Expat Life In South Korea
After arriving in South Korea there are always expats who are disappointed and want to go back home. Usually, there are several reasons why they want to return home after such a short time living abroad.
I want to write this post not about whether you should apply to become a teacher or study abroad in South Korea. I want to write about the myths of moving abroad. My hope is that this will help form realistic expectations before the next adventurist takes the leap and travels to South Korea. Who knows maybe you’re like me and you leap before you look or maybe you’re the exact opposite.
These are some of the myths I believed before I moved to South Korea and I frequently see posted on social media forums.
City Life vs. Rural
The city of Seoul is a very large city. That being said, living outside of Seoul is a very different atmosphere. A lot of places have been referred to as being rural with a lot of farmland. If you’re the type of person who loves a bustling nightlife and participating in a lot of activities you might want to really be sure that you’re willing to live anywhere in South Korea.
You don’t want to be the person who waits for the weekend to travel to Seoul and hates every Monday because they have to return to work. It may sound harsh, but I have seen more than one post about this issue.
I believe a good way to accurately gauge your travel tolerance levels is to use your current location. Another city I love to visit is San Diego, California. That’s about two hours away from where I currently live. I love to travel to San Diego, but not when there is a ton of traffic.
I have heard news reports of it taking four hours to travel from Los Angeles to San Diego on a Friday afternoon. I also don’t like to travel long distances when it’s a holiday or on the rare occasion when it’s raining in California.
Be specific about where you want to live whether it’s in a big city like Seoul, a coastal city like Busan, or in a rural area.
The next myth I want to discuss is something if I’m being totally honest I’m also guilty of having this expectation. I thought going to South Korea was going to be like in those K-pop music videos.
I thought that I would get off the plane and would see all of these Hallyu wave celebrities and it would be so exciting. The reality is you have to go to specific locations to see those celebrities i.e. recording studios, nearby convenience stores close to the YG building, etc.
I don’t condemn anyone who wants to travel to South Korea to see their favorite artist. There are thousands of people who come to Los Angeles, California every year for that very reason, that and the sunshine. The only problem with this expectation is that if you don’t have any other reasons for wanting to visit South Korea you will be disappointed.
I’ve heard that fans wait outside these buildings all day during the weekend waiting to see their favorite artist. After you’ve stood outside and on the rare occasion you get lucky and see the artist. Then what? The total time from their car service to the door is between two to five minutes. I’m being generous with the five minutes that’s including a customary bow and polite greeting.
I’m sure every artist appreciates their loyal fans, but we can’t forget they’re going to work. They don’t have a lot of extra time between promotional schedules to stop and spend time with their fans. I never stood outside a building or attended a fan meeting when I lived in South Korea, however one day I will have to share the story of my visit inside a popular celebrities house when I traveled to Santa Barbara, California.
Who knows maybe you will be pleasantly surprised and have a memorable fan encounter, but if you don’t have other places you want to visit within South Korea you will want to return home sooner rather than later. There is so much more to do in Korea such as mountain retreats, island tours and visiting historical sites.
A lot of people want to know if they will be able to use their credit cards in South Korea. Before I moved to South Korea I considered going to Koreatown and opening up a bank account with Woori Bank. That’s until I discovered that my local bank branch here in California also has an office in South Korea.
The worry was replaced with knowing I could call a local number in South Korea and speak to someone if there was ever an emergency. Tip: If you’re like me and you don’t want to travel to your nearest branch you can visit any bank branch that has a Global Atm and withdraw Korean Won. Please be aware there’s a small transaction fee, however because of the currency exchange (the U.S. to Korean Won) I still saved money.
Greeting Other Foreigners
Depending on the country where you’re from you may be used to politely greeting someone as you walk past. It’s customary in California that if I see another African American person, regardless if I know them or not, I smile and say a polite greeting.
With research on customs in South Korea, I was aware that Koreans don’t follow this custom so I didn’t have any expectations with them. However, I didn’t expect this would also be the case for other foreigners in South Korea. I assumed since we shared one common goal (both being foreigners in South Korea) there would be an immediate bond.
I soon figured out that just because a person is from another country doesn’t mean they want to hear your life story about why you came to South Korea on a subway ride home.
The next myth that I frequently see people ask questions is the belief that they will immediately experience personal growth. Maybe it’s because we’ve read the book Eat, Pray, Love. Except the location is changed from Italy to South Korea.
I have mentioned before that I had the belief that I wouldn’t eat any fast food once I arrived in Korea. When in fact the first place I grabbed a bite to eat was at Starbucks.
Yes, you should try new restaurants and eat out as much as your budget can afford. However, know that every once in a while you will miss the comforts of home and you will look for the familiar. That’s okay, there’s always tomorrow to go try Kimchi Jjigae.
You can expect at some point that you will feel homesick. At some point, you will miss your family and the comforts of home. However, getting into the rut of always comparing South Korea to another country is a disservice to both you and Korea.
Eventually, change will occur, with your interactions with people on the subway, grocery store shopping and making friends from all over the world. Somehow, slowly you will change, however, don’t expect this fresh off the boat, train or airplane. The jet lag alone took me almost a week to remedy.
This is only my experience on the myths people believe about living in South Korea. I believe if you are willing to try new things, you will find your own home away from home. Whether it’s standing in front of KBS studios, busking at Hongdae or visiting Seoul Metropolitan Museum, I hope that whatever your travel plans you have an amazing adventure.
Would love to hear your comments below on some misconceptions about life abroad in South East Asia.
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