Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Perspective Series-Life After Korea

This week I’m happy to introduce Andrea from World Walk About for the next installment of the Perspective series. This is a series about expats sharing their experience of living abroad and how it inevitably changed their perspectives on life. When I first found Andrea's blog, I was shocked at how similar our stories coming to Korea were (we both were married and moved to Korea within the first 5 months of marriage) and had to contact her right away. Since then, I have loved hearing her viewpoints and stories from living in a small town in Korea. Not to mention her always beautiful photos! 
In other exciting news, I'm posting over on Andrea's lovely blog today. About what you ask? How I feel about living abroad. This could get interesting. Go check it out at World Walk About.

We originally just wanted an adventure. When Matt and I got engaged, we decided we wanted our first year of marriage to be unique, and honestly, we just needed a change of scenery. So, we decided to move abroad. Since Matt is a high school science teacher, he initially applied to some international schools around the world, and to the U.S. Department of Defense schools that are present on most U.S. bases around the world. But it turns out all of those types of positions are extremely competitive, and having only a couple of years of teaching experience wasn’t enough.
So we turned our sights towards teaching English, and in turn, to Korea. One of Matt’s best friends from high school had been living in Korea for the past two years, and he convinced us to apply. So we did, and three months after our wedding we were boarding a plane for Korea. We spent a year teaching, learning to read Korean, finding our way around a strange place, and eating new foods
After our contract finished, we decided instead of renewing we wanted to travel around Asia for a few months. We’ve been on the road for about a month now, and this month away from Korea has given us the following insights about our time in Korea:
      1.)   Korea is a very isolated place. Because of the devastating Korean War, and before that the Imperialism by Japan, Korea has only started to receive a steady stream of tourists and foreigners. As a consequence, foreigners are sometimes still seen as a novelty in parts of the country. Getting stared at, pointed at or even hearing or witnessing blatantly racist acts was not uncommon for us in Korea, especially in rural Korea. While living there, we grew accustomed to our strangeness, and learned to live with the pointing. But for the last month we’ve been in Southeast Asia, where tourists from all over the world roam the streets, and I have to tell you, it has been so nice to finally feel like we can just blend back in.

      2.)   Overall, the level of English in Korea is low compared to other Asian countries. I’ve heard the same about Japan and China. Places in Southeast Asia rely on tourism to survive, so most people know English to interact with their customers. We were always pleasantly surprised when we would meet someone in Korea who was fluent in English. Of course this is changing—most people our age or younger know English, but living in a small town where most restaurants and shops are run by older people, we barely ever had any English interactions outside of school. In a way, I think this was good. It forced us to learn Korean and use it. However, I do think the lack of English in Korea contributes to its lack of tourists.

      3.)   We liked Korean food, but the thing about food in Korea is that most Korean food uses similar spices and seasonings, so a lot of it tastes the same (to us at least). Similarly, there isn’t a lot of food diversity in Korea…Western-style fast food is popular, but there aren’t a lot of food options from other places in the world. Since leaving Korea we’ve frequented world cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, places where you can easily find food from anywhere else in the world. It’s been a welcome change!

      4.)   Lest you think everything about our time in Korea was negative, one thing we miss already is our friendships. We made some close friendships with both other expats and Koreans, and saying goodbye to those people was emotional. It’s always hard to say goodbye to friends, especially friends in other countries—you never know when or if you’ll see them again. Leaving Korea cause me a lot of mixed emotions—excited for the future, happy to be moving on, devastated to say my goodbyes

      5.)   One of the best things about Korea was how safe it is, and how trustworthy people are. We never felt like we were being ripped off by taxi drivers or salespeople (that kind of thing just isn’t common in Korea), and there is so little petty crime in Korea that you never have to be especially careful or protective of your belongings. As I write this, I’m sitting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…a place where you definitely need to watch your belongings carefully and be on guard for schemes. Sometimes we miss the honesty and safety of our little town in Korea!
      6.)   Public transit in Korea is amazing. And efficient. And cheap. Most of the places we’ve been since Korea have cheap public transit, but nowhere has the underground system been as easy to understand or efficient as in Seoul. The subways in Seoul are named, numbered and color-coded, the stops are listed in Korea, Chinese, English and sometimes Japanese, and boards tell you what car is the best one to be in depending on where you want to transfer. I miss knowing where I am and how to get where I want to go—something made easy in Korea.

So there you have it—some observations of life after Korea. For now, I am happy to move on, but I very much look forward to the day I return to Korea so I can see how much this ever-growing country has changed!
Andrea Sherrodd is a writer, filmmaker, digital media enthusiast and world traveler from the United States. She has a degree in Journalism and a Masters of Communication in Digital Media, both from the University of Washington. In July 2011, she finished graduate school, quit her job as a marketing writer, got married, and moved to South Korea with her husband to teach English. She and her husband are wandering around Asia. Follow her adventures at World Walk About on Facebook and Twitter @andreasherrodd.

If you have lived abroad and would like to be featured, shoot me an email at lostintravelsblog{at}gmail{dot}com. I would love to hear from you!

Check out the other girls from the series

Shireen from Eat, Play, Love that Top

Michaela from Michaela Rae

Caitlin from My Korean Adoptee Story