On Feeling Safe in South Korea

Programs for this blog post

Arts + Sciences

Authored By:

Barritt R.

Greetings:) I hope whoever is reading this gets to do one thing they enjoy today (at the very least)! Today I thought I would talk about safety and crime in the US vs. Korea, and how differences in relative levels of safety have impacted my experience living in those respective countries.

It is a pretty well-known fact that the United States is not the safest, or even close to being, the safest country in the world. But while living there I never thought very deeply about how much the level of crime and safety in a country can affect your day-to-day life. For example, back home while living in downtown Portland Oregon, I didn’t feel safe walking around alone at night. I remember working a late-night shift at an ice cream shop about a twenty-minute walk from my home and making the daily decision that I should bike home instead of walk (I didn’t have a car). My thought process was always—’ at least on a bike it would be harder for me to be harassed or abducted’. It’s not that I was constantly in fear, but more than the thought of making sure to avoid unsafe areas and situations was in the back of my mind most of the time.

I remember moving out of my childhood home and into my first apartment, and while saying goodbye to my parents being handed a ‘going away present’ that consisted of mace and an alarm key-charm that went off if you pulled it. I don’t know if this type of ‘gift’ is that common, but I have also talked to a lot of female friends back in the states who received similar types of ‘presents’ from loved ones concerned about their safety. Although I never felt unsafe enough to not enjoy the nightlife in Portland, I usually made sure to have at least one person with me if I was going to be walking around at night.

Another thing that I didn’t realize I feared so deeply until I left the US was the looming possibility that someone with a gun could arrive at a random public facility and start shooting people. Although these sorts of tragedies don’t happen often, I read enough about school shootings, movie theatre shootings, and grocery store shootings in the news to realize that Americans are facing a real gun control crisis. And I often catch myself in Korea thinking, ‘what if someone with a gun comes into this facility, and then I have to remind myself that I am in Korea, and it is very very hard for a random person to get their hands on a gun in the first place. And nevermind the actual racial profiling, murder, and imprisonment of innocent civilians that goes on in America every day. 

Moving to Korea has in many ways brought on an incredible amount of freedom that I didn’t even realize I was missing out on in the ‘land of the free’ (ironic right).  Here in Seoul, Korea I feel safe walking alone at night. I can leave my dorm at 9:00 pm, take a bus forty minutes away to a cafe, study for two hours and get home at 12:00 am, and I feel safe. I can forget my wallet in a cafe, and come back three hours late to find that it is still there. I have even dropped my wallet in the middle of the street and returned half an hour late to find it lying exactly where I dropped it (sorry mom). Obviously, this does not always happen, and sheer luck also played a big role in these almost disaster cases, but still. In coffee shops and restaurants, I feel fine leaving my computer, wallet, and phone out on the table when I get up to go to the bathroom, something that I probably wouldn’t do if I was sitting alone at home in the States. I am not sure exactly what makes Korea so much safer. I think part of it is the collectivist culture that highly values group safety and wellbeing here in Korea. It may also have something to do with greater centralized laws placed on things like gun control, and crime in general. Whatever it is, it sure is nice to live in both a big and bustling city and a safe place.


That is all for now, stay safe.