have you been living overseas?
My husband’s PhD supervisor is Korean and he recruited my husband to be the post-doctorate responsible for helping him set up his laboratory and team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon in central-west South Korea. One thing led to another, Benjamin was recommended to his current boss and we moved from Daejeon to Seoul in 2021.
We had been living in Brisbane, Australia for 2.5 years before making the move to South Korea. My husband did his degree in Brisbane in 2012. We loved our time there so much that we returned to Brisbane for his postdoctoral research in 2017. We have been away from Singapore for almost seven years now.
Favourite aspect about living in Seoul?
The four seasons definitely. There are four seasons in Brisbane too but there are not many changes in the landscape because Brisbane is nearer to the tropics. In South Korea, the four seasons are so distinct with various flowers, colourful foliage, and snow. Of course, our favourite seasons would be spring and autumn. In spring, there are lovely flowers like cherry blossoms, canola, azalea, and tulips while in autumn, we have colourful autumn leaves and flowers. We also look forward to the delicious seasonal fruits here.
And the worst part?
Everything is in Korean so it is pretty hard to get things done if you cannot speak or understand Korean. I went through my third trimester checkups and the delivery of my first child not knowing what was going on most of the time. It was pure faith and just hoping that I won’t die.
How do you think parenting in Seoul differs from parenting in Singapore? What do you appreciate most about it?
I would say parenting in Seoul and Singapore are quite similar. It is also very competitive here when it comes to education. Kids go to various hagwons (enrichment centres) after school. One big difference though, most of the moms here are SAHMs because they believe that moms should devote their full attention to raising kids.
However, the daycare centres and kindergartens here are full of fun activities which I really appreciate. They have seasonal activities and field trips almost every week. My son is definitely pampered here.
Did you give birth to your children in Seoul? If yes, what was memorable about the experience?
I gave birth to my son in Daejeon and my daughter in Seoul. It was really memorable in Daejeon because my gynaecologist did not speak English so my checkups consisted of just hi-bye interactions. I was a pretty chill mum so I did not have much to ask but I definitely wish I was able to interact more since it was my first pregnancy. I remember I had to memorise various terms in Korean so I could try to communicate with the nurses and gynaecologist during childbirth.
My delivery in Seoul was the best though. My gynaecologist spoke English and I had a very good childbirth experience. Also the food during the stay was amazing and they even had a complimentary full body massage on the second night of my stay. The cost of delivering a baby here in South Korea is also very affordable, and it is nice that everyone is in a private suite.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I was working as a programme executive with a local university before going to join my husband in Brisbane. I was heavily pregnant when we moved to South Korea and I became a SAHM after.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurant in Seoul?
Generally restaurants in Seoul are not kid-friendly. Most of the time, they do not even have high chairs. They are also very cramped. Your best bet would be to go to the big malls like Shinsegae and Lotte where they have very nice nursing rooms, toddler feeding rooms, and diaper changing rooms. The restaurants there would likely have high chairs too.
Top five places in or around Seoul you would recommend to parents travelling with kids and why.
Kids’ cafes – There are many themed kids’ cafes in Seoul. Just search for “키즈카페” online and you can be sure to find one that you like!
Malls – Big malls like Shinsegae, Lotte, The Hyundai Seoul or IFC mall have floors dedicated to kids selling a wide selection of books, toys, and baby food.
Kids’ museums – There are many fun and free kids’ museums in Seoul such as the Children’s Museum of the War Memorial of Korea which has a massive display of military vehicles and planes on the lawn in the front of the museum. Don’t miss the Children’s Museum of the National Folk Museum of Korea, Korea Postage Stamps Museum, and Bank of Korea Money Museum!
Seoul Forest – There is a nice cafe outside of Seoul Forest where you can have lunch or tea before enjoying a walk in the forest. There are deers for the kids to look at. In spring and autumn, you can also see beautiful cherry blossoms and autumn leaves.
Is there something that you do to keep your children in touch with their Singaporean roots?
I try to cook and introduce various Singapore dishes to them. We also participate in the annual Lunar New Year and National Day celebrations organised by the Embassy of Singapore in Seoul where the kids get to meet fellow Singaporeans living here in South Korea. Also my dad video calls my kids and me almost every day.
Best souvenir one could bring back from Seoul
– for a child:
– for a mama friend:
Handmade jewellery by any local artist. There are so many talented Korean handicraft artists here.
What do you find is the hardest part of being a mother living in a foreign country?
The lack of help with kids in times of need. Whenever I am sick, there is no one I can turn to who can help me look after my young kids. Every time, I just have to persevere until I get better.
When I delivered my second child, I was alone in the hospital the entire time as my husband had to be home with our elder child. Just two weeks after I had given birth, I had to look after my newborn, my firstborn, and myself because my husband had to return to work. I had to carry my newborn to cook and clean as my toddler cried and screamed for me at the same time.
On raising multilingual children …
I find it challenging for now as we mainly speak English at home. My son learns Korean as he attends a local daycare centre in Seoul. We will be slowly introducing him to more Chinese soon. Even myself, I only started learning Korean at 32 years old. I believe kids are able to pick up languages quite fast.
What do you always bring back from Singapore for yourself and for your children?
I have not been back to Singapore since we moved to South Korea in May 2019. Both my kids have never been to Singapore. My parents have sent me many care packages from Singapore because I could not stomach any Korean dishes during my second pregnancy. Inside I would find lots of chilli, kaya, sauces, and my favourite old-school biscuits and snacks.
Tell us about your go-to recipe for your family.
We do not have any go-to recipe, I cook anything that is fast and easy with the chaos of having two young kids around. My husband is definitely the better cook at home. I try to make Singapore desserts like tau suan, green bean soup, peanut muah chee, min jiang kueh, and cakes for them to try. I also try to cook laska, chicken rice, mee siam, and other Singapore dishes so that they can be familiar with the flavours.
What’s the one thing you would miss about Seoul if you moved away?
Definitely online shopping and next-day delivery no matter what time you make a purchase. Also I would miss how safe it is in Seoul – I could leave my parcels outside the front door for days and nothing will be stolen.
What is the first thing you do each time you come back to Singapore?
Definitely I would have a bowl of fishball mee pok dry with extra chilli. I keep a whole Instagram album of local food stalls I want to go to when I am back.
What do you dread most if you are moving back to Singapore?
Becoming a tiger mom and joining the academic rat race. Also constantly feeling like I’m not doing enough or having enough, and having the need to chase after something more.
I think I might also feel trapped after a while since Singapore is such a small island. We used to do road trips every weekend in Brisbane. In Seoul, we are able to make quick trips to other parts of South Korea easily with the high-speed rail.
Thoughts on your children moving back and joining Singapore’s education system?
Not looking forward to it actually as my son really enjoys his time at the daycare centre here with all the fun activities and frequent excursions. It will be quite a change for him when he returns to Singapore. We will probably be going back a year before he starts Primary 1 to get him used to the system and culture so he will not be too shocked when he starts formal education.
How do you think Singaporeans can benefit from living overseas?
The experience can strengthen you in many ways and you end up becoming more resilient. You get to experience many new things that you will never get a chance to try in Singapore. Living overseas will force you to adapt, learn, and get out of your comfort zone. At the same time, it will also broaden your horizons and perspectives. I had to learn a new language and also learn from scratch how everything works every time we move to a different country.