9 Questions About Living Elsewhere


I should probably mention that I'm Canadian, not American like most of the other contributors. But, since our latest Prime Minister is about as close to Bush as you can get, I think the questions are still relevant, and more than one Canadian is considering a hiatus!


1. Where did you live and for how long?
I'm currently living in Gwangju, South Korea. I've been living here for about 13 months, and will continue to stay until August 2007

2. What made you decide to go there?
I'd finished University with a joint degree in English and Philosophy. While I don't regret my studies, I was starting to find that my degree was pretty well useless, unless I wanted to be a professor of either subject. I'd been working for a little over a year in administration for the University I'd graduated from, and was getting really tired of it. I decided to go abroad because several of my friends had done the ESL in Asia thing. My friends mostly went to Japan and didn't have much luck with it. One friend went to South Korea and was pleased, so I decided to follow suit.

3. Did you have to lie to enter the country?
No, it was all pretty legit.

4. Were you/are you legal? Plan on becoming so?
I'm working here legally, because I'm teaching English in public school. The government sanctions the whole program and so it all has to be 100% above board for me to have the job. It was a bit of a runaround to be legal - a lot of fees and paperwork - but I'm happy I did it.

5. How did you/do you make money? Did you go there with a job or have to find one?
I came with a job lined up already, and I knew where my school would be.

6. Was housing easy/difficult?
It was easy. The school administrators set it up. They found me a place and furnished it and everything. I was the first Native-speaking English teacher in the school, unlike most other schools in the program, so they were really nervous and anxious to make sure that I was happily squared away.

7. Was the language a problem?
Yes, the language is probably my biggest problem. The alphabet is phonetic, so its easy to learn. But its hard to build your vocabulary and learn the grammar. So while I can read signs and menus and whatnot, I don't necessarily understand it. Also, people tend to speak Korean to me really quickly, so I have a hard time following.

8. Favorite things/worst things about the place?
Public transportation is really good, so it's easy to get around. Also, Korea's location in Asia lets you take off and visit other places just as easily. The cost of living is fairly low, compared to what it is in Canada (where I'm from). Most of the food is good, and it's easy to navigate the place. The country is small so you can go anywhere for a weekend. People are generally hospitable to foreigners and try to help you out even if there is a huge language barrier. Also, all Caucasians tend to be exotic and attractive, so you get your ego stroked a lot with people telling you that you are beautiful or handsome. Places have no closing time - pubs and restaurants will stay open as long as there are patrons, so I have a lot of good party nights up here. And it's relatively easy to find other ex-pats to meet up with. The ones you meet are generally laid-back and easygoing, so you have good company outside of work.

In terms of stuff I hate about itů Korea is a dirty country. There is garbage everywhere. People are friendly, but they are also brutally honest and have no qualms telling you exactly what they're thinking. People also tend to be coarse, so they have no table manners, and often hork big loogies in the street, which I had a hard time getting used to. And because the population is so huge in a place so small - in addition to the place being about 70% mountains, you are always surrounded by hoards of people. It's hard to find time to be alone and relax. As a foreigner I'm generally exempt, but Korean society is generally very sexist and patriarchal. It's based on the Confucianism, so witnessing a lot of sexist behavior is annoying.

9. Any good stories about it or advice for others following?
I'd recommend teaching English overseas. But I'd also recommend doing a lot of research before you decide upon a specific school or location. Unless you hate cities, I'd suggest going to a major Korean city, like Seoul or Pusan. Most of rural Korea is not used to seeing foreigners on a daily basis, and getting stared at all the time can grate on your nerves.


- Vanessa Berry