Living With Kids: Koseli Cummings

Koseli and her family decided to take a big leap during the last year when her husband accepted a job in South Korea and the whole family moved across the world. They quarantined for 14 days in a hotel, moved to a temporary home, and then finally arrived at their permanent home away from home. They’ve enjoyed living within walking distance of amenities like parks and shopping and have appreciated South Korea’s strict and balanced response to COVID. You’ll love hearing about their adventures and might even be inspired to look into your own ex-pat adventure. Welcome, Koseli!

I live in Seoul, South Korea, with my husband, Keenan, our four sons ages 3 to 10, and our new puppy, Sanna. All our kids’ names start with the letter ‘S” for no good reason. We love good sourdough bread, obscure board games, Legos (but not stepping on them), and anything remotely hygge-ish like mega soft blankets and low lighting.

I used to be the Discovery Editor right here on Design Mom. I’d find “the coolest thing on the internet” and share it in a daily column. Since then, I’ve grown older and a lot less cool. I am, however, still a freelance writer.

We live in a four story villa in Seorae Village in Seocho-gu, Seoul. Our apartment is a full floor — the biggest apartment we’ve ever lived in. When we lived in Brooklyn, we took the door off our tiny closet and our oldest slept on a mini crib mattress on the floor and our baby slept in a portable crib we’d pull in and out of our family room. Ha! 

The apartment is a sunny 4bd/3ba with a large kitchen and separate laundry room. There’s also a second mini kitchen that’s common here. It’s for making kimchi, fish, etc. but we use it as a pantry/storage/and now puppy dog haven. 

The cost of living in Banpo-dong (the specific neighborhood of Seocho-gu, Seoul, we live in) is similar to an upscale neighborhood in the Bay Area or New York City. A 3-4 bedroom apartment (there are very few if any stand-alone houses) could be 4,000,000-8,000,000 million won( about $3800-$7500+) a month. 

It’s commonly referred to as the “French Village” because there are a lot of French people who live here, as well as many other global expats. There is a French International School, French bakeries, Little Prince mosaics, and neighborhood landmarks named after French landmarks, like our very own Montmartre Park. It’s a park on top of a nearby hill where little bunnies literally hop around!

We love this neighborhood because it really does feel like a tight-knit multicultural village. Lots of people speak multiple languages (English, Korean, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Malay, etc.) and many families are bi-racial, bi-cultural, and/or multi-generational. My kids go to school with kids from 15+ different countries and then play at the playground on the weekend with their neighborhood Korean friends. 

We live next to a cafe, our kids run to the corner 7/11 for Friday night popcorn, and walk by themselves to soccer practice around the corner. There are two playgrounds within minutes of our building. We can grab insane Beef Bolognese, and around the other corner, a healthy California-style salad. It’s heaven if you love good food and hate dropping off/picking up kids.

We’re very lucky that the company my husband works for relocated us here and helped us find this apartment. We moved here November 2020. We quarantined for 14 days in a high rise apartment (only left for two chauffeured Covid tests), then moved to a hotel for two months. We were giddy to get into our own place!

Since we’d lived in NYC and SF area, we were familiar with aggressive rental markets so we were ready to move fast and make concessions. Most apartments are only shown by agents so you have to work with a real estate agent, even for rentals. A year’s rent is often required up front — that was a big shock. Before we moved in, the landlord replaced all the floors and painted the whole apartment. They even updated a few things we were sure they wouldn’t: like re-grouting the shower and tubs and concealing A/C unit cords. All things our NYC landlords would have never done. 

The apartment is outdated but has such a great layout and has been so well maintained over the years, it doesn’t bother my husband or I whatsoever. I love it! I feel so relieved not owning a home anymore.

There’s no chance we’d be living in this apartment in this neighborhood without the financial and logistical support of my husband’s employer. 

We love living in South Korea! I’m already sad to leave! Neither my husband nor I are anxious to return to the states. Our family has already had some unique experiences since moving here, like modeling and being on two reality shows. 

I love going for long walks and exploring and trying new food, shopping, and people watching along the way. It feels so safe here. There is very little violent crime. Women often walk alone in the early morning or late at night. 

South Korea has been viewed as a world leader in Covid-19 precaution and safety. A little more than 80% of people in South Korea are fully vaccinated now. Masks are mandatory anytime in public.

Like so many families all over the world, our kids have endured a lot of online school the last couple years. I think I lost my mind multiple times over the course of this pandemic. 

Most people in Korea use an app called Kakao. On the app, every person has a personal QR code. Whenever you go to the doctor, to a restaurant, or a mall, you scan your QR code. If there’s a positive case, you’re notified immediately and are asked to take a Covid test. There are free testing centers all over. 

Right now, there is a 10 day mandatory quarantine for anyone returning to South Korea. That means we can’t travel throughout Asia like we hoped. But just like everyone, we hope it’ll be safe and prudent to open up sooner than later. It has been a year since we’ve seen our families in the US. I really feel for other expats here from Australia, New Zealand, parts of Africa, China, and different parts of Europe who haven’t seen their families for much longer. It’s tough being an expat during the pandemic. The only people that get that are other expats so it’s been super nice to commiserate with others in a similar boat. 

