Advice From Veteran Expats

Moving date is looming closer, and I bet nerves, excitement, and other strange emotions are beginning to run rampant throughout your pretty head. Don’t worry, future expat, you’re not the only one who has had doubts and worries right before leaving your comfort zone for a year. The current expats in Korea, myself included, would like to offer you some sound advice on everything and anything expat and South Korea related.

I hope that it fills you with a sense of comfort knowing many others have gone before you and survived to tell the tale. Without further ado, here is the best advice I could gather up for you from seasoned veterans currently living in South Korea.

Advice“Be curious about your surroundings. Allow yourself to explore your newly adopted country with a wondrous heart. At times, you’ll have conversations with other expats who have been here far too long or maybe even firmly rooted people you know back home that don’t understand your need to travel. These certain people will try to take the color from your rainbow with their Debbie Downer attitudes and criticizing words; don’t let them ruin your time. Give yourself full permission to enjoy chasing your dreams abroad.” – Judith, 26, 1st year expat

“When I got to Cheoungju, the first thing I noticed was that there were so many foreigners for how relatively small the city was compared to other mid-level cities I’ve known (Deajeon, Daegu, Gwanju), but then I realized it wasn’t that there was a higher amount of foreigners, it’s that those foreigners are pretty much all friends, or friends of friends and whatever bars I was shuffled to in my group’s welcome night was where everyone was. You don’t even have to know each other to stick together out here, it’s great. And because of it, there’s always a party. [On another note,] I highly recommend dating people from outside of Cheongju if at all possible. Not that there aren’t some gorgeous human beings in the JU but because if you break up there are like 5 bars that your ex girlfriend/boyfriend will definitely be frequenting. Just something to keep in mind. I haven’t myself broken this rule, but I know many that have. It’s uncomfortable even for me!” – Kyle, 25, 1st year expat

“One lesson I’ve learnt from work is, never challenge your director publicly. Hagwons [and public schools] are a fickle game but if you learn to play them right they can be very rewarding.  Oh, and if you date a Korean girl get an app to record special moments and dates. She’ll love it, and you won’t forget any of the sneaky anniversaries or Korean celebration days that we aren’t familiar with”” – Ben, 25, 3rd year expat

“Bring deodorant and accept your insecurities. If you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and acknowledge your imperfections, you will allow everyone you meet to do it for you. In short, love yourself and have no shame in showing it.” – JD, 26, 2nd year expat

“Pack double sheets, large towels, and deodorant.” – Sharron, 44, 7th year expat

“Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. You will need it.” – Amy, 38, 2nd year expat

“The first year is the hardest.” – Natalie, 32, 4th year expat

“You aren’t clever replacing the word ‘soul’ with ‘Seoul’ in your blog name. Same goes for ‘kimchi.” – Stephen, 29, 4th year expat

“If you have big feet make sure you bring enough shoes!” – Aletia, 25, 3rd year expat

“First, come with a plan. Either you’re paying off your college loan; you want to learn the language and explore; save money, etc. Second, be open minded and culturally sensitive. How you act reflects on all of us [expats]. Do a little research on social customs, etc. Make an attempt to learn some of the language while you’re here. Third, as the saying in the Godfather goes ‘Keep your friends close and enemies closer” Not all foreigners are good people. Choose friends carefully. Fourth and this is specifically for people of color. Koreans will accept any one individually, the ones you have to worry about are fellow foreigners who export their own prejudices and racism. Just because a person has traveled thousands of miles doesn’t mean they are inclusive and open minded.” – Steve, 32, 4th year expat

And I saved the best tidbit of advice for last!

“My advice would be to ignore people who say to bring a shedload of deodorant. It’s easy to get. Also, your experiences will vary depending on your job situation, but most importantly it will depend on your attitude and knowing what you want from [your time here.] People also forget how developed Korea is so there isn’t a list of things you *must* bring, you can find anything you need here. Not all Korean food is spicy, and no, you won’t be eating dog for school lunches. Try and make friends with Koreans rather than only sticking to a foreign group. Yes, it’s easier and comforting but when else will you get the opportunity to actually learn about the culture from the people themselves? If you want to treat Korea as an extension of university life, partying, finding women, you can but don’t think that’s what everyone else is here for. Just because they’re not into that does not mean they’re unsocial. If you are teaching English try to do your best. Even if you know you won’t do this forever, it is a respected job and a career for some. Remember you’re representing not only your country but other foreign teachers too.” – Emma, 29, 6th year expat (Get more awesome advice from Emma at her blog the Cupcake Traveler.

I hope that these last words of wisdom and advice from myself and other fellow expats will encourage you as you make the big leap. Remember to be brave, be optimistic, and most of all be curious. Good luck and I hope to meet you in South Korea soon! 

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