Working Abroad in South Korea

By: Sally Bucey

The pre-8am grog: half asleep showers, top-naked breakfast, awkward professional ensembles that may or may not break fashion rules that I certainly don’t care about. This is the inevitability that most of us must face when we choose to work in any kind of office or school or establishment that caters to society’s hours. This is the worst part about employment: no freedom of hours, no unapproved weekdays off, a forced weekend to weekend existence. Work itself is never so bad once it starts and the productivity cycle has kicked off, but the mornings are terrible. They never end; they always spring up and come at you again. They are one thing if nothing else: unforgiving.

I was faced with a choice: morning grog at home or morning grog abroad. Wake up, work, and eventually slump home exhausted in an environment that I know all too well, or do the exact same things, just somewhere else. I chose to wake up daily at 7:20am, groggy, but to do it somewhere exciting and weird and usually confusing: South Korea. Where the constant mornings would be a warm blanket compared to navigating a foreign culture that seems to make no sense.

Indeed, I still shower half asleep, but my shower is the entire bathroom, as opposed to a sectioned off shower area. To stay in the stream of water and avoid Goosebumps, I have to arch my head back and over the sink. I could shower comfortably, in the USA, but why would I want to do that? I’d have never learned that it’s even possible to shower-proof the entire bathroom (a miracle on its own), let alone just how lucky I am to have showered without a sink directly in the way all those years. Gratefulness.

My breakfast was almost always carbohydrate related, but working and living in South Korea has taught me a very important food lesson: rice is bread, but better. Eggs and toast can bow down to eggs and rice: heart healthy and filling. Pancakes can still be made when the flour runs out, just switch it for mashed up leftover rice. It’s a miracle food. Fusion breakfast foods are now a staple: every morning in Korea challenges me to eat something that isn’t cereal or bread. Creativity.

What I wear to work may match, but that’s because everything is primarily black. My pants are not sweatpants and are not comfortable (not fuzzy enough, of course), but I spent a lot of time and effort searching for them in Seoul. This shirt is a little tight in the sleeves, since it’s made for doll-sized Korean women, but it fits well enough. It may be imperfect, but I found it and it will do the job. When I go on vacation, I can search for business casual that fits better, but for now, this is what I have. Acceptance.

And when I leave the house each morning, three lessons already under my belt, I know that I’ve started out on the right foot. Maybe the rest of the day will go smoothly, but maybe it will wear me out utterly and completely. That’s the gamble when you live and work abroad. But the morning, the guaranteed unforgiving morning, that is something I can take and change and learn from, each day, without exception. Gratefulness. Creativity. Acceptance. These are lessons I will tackle each day. These are the lessons I will use again.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingSally Bucey is an American expat living in Korea South. Blog description: I live abroad, sometimes. and then: I write about it. It's nice to meet you, my name is Sally. I'm currently living and working in South Korea as an English teacher.
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