I hope my kids become more considerate of others after living here. Koreans seem to be very aware of others and concerned about how their actions affect others. I want my children to hold tight to the positive side of that cultural characteristic. 

We’ll also hold on to the no shoes in the house rule, eat lots of kimchi and pickled onions, love Korean barbecue, and hold on to our incredible Korean and expat friends forever. 

Here are some cultural things I have loved about living in South Korea. This is a funny thing but people are always feeding the cats in our garage. They bring Go-Gurt tubes and hand-feed the cats. It cracks me up. K-pop bands are woven into Korean culture. They’re in the airplane safety videos, on billboards, selling tupperware on tv, and on the sides of buses. 

Seoulites are so stylish. It’s like New York City during the commute but Korean style. I love checking out peoples’ outfits. People and places are tidy. Our landlord keeps her flower beds meticulous and the recycling cans pristine. 

We don’t have a backyard but we do have a balcony. Sometimes we go out there in our pajamas and blow bubbles and yell hello to people below. We probably disturb the peace way more than we should.

Everybody lives super close together, right? Everyone lives in apartments and those apartments are right next to other apartment buildings. Well last Spring when we moved in we thought there was an earthquake. Turns out it was a giant wrecking ball destroying the building next door. For the next seven months, I podcasted from under a blanket, hoping listeners wouldn’t hear jackhammers and drills in the background. Big city living!

Last week I overheard Keenan apologizing to our son for getting upset and confiding that “he feels scared sometimes, too.” I loved that. Half the battle is admitting you were wrong. I wish someone had told me the symptoms of ADHD were more/different than hyperactivity and lack of focus. My husband and son were diagnosed with it this year and I’ve been so grateful for supportive, informative Facebook groups and Youtube videos. It’s still totally taboo and it’s frustrating. ADHD shouldn’t be seen as a problem to fix, but a neurological difference to understand better. 

The energy in our house is real. Since becoming a parent, I’ve realized the playground is my happy place so we’ve probably spent an average of 10 hours at the park every week for the last ten years. That’s 5200 hours! Public parks and playgrounds (and the mom friends that’ll meet me there!) have saved my sanity and taught my kids so many valuable life, skills like how to turn the other cheek, share a favorite scooter, and eat a granola bar when you have low blood sugar. 

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Thank you, Koseli! This has seems so charming and stylish. I love the personal touches from the art to the books and the instruments. And I also loved when Koseli said that even though the house was “outdated” it was in a great location and they love it. I think it is so easy when we get the chance as we do to see so many magazine perfect homes online to focus on the parts of our own home we’re not thrilled with. I love the attitude of “this house meets our needs and is in a great spot and we’re thrilled.”

I also really loved what Koseli said about getting to spend time outside and how the park and the playground is her happy place. I think so many of us have turned to time outside, even it it wasn’t a part of our normal routine before, since so many indoor activities aren’t happening, or are restricted or just more complicated because of COVID. It’s so great for kids (and parents!) to get outside and see the sky every once in a while.

Have you found yourself more drawn to outdoor activities of late? Are there new parts of your routine that you love that help you and the kids get outside? How do you plan to keep that going as the weather get’s colder?

SOURCES

Green sectional by (similar by Essa)

Womb Chair knock-off 

Schoolhouse Electric Clock (SE ligature designed by my husband!)

Print by Phoebe Wahl


Photos by Sara Parsons. Living with Kids is Edited by Joshua Bingham. You can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com.

7 thoughts on “Living With Kids: Koseli Cummings”

  1. What a lovely and surprisingly large SK home. In case it is of interest to you… the appropriate, respectful way to hang the American flag is with the blue field/stars in the upper left.

  2. Hi Koseli,
    I really enjoyed reading about how different and similar life in SK is and your house is so nice and uncluttered looking. I want to leave a note about that toddler bed rail (in the picture third from last) It has been recalled from ikea. My son has a scar on his eyebrow from his. Just round the corner down and put a little padding on it. Best wishes in your expat adventure

  3. Loved this. And omg yes to the playground. Lately we live there!!! For a big chunk of covid we were too afraid to go to our playground and some were closed so we are making up for lost time.

    Loved all these tidbits of her life and ooh I’d love to see the fashion there!

  4. Hey there! Such a lovely, honest, inspiring story!
    I have lived in NY, the East Bay of SF, Bangkok, LA, and Granada. But NOT with 4 kids in tow. I loved having my son in NYC, but I love having him back in CA where I was born and raised too! I share this because I thought your story must resonate with so many people. Here is a link I refer to often at the school where I work for working with families/students with ADHD. We have done all faculty trainings, and it has been so helpful. https://chadd.org/ Keep on being you! Good luck in your next adventure.

  5. I loved this so much! Love getting a peek into your beautiful home and your wise mind. Always inspired by you, Koseli!

  6. I love this! What a serene, whimsical space. It would be so hard to navigate ex pat life during a pandemic but you’re making the most of it. Your kids are going to have some really special memories and family traditions from your life here.

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