Expat Interview With Sally, American Expat in South Korea

Published: 13 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Korea South
Sally grew up in Pennsylvania and found her travel feet at 17, during a semester abroad in Austria. She spent a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina during her undergrad degree and now has relocated for the foreseeable future to South Korea. She lives in a town with three roads and no other foreigners, a convenient 5km from the beach and an inconvenient 20km from "civilization", also known as the local expat community and nearby city. She is, regardless, happy and blogs about her life at A breath of foreign air (see listing here)

Meet Sally - US expat living in South Korea
Meet Sally - US expat living in South Korea

Here's the interview with Sally...

Where are you originally from?
I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania for the majority of my life and even went to university nearby, although not before a high school semester abroad and a freshman year at a different school.

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in a tiny town about 20km outside of Dangjin, South Korea.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been here about 8 months and I'll be staying for another 10.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I moved because it was the first chance I had to live abroad and work for an extended period of time. Wanderlust hit me hard at 17, and I'd been scratching for a few months abroad here and there. Once I graduated, I was finally free.

Looking up in a Buenos Aires museum during my semester in Argentina.
Looking up in a Buenos Aires museum during my semester in Argentina.
How did you find the transition to living in an Asian country?
It was challenging at first: the language was a huge hurdle. When you're looking at Spanish or a language with some similarities to your native language, it's a lot easier to guess and figure out your surroundings. Moving to Korea didn't provide me with any opportunities to do that, aside from the obvious pictures of fried chicken that signaled a restaurant. That transition was definitely harsh, but the people I met really did their best to ease me into Korean culture. So while there were challenges at first, I really felt that my coworkers and friends wanted me to feel at ease and happy here.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialize with other expats?
I think it all depends on the context. My job gave me the opportunity to meet other Koreans, although my coworkers are mostly older than me. I also met some friends through travel, although they aren't all from my area. The expat community near me is really tight-knit (but still open to new people, expats or not), so I've enjoyed getting to know them, too. I think my time is split equally between expats and Koreans.

My family and I near our home in Pennsylvania.
My family and I near our home in Pennsylvania.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
The area I'm in has a lot of hiking trails and parks within a few miles. There are also some other small beaches near me, although some expats complain of the fish smell from all of the fishing industry around. Other than that, the area is mostly what you make of it. You could take a long walk through local rice fields or spend the day in your room watching TV... it's totally up to you.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I really enjoy the authenticity of my surroundings. In my town, few people speak English or have an accurate idea of what some western cultures might be like, aside from information gathered from TV and movies. Their Korean culture is in some ways "untouched" by the global climate we live in. This means that the interactions I have with people are sometimes rife with misunderstandings, but always entertaining and, I think, beneficial to both of us.

Some of my coworkers and I take a break to pose for a picture.
Some of my coworkers and I take a break to pose for a picture.
How does the cost of living compare to home?
It's much, much, much cheaper, especially if you come to Korea to teach English. My rent is taken care of by my job, and overall necessities like the utility bill and groceries are significantly cheaper in Korean. Also, living in the countryside, there isn't much to spend your money on, the same way there is in a nearby city, let alone Seoul.

What has been the hardest aspect about living here?
I'm extremely remote, so the hardest part has definitely been the sheer distance. Going to the nearby city, 20km from me, takes 45 minutes on a stuffy, overcrowded and bumpy bus. To go anywhere by bus, I have to go "into town" first, so any time I go somewhere out of town, I have to add essentially an extra hour onto my travel time. Also, the bank to wire money home, the post office, any foreign food markets and the nearby Lotte Mart (a big store with a lot of random essentials, for example a vacuum cleaner) are all located "in town". Thankfully, this has just been made infinitely better by my recent purchase of a car.

Wanderlust at first sight; 17 and seeing the world, starting in Austria.
Wanderlust at first sight; 17 and seeing the world, starting in Austria.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?

  1. Love your job. Your job is the majority of your time, so do whatever it takes to make you want to go into work everyday.
  2. Learn to read Korean. The writing system is simple, phonetic and just takes a little studying to get the hang of. Doing so will make your life so much easier.
  3. Always ask why, but never expect to understand the answer or even receive one. There is a lot that won't make sense to a foreigner and it's best to just accept that and move on.
  4. If you're going to move to a remote area, cultivate multiple solitary hobbies and bounce between them. There aren't really places to "hang out" the way there are in the city, and unless you're lucky, it's likely you have no real place to go aside from your own apartment. So cultivate hobbies and learn to enjoy your alone time.
  5. When in doubt, bow and use two hands.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I blog about my life, mostly. Personal accomplishments, weekend trips, interesting things that happened to me all go into the blog. I also post pictures from around Korean and any vacations abroad that I recently went on. Overall, it's just a space to keep people "in the loop", so to speak and also discuss what it's like to live where I do.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
My blog has an email and I'm always happy to answer questions about anything Korea(n)

Sally blogs at http://abreathofforeignair.tumblr.com which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. A breath of foreign air has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Sally, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Jan wrote 10 years ago:

This was great fun to read!

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