8 Mistakes New Expats Make in South Korea (Part 2)

8 Mistakes New Expats Make in South Korea (Part 2)

Back in August, precisely 17 days before my departure to become an EPIK teacher in South Korea. I was blinded by images of green tea fields, rice cakes and kimchi. I would read a new expat blog every day (or every hour, if I had the time!). I was ready; or so I thought…

Getting to South Korea is a totally different experience than any expectation I could have had. These are a few mistakes I made as a newly transplanted foreign teacher in South Korea, and a few things you should avoid to make your first few months extra-enjoyable (with a little more change in your pockets).

You can read part 1 here.

5. Over Preparing

puzzleSo you’ve done your research – clearly; you’re reading this article right now! I’ve already admitted how research obsessed I was before arriving in Korea, but what I haven’t told you is how that came back to bite me in the butt. Sure, there’s certain things you need to know (like every word written on the Reach to Teach Website… ok, maybe that’s a little biased).

Truthfully, though, there are some things you should leave to experience. No one’s experience will be the same as your experience, and other people’s opinions might sway your views and expectations in a negative way. Don’t let them get to you!

I can promise you one thing: nothing will be exactly what you expected it to be like. The kimchi won’t taste the way you envision it, your co-teacher will not look the way you picture him/her, your kiddos might be a little more rambunctious than you’d planned for. Expect to be surprised, and that’s all you really need to know, besides expecting to have the best year of your life, of course!

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6. Not Learning How to Read Hangul

This was a mistake I made that I rectified as soon as I could get my hands on a computer with an internet connection; which, let’s face it – most of us have access to 90% of the day. There are so many resources out there to help you learn the Korean language, and Hangul is surprisingly a very easy language to learn to read (which is not to be confused with learning to speak).

Although it’s true that you do not need to know Korean in order to make the move to South Korea and teach English successfully, the very simple act of knowing how to read Korean opens many doors for you. Not only will it help prevent that inevitable first bus ride where you can’t seem to find your way, it’ll also help you read the stops on the subway, order from menus with no pictures, and pick out your favorite flavor of Makgeolli in a crowded restaurant.

POA: Try using this guide, “Learn to Read Korean in 15 Minutes.”

7. Relying on Foreign Food

If you have yet to arrive in Korea you may be thinking, “why would I ever eat (insert name of your home country)’s food in Korea!?” The truth is, though, that Korean food in Korea is a bit different than westernized Korean food in your home country. You might find that certain flavors are hard to get used to (like red chili paste kimchi). If you work at a public school you’ll find yourself eating lunch with your kiddos every day, and the time will come when you just can’t take another bite of rice. Then, you’ll venture off to foreigner row or that hamburger place downtown everyone keeps talking about on Facebook… and all of a sudden, you’re hooked! How could you ever scarf down another tofu soup again?

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Don’t fall into the trap, though. Not only is foreign food more expensive, it’s also not as good as your deprived taste buds may thing. In Korea (especially in smaller towns or cities) there’s not a lot of variety when it comes to food genres; it’s pretty much all Korean. But guess what? There’s SO much Korean variety, it’s almost impossible to get truly sick of it if you give new flavors a chance. Don’t give yourself the disservice of sticking to what you know; your pockets will be glad for you.

8. Not Bringing Memorabilia From Home

Homesickness was one thing I was definitely not prepared for. I know that might sound silly, considering I would be moving half a world away from home, but all I could think about was how excited I was. It never really crossed my mind to pre-plan for the inevitable: nights alone in a foreign country where I can’t understand anybody. It hits everyone differently; some sooner than others. Fact of the matter is, though, that it does happen to almost everyone.

Amongst your TEFL notes and English grammar book, remember to pack a picture or two that reminds you of someone who loves you. Bring a pillow or a blanket that will keep you cozy on the hard days. Bring a movie, book or (Insert memorabilia here) that instantly puts you in a good mood. I promise, there will come a time when you’ll need it, and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

Are you a soon-to-be expat in Korea? What are you having the most difficulty with as your departure approaches? Or, are you a current expat in Korea? What did you have the most trouble with as a newbie?


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