US Expat Teaching English in South Korea - Meet Whitney

Published: 17 Jan at 11 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Korea South
Whitney Lenox craved a change from the corporate world, after years of managing retail coffee outlets in the Nashville area. A rekindled friendship with an expat in South Korea and a new job opportunity led Whitney halfway across the world. She is currently teaching English to elementary students in the suburbs of Seoul. When she's not in the classroom she can be found exploring new neighborhoods in Seoul with her friends. Her hobbies include crafting, photography, sketching, listening to music, and writing her blog Whit B Nimble (see listing here), a site devoted to "living life to the nimblest".

Meet Whitney - US expat in South Korea
Meet Whitney - US expat in South Korea

Here's the interview with Whitney...

Where are you originally from?
I'm a southern bird. I was born in North Alabama, and I was living in Nashville, Tennessee prior to moving to Asia.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in a lovely up-and-coming town in the suburbs of Seoul, South Korea.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've lived in Korea just shy of two years. I'm planning to be in Korea for at least another year, though I plan to be an expat for as long as life will allow.

Why did you move and what do you do?
A tall, dark, handsome guy who swooped in from India and stole my heart. Seriously. We had known each other for many years, after being introduced by a mutual friend. We met for drinks when he returned to Tennessee from teaching in Korea and traveling India. A few months after reuniting, he suggested I come to Korea. At the time, I was managing a coffee shop in Nashville, and had grown complacent after years of working retail. I was itching for something new, and I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by. During my first year in Korea, I taught kindergarten in Seoul. This year, I am teaching English to elementary students.

Fruit on the street Korea
Fruit on the street Korea
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I think there are a thousand things I could have done differently, or better during my first year in Korea. I couldn't get over the fact that I got mixed up with a less-than-reputable private institution.I had an attitude towards Korea that went something like, "How dare you try to take advantage of me when I left everything I owned and knew to fly 6,000 miles to work here?!" As if Korea, or anyone in it, owed me anything. Because of my bad attitude, I shut out everything around me. I didn't attempt to learn the language. I didn't even try to learn how to read, and I know now, just how simple it is to learn. I spent a lot of my time feeling sorry for myself. I'm sure people thought I was crazy for returning this year, but this time around, I made a lot of promises to myself. Promises to take better care of myself physically and emotionally. Promises to make an honest effort at being present in my community. Promises to do my best at work no matter the kind of environment I was dealt. Because I've kept these promises, this year has been so different. I came back with high expectations both for, how I handled myself, and of what Korea truly has to offer. So far, I'm having a fantastic second year.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Luckily, because I came to Korea with a boyfriend who had many friends in the country, I made new friends very quickly. Now, in my second year, I've made many more new friends, both Korean and expatriate. Having this diverse group of friends has truly made this experience more fulfilling.

Gwanghwamun Gate
Gwanghwamun Gate
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Seoul is huge! There is so much to do, and the city never sleeps. Try all kinds of Korean food, especially street food. Take long train rides to other cities. Visit beaches and quiet countrysides. Go to music festivals. Get off at random subway stops and wander. Tour the historic sites. Take lots of photos. Visit a traditional market. See the views from Namsan Tower. Check out art galleries. The possibilities are truly endless!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I enjoy a lot more free time than I had when I was working a corporate job in the U.S. I truly enjoy teaching children. I love traveling in Korea, and other parts of Asia. I love that living here enables me to save money and still have money for hobbies. I love the challenge of getting over my fears, stereotypes, insecurities. I love the relationships that have blossomed while being here.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
It is much more affordable to live here, than the U.S. I don't have rent, a car payment/insurance, or hefty utility bills here to worry over. I have been able to pay on my debt, and save money while still enjoying a very comfortable lifestyle.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Outside of using a reputable recruiter to secure a job, my advice would be to stop taking other people's advice about all the things you should do before you come. Memorizing every custom/cultural norm and learning to read Hangul before you come, are not necessary. It takes two days to learn how to read, and you'd never believe the cultural differences until you've had to live them. The only thing worth focusing on is how you allow yourself to see and react to situations. Let things happen and be surprised. When you need to, let things go. You'll have such a rich experience if you soak in all the newness of this country with as few expectations as possible. (That was older, wiser Whitney preaching to the younger, stubborn first-year-in-Korea Whitney, by the way.)

Livin' life to the nimblest
Livin' life to the nimblest
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being a minority in Korea comes with it's own set of challenges. Situations are unique, therefore only you can decide how to react to them. I am trying to be much more positive this year about how people perceive and accept me. I assume positive intent as often as I can. I try to care less about what they think of me, and more about connecting with people who are open minded and accepting. Realizing that this was the best approach to life in Korea has been the hardest lesson I've had learn. I'm thankful that this lesson can be applied anywhere I go in the future, and I've gotten those growing pains out of the way!

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Take care of your physical health- exercise, eat well when you can, get enough rest.
  2. Take care of your emotional health- take time to connect with people you love back home, take time to be quiet and reflect, stay positive.
  3. Keep and open mind- It's harder said than done.
  4. Get out and wander- It's ok to get lost. Explore new neighborhoods. Use all your senses.
  5. Try to be part of your community- even without knowing a language well, extending kindness goes a long way. Be respectful and make meaningful connections whenever you can.

Korean street art
Korean street art
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog, Whit B Nimble, is about "living life to the nimblest". Currently, those lessons revolve around living in Korea. I have set goals for myself regarding expanding my knowledge, fostering my creative side, and forging new friendships. I recognize that I can't be my best in those areas of my life without first opening myself up to others. Within this personal blog, I give readers glimpses into my thoughts, sketches, photos, and journeys around Korea. My hope is that I inspire creativity, courage to get out and explore, and genuine connection with others no matter how different we think we are.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
The Contact Me page on my blog lists many ways in which someone can reach out to me. I'd be more than happy to answer any questions people have about visiting/moving to Korea.

Whitney blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Whit B Nimble has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Whitney, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Our Dear Lady Expatriate wrote 11 years ago:

I've been a longtime follower of Whit's blog, and her posts always make me grin and think and savor life :) Loving the 5 expat tips - wouldn't argue with any of them! I was lucky enough to host an interview with this lovely lady a few months ago, so if you want even more Whit B Nimble goodness, you can check it out here:

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