American Expat Living in Korea South - Interview with Laura

Published: 6 Aug at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Korea South
Laura is a 26-year-old American who has been living and working abroad since 2013. While participating in a travel writing program in Lima, Peru, during college, Laura instantly became interested in the prospect of traveling long-term. So, after spending far too long in a miserably menial Corporate America dungeon, she decided to pack her bags and relocate to Seoul, Korea and it's been an adventure ever since. Her main goal is to inspire others who are interested in this lifestyle - anything is possible! Laura's expat blog is called Willful and Wildhearted (see listing here)

Bucketlist item complete: Learned to make kimchi!
Bucketlist item complete: Learned to make kimchi!

Here's the interview with Laura...

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'd like to think that blue collar town is where I developed my no-nonsense attitude and sense of independence. I moved to Chicago, Illinois once I turned 18 to study journalism, and I stayed there for 7 years. I consider both cities my home since I found pieces of myself in both places.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am currently living in Seoul, Korea. I live in an area called Sinsa-dong, which is located within the Gangnam neighborhood. It's definitely a different world!

How long have you lived in South Korea and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been in Korea for about 19 months. I will be leaving in March to backpack Southeast Asia with my boyfriend for a few months before relocating to either New Zealand or Australia.

Exploring Seoul.
Exploring Seoul.
Why did you move to South Korea and what do you do?
I was in need of a massive change. I'd been in an unhappy relationship long past its expiration date, worked in a job I absolutely hated and felt myself in a massive life rut. Teaching English abroad had always been an interest of mine, however, I had yet to find a good time to take the leap. Once I left my job as a content writer, I enrolled in an in-class TEFL program and the rest is history.

Did you bring family with you?

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I found the transition to be quite easy. Korea has grown rapidly since its independence from Japan and the hustle and bustle of the city wasn't terribly far off from my experience in Chicago. However, one thing I did struggle with was adapting to the work culture. Koreans have a different mindset and way of doing things compared to what I'm used to. Once I learned that most everything here is last minute and doesn't always make much sense, I was able to shrug it off a bit easier.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I was extremely fortunate with the friendships I made at my first job. I clicked almost immediately with a few like-minded people and in turn, met some amazing people through them. Some of the friendships I've made here are definitely for life, which I am grateful. It's necessary to surround yourself with expats or people who will be able to understand what you're going through - otherwise life abroad will be extremely difficult!

It's pretty easy to make friends here. I've met some amazing people through organized trips, yoga classes as well as a book club. It's a bit more effort making friends as an adult - that's for sure.

Halloween in Hongdae.
Halloween in Hongdae.
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There are a lot of great restaurants, shopping and nightlife within Seoul. While I'm not too into shopping or clubbing, I do enjoy finding quirky pubs and cafes scattered throughout the city. I personally love to venture outside of Seoul and go hiking or explore the countryside. Prior to moving here, I didn't realize how truly beautiful Korea's landscape is. Once you escape the concrete jungles, there are lush mountains and rice paddies galore! If you enjoy hiking, this country is definitely a great place to live.

What do you enjoy most about living in Korea South?
I enjoy the lifestyle and freedom I have living in Korea. When I was in Chicago, there was no way I was ever able to save money on my salary. In Korea, I am able to save a large sum of money each month, live comfortably, hang out with some of the cutest children in the world. I'd say life is grand for sure.

How does the cost of living in Korea South compare to home?
I find the cost of living in Korea to significantly cheaper than it was back in Chicago. In Korea, I don't have to pay rent, my bills are extremely low and I live frugally. I still go out and enjoy my weekends, but I prefer to cook my own food, limit myself from shopping unless it's absolutely necessary and rarely stay out late anymore. By making these changes, I am able to save about $1,200-1,500 USD each month.

Enjoying the sunshine on Jeju Island, Korea.
Enjoying the sunshine on Jeju Island, Korea.
What negatives, if any, are there to living in South Korea?
Korea is an extremely homogenous society. This carries into the way people dress, the structure of the buildings, and everything in between. Many people are still fairly xenophobic, and that brings the greatest stress. Just a few months ago, the MERS outbreak struck Korea. Despite the fact a Korean man was the person who was the primary carrier of the virus, Koreans were placing all of the blame on foreigners.

The lengths people took were a bit ridiculous. One of my friends has a boss who informed everyone they need to "stay away from anyone foreign." There were even bars who were banning foreigners from entering. The same thing happened during the Ebola crisis. A well-known bar in Seoul's most foreigner-friendly neighborhood placed a sign on its window that stated, "No Africans Allowed." To me, this kind of attitude is despicable and got old pretty quickly.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving to South Korea, what would it be?
My primary piece of advice is to have an open mind and to go with the flow. If this isn't something you find possible, it will be difficult to adjust to life in Korea. I didn't have many expectations prior to moving here, which I think was the best possible decision I could have made. Although Korea has been "westernized," it's important to remember this country will have a different way of doing things than you're used to.

Most importantly though, ENJOY YOURSELF AND EXPLORE. This country is just absolutely wonderful and there are always new and exciting things to do and see.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
I think it's extremely hard to combat feelings of loneliness as an expat sometimes. Despite the fact that I moved so far from home, I developed a routine and a life here to the point that this has become my comfort zone. The only difference is my family or closest friends aren't here with me. I have an amazing boyfriend and a great group of friends, but sometimes all I want is a hug from my mom.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I'm actually terrified to go home. I'm going back in March to visit for a few weeks before I take off on my backpacking journey and I'm not sure I'm looking forward to it. I want to see my friends and my family, so that's going to be incredible. I've been told it's strange to hear English 24/7.

Making some fun crafts with my little ones.
Making some fun crafts with my little ones.
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. First off, take the leap! It's totally worth it. It may be challenging to get all the paperwork sorted and in order, but I guarantee you this experience will be life changing.
  2. As I mentioned above, just remember to keep an open mind and heart. Chances are, people here act and think differently than your respective country. There will be happy days, sad days, frustrating days and downright awful days. Those types of days will happen literally anywhere in the world. Don't take it out on the country itself. A lot of people here do that.
  3. Do some research before you head out. Read about the food, culture and way of life. I read tons of blogs and found countless Facebook groups regarding expat communities and events, which I found to be beneficial.
  4. Make a game plan for what you want to achieve. Whatever you'd like your experience to be is your own, but make sure to set goals for yourself. It will be worth it!
  5. I suggest learning to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) before you arrive. There are several good outlets to do so - I learned it in 2 hours by watching YouTube videos and making flashcards. It's truly beneficial!
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I aim to be as honest as possible in my writing, while also providing helpful and useful information that can hopefully inspire someone down the road to follow their dreams.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Those interested in my experiences in this quirky place called Korea can read my stories at In addition, I can be found on Facebook at as well as Twitter at

I'm ALWAYS willing to answer any questions people may have, so feel free to drop by any of the above mentioned. Cheers!

About the author

Expat Blog ListingLaura is an American expat living in Korea South. Blog description: I'm a 26-year-old American who has been living and working abroad since 2013. I'm currently located in Seoul, Korea, where I work as an English teacher. My blog features information for adjusting as an expat, travel tips + lifestyle pieces.
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