Expat Interview With Carrie - Canadian in South Korea

Published: 22 Apr at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Korea South
Carrie was raised as an Army Brat all over the world. As an adult, she saw no reason to stop travelling. She qualified as an elementary school teacher in Canada, and then headed to Japan with the JET Programme. She spent 4 incredible years living amongst rice paddies and shrines, eating fresh sushi and perfecting her chopstick skills. Carrie then decided to head to Korea, where she worked as an English teacher at a public elementary school just outside of Seoul for two and a half crazy, wonderful years. She thought perhaps she should try a "real job" for a while, and so she headed back to Canada. Reality wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and so Carrie returned to Korea, this time to Ulsan. Adventure clearly agrees with her as she has been teaching and blogging in Ulsan for 18 months, and has no immediate plans for a return to real life. Carrie's expat blog is called I hate cockroaches (see listing here)

Meet Carrie - Canadian in South Korea
Meet Carrie - Canadian in South Korea

Here's the interview with Carrie...

Where are you originally from?
Ottawa, Canada

In which country and city are you living now?
Ulsan, South Korea

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've lived in Ulsan for 18 months, and plan to be here for a while yet.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I am a qualified teacher in Canada but there just aren't very many jobs around. After working a variety of part-time jobs, I decided to return to Korea. I lived near Seoul for two and a half years and really enjoyed it. So I applied through a recruiting company called Footprints, and they found me a job teaching English in a Korean public elementary school. I teach English to Grades 3, 4, 5 and 6. It's great!

Did you bring family with you?
I came alone, but the friends I've made here have become my family.

Me, with a huge bag of kimchi from the school custodian (not a severed head).
Me, with a huge bag of kimchi from the school custodian (not a severed head).
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Moving to Korea was difficult at first. I've lived all over the world but Korea is unlike anywhere I've ever been before. Koreans are initially standoffish, and the Korean language sounds quite angry. But with patience, and a willingness to approach everything with an open mind, I've come to love my new country.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
The Ulsan Ministry of Education had a week-long training session for all the new teachers, so meeting other teachers was easy. Ulsan has a large and active foreigner community. There are English teachers, engineers from all over the globe, people who have married Koreans and settled in Ulsan... You will only be lonely if you want to be.
As the only foreigner in my school, I've made friends with lots of my co-workers. In turn, they have introduced me to other Korean people. If you are willing to have linguistic adventures, Koreans make lovely friends.

The Ulsan Bamboo Forest.
The Ulsan Bamboo Forest.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Ulsan is the 7th biggest city in Korea, a claim they take very seriously. It is also the Industrial Heartland of Korea. If that's your thing, you can go on tours of the Hyundai factory, as well as the Hyundai Heavy Industry plant. Ulsan has some lovely parks, good hiking, nice beaches and a gorgeous bike path that runs for miles along the river, and through a bamboo forest. The shopping is good, there are some great restaurants and cafes, and the soccer team plays regularly at the local stadium. Ulsan city hall offers cheap tours to the Whale Museum, the Amethyst Mines, and other local attractions. If you do happen to get bored, Ulsan is on the KTX high speed train line, so Busan is only 15 minutes away, and Seoul is 2.5 hours away.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
The potential for adventure- I never know what is going to happen next. Adventure has a different definition when you live overseas. Adventures can be huge - like going to Borneo for winter vacation, or adventures can be small - like finding sea squirts in your lunch. (Know what a sea squirt is? I didn't until I found one in my soup.)

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Korea is much cheaper than Canada. It helps that my rent is paid by my school. Ulsan is considered one of the most expensive places to live in Korea but even so, the cost of living is also a lot lower than in Canada. If you're careful, it's possible to save a fair bit of money.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
This is a funny thing to complain about but I have a lot of free time at work. We call it 'deskwarming'. I teach 22 hours a week but I must be at school from 8:50-5pm, every day. The idea is that you are available should anyone have an English emergency. In actual fact, I spend a lot of time reading, and writing on my blog.

Typical delicious Korean food.
Typical delicious Korean food.
If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Have patience. Things happen at a different speed, and in a different way here. If you let it, Korea can be INCREDIBLY frustrating. But just take a deep breath, and relax. Everything will work out in the end, just not usually in the way you were expecting.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Finding an English-speaking doctor. I had a medical problem that required more than a GP, and it was wildly frustrating trying to get my symptoms across with gestures and google translate.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Take a lot of pictures during your first 6 weeks. After that, things that were strange or funny will seem normal. Once you go back to your own country, it's these pictures that will bring back the most memories.
  2. Do your research. There are a lot of jobs in Korea. Do you want to work 9-5 in a public school? Or would your rather work later hours for a private school? Would you like teaching elementary, middle, or high school? Or do you have the skills for a university teaching job? Have you thought about teaching adults? Don't settle for a job you'll be unhappy in. There are so many jobs, find one you know you'll like.
  3. Get involved. Living abroad can be difficult so build a support network. Make friends, both foreign and local. Join a sports team, or take a class.
  4. Don't get lost in "home." There will come a time when Korea will be overwhelming, and you will lock yourself in your apartment. You'll want to eat food you recognize, and talk to people who understand you. Give yourself a day, or even a weekend. Skype everyone you know back home, watch a few episodes of your favourite TV shows, and eat Western food. But then get back out there. Korea is an amazing country. Take full advantage of living here!
  5. Learn Korean, even just a little. You don't really need it, most people speak a little English. But Koreans love it when you make the effort, and it always starts things off on the right foot.

A gentleman wandering down the street with a giant pink squid over one shoulder.
A gentleman wandering down the street with a giant pink squid over one shoulder.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started my blog to keep family and friends up to date on the crazy and amazing experiences I've had so far in Korea. But amazingly, I seem to have accumulated all sorts of followers, so now it's a blog for anyone who is interested in living in Korea. I've tried very hard to keep it positive, upbeat, and hopefully funny. Korea amazes and astonishes me on almost a daily basis, and I like to share my adventures.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Leave a message on my blog. I'm always happy to answer questions!

Carrie blogs at http://ihatecockroaches.wordpress.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. I hate cockroaches has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Carrie, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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