This week’s Indie Travel Challenge prompt is about whether you’ve been an expat and why you decided to stay.
Luckily, I can talk on this subject since I am currently an expat in South Korea. I live in Incheon, the city with the big airport in it which is just west of Seoul. Perhaps my expat journey was a bit different than usual, in that I didn’t visit the country before I decided to move there. I simply applied for a job in Korea, and moved there for the year, knowing little about what living there would be like.
Coming to Korea with EPIK means you get a ten-day orientation before being dumped in your city. This helps with learning to teach, and practicing your chopstick skills before people are watching you. Also, you can get a leg up on Korean language learning (my advice: be sure you learn the alphabet either before arriving in the country or at orientation).
However, there’s still a lot to adjust to. The very first day was especially overwhelming. First, we were taken on a bus from Seoul to Incheon. That’s only about an hour, but we had to wake up quite early. We were shuttled into a room where we sat with our new head co-teachers and had a meeting to go over our contracts. Then we were taken out to our schools by the co-teachers – no time to say goodbye to the friends we’d just made, really.
My co-teacher, Mr. Kim, helped me drop things off at my house first. Then we walked to get 물 냉면 (cold noodles in a watery broth), at a nearby restaurant which turned out to be very close to Jeff’s apartment. Then I came to school, met the principal, then sat in an office for an hour. I went home (home is next door, just past a church) and that was that.
It was that first night that was the toughest. Luckily, I had Jeff, and we had phones – though even that was a little difficult – we didn’t know where we were. But we found each other, and then went in search of picture menus. The only place we found was a pizza place. Okay, pizza it was.
Since then of course I have settled in more (close to my 11th month here). Expat life can be strange and difficult, but mostly it feels normal. We have a routine, we work normal 40 hour a week jobs, we have internet and most of the comforts of home in the US.
The things I like most about Korea are the food and the public transportation. Both are cheap and good. Eating out in Korea can be cheaper than cooking at home – however, it’s difficult to go out if you’re alone (tons of sides, and barbecue places have a minimum order of two, usually). There’s a fantastic bus and subway system – but the buses here gave me motion sickness for the first time in my life.
One thing to recommend becoming an expat in Korea is that the expat community is so large. There are a lot of English teachers in Korea, along with various professionals, and of course American military personnel. Unless you are very isolated, you are unlikely to be the only foreigner in town, and therefore you’ll have people to hang out with that share your worldview.
While I’m all about immersion in a new culture, I think it can be very difficult to do so fully. A taste of home now and then is perfectly fine, whether it be literally in terms of food or just talking to other native speakers. Korea will give you this, as most places have a Western restaurant or two and some others to chat with.
I enjoy, for instance, weekly pub trivia at a bar near Bupyeong Station called Cheap Shots. I used to do pub trivia at home, so this is really nice for me. I don’t go every week, but it’s fun (if you live in Incheon, Cheap Shots is near exit 12 of the Bupyeong underground and trivia is on Thursdays at 9:15).
My least favorite part of being an expat is adjusting to the work culture and expectations. Things are quite different here and sometimes it is difficult for me. It can be something as simple as what “I need it soon but not immediately” means (hint: in this case, it meant the same day, when I thought the next day would be fine).
Overall, expat life in Korea is great. I definitely recommend looking into teaching English in Korea as an option that will help you travel and save some money (I save about 75% of my paycheck – more on that in a later post). Soon I’ll be writing some posts on Korea living tips and things like that. If you have any particular questions, please ask in the comments and I will try to address it in the near future.
Have you ever been an expat?