As published in Sawubona Magazine (June 2014)
Moving to South Korea has been one of my best decisions. The opportunity to immerse myself in a new culture has brought depth to my knowledge of the world, particularly because eastern cultures are quite different from western ones.
There’s the fear of loneliness when moving to a new country, but Korea has a strong expat community and it’s easy to form new friendships. The only drawback is being far from family and friends, but with technology it’s easy to keep in contact.
Working in Korea is much like working anywhere; the satisfaction of the experience depends on your company. Korea has a reputation for some bad experiences for expat English teachers working for Hagwons (private academies): late or no pay and poor working environments. But there are also many perks: a free apartment, complimentary airfare and health insurance.
The best places to meet locals are at language exchange meet-ups where Koreans practice English and westerners learn Korean. These casual meet-ups are arranged between people who find each other using Facebook, Craigslist, Meetup.com.
Even though you may not agree with or understand Korean culture, as a visitor you should respect it. In the west, when you meet someone you shake hands, here you bow.
Back in the United States it would be frowned upon to get drunk in front of your boss during a company event, here it’s rude not to. There’s also a strong social hierarchy regarding age, older men and women (adjussis and adjumas) are highly respected, even if they are in the ‘wrong’.
Nightlife is great. There are three main spots: Itaewon, the foreigner district with its many western-style bars. Hongdae, the bohemian district with its live underground music. Gangnam, the posh area with its expensive clubs, is a fun place to go if you’re willing to spend the money to enter its expensive clubs.