I am a Canadian currently living and teaching in South Korea. I am working for an online company that offers a convenient and easy way to learn English! I want to learn French, Spanish, and Korean. I am living in Seoul with my boyfriend. We have a ...
Where are you from, Laura, and what are you doing nowadays?
I am from Ontario, Canada. Before my boyfriend and I decided to move to South Korea, he was working as a mechanical engineering technologist in the automotive industry and I was occupying a variety of different positions while studying in University. I worked in the parts and service industry and as customer service for my parents light truck and car garage. I also did modeling and promotions for a few different agencies and I started to look for a job as a teacher or tutor. Nowadays, I am an online English instructor for adults, children, and teenagers. I love working online and I am researching options to complete a master's degree for online learning and techniques.
Why did you choose to expatriate to South Korea?
My boyfriend was very active in the taekwondo community and became close friends with a number of Koreans. They stayed in touch and kept hinting at us coming to see them. So right before I graduated, I decided it was time for us to go and see the world. Why not start in South Korea so we can go see his friends? I can get a job working as an ESL instructor and he can continue with his martial arts.
What were the procedures to follow for a Canadian national to move there?
It wasn't that difficult if you live near a main city. Driving directly to the embassy really cuts the time in half to process all the documents. However, if you live out of any of the major cities in Canada, which I did, it becomes costly because of gas and time. It is better to go directly with all your papers. This way, there is no confusion and you know exactly what you need. Always call before going to the embassy to confirm you have all the required documents and their opening hours. Be sure to ask them if they process visa applications during certain times of the day. Sometimes they only do certain applications at definite times. In Canada, you will need your degree notarized and a back ground check through the RCMP, not your provincial police department. Just ask the embassy, they will tell you and they are very kind (at least the embassy in Toronto was very nice).
How long have you been in the country?
I have been in Korea for a year and a few months with my boyfriend. We have been together for 6 years and he has been very close with my family since we started dating. My mom just left Korea after a month visit to see our life and all the attractions of South Korea.
What has attracted you to Suwon?
What initially attracted us to Suwon was the fact it had a smaller population but was still bigger than any city in Canada. We thought it wasn't so far from Seoul that we couldn't go for day trips, but it wasn't right in Seoul, so hopefully it would be quieter. Depending on the area you are in, it can be very quiet, and it still has all the accommodations of Seoul. However, we did not stay in Suwon and we moved to Seoul six months later. We still travel to Suwon often to see friends but, to be honest, both cities are awesome and I would highly recommend either of them to anyone thinking of moving to Korea.
Was it difficult to find accommodation? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?
It was not difficult for us to find an apartment when we moved to Seoul or when we looked for a new place in Suwon. I went on social networks and found recommendations for a real estate agent who speaks both English and Korean. In one day, she found us a two-bedroom apartment at a reasonable price. However, if you need to live closer to Gangnam, the price for accommodations sky rockets! A single "bachelor" apartment is double the price of a two-bedroom in Suwon. This was pretty disappointing for us because my work wanted us close to their headquarters. So we had to move into an expensive and fairly small apartment.
How do you find the South Korean lifestyle?
South Koreans work hard and play hard. The local pubs and taverns are packed with hardworking and exhausted men and women on Mondays and Tuesdays, but on Fridays and Saturdays, it is a ghost town. Employers here expect you to show up for work no matter how sick or hurt you are. This is normal for them, and confronting your boss over an issue or discrepancy is a very delicate matter. You are in their country, be respectful of their customs and try to understand that the relationship between managers and subordinates is very different!
The people in my neighborhood are amazing! They are friendly, kind, and always willing to help me learn more Korean words. They are extremely patient and understanding. However, as to not romanticize anything, I get dirty looks sometimes once they see my flat shoes and I am still so tall, or people stare excessively at times. It isn't that bothersome but it takes some getting used to.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
The heat. When we got off the plane, the humidity and heat was nearly unbearable. I did not expect Korea to be so hot. It actually made me quite ill for the first few months and I was incredibly grateful for winter. When I looked up the average temperature for Suwon it did not seem so different, but I forgot to account for the humidity!
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
It is very difficult to adapt to a country when you are unable to speak to people. We are both learning the language however; it is still difficult for us to be more involved in our community. We have adapted to the daily routine of Korean life, drinking with coworkers on a week day is very unusual for us. We find the working hours to be long but the atmosphere in the organization has the feel of a close knit family. When people spend so much time together, this is bound to happen.
What does your every day life look like in Seoul?
Now that we live in Seoul, my boyfriend spends his time boxing with his team at Big Bang Boxing in Migeum. I spend most of my time behind my desk preparing classes and creating curriculum for future students. I also spend a lot of time preparing food for my boyfriend and walking to the park, just enjoying the neighborhood.
Any particular experience you would like to share with us?
My boyfriend and I were recently filmed for a TV show. I was not expecting the outcome of the show to be so biased, but I guess expats have to remember that less than 60 years ago there were no foreigners here. This is something that I think most expats must remember while living here, for many reasons...
What is your opinion on the cost of living in Seoul? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
Compared to home, the cost of living is relatively cheap. Some things are more expensive than other things. But I would have to say overall it is quite inexpensive. That being said, saving money is still just as difficult as it would be at home.
How do you spend your leisure time?
Lately, I have been spending my leisure time looking for different restaurants, visiting palaces and temples and watching movies.
Your favorite local dishes?
My favorite Korean dishes would have to be bibimbap, chimaek, gimbap, and much more!
What do you miss the most about your home country?
I miss the air, the diversity, the lakes and rivers and the mountains of Canada. That being said, I am still very much enjoying my time here in South Korea and I will always remember it as an adventure of a life time.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates?
My biggest piece of advice is to get a lawyer to read your contract before signing anything! Do not rush anything no matter how pressure is on you to hurry up.
What are your plans for the future?
Next August, my boyfriend and I plan on going back home. We are thinking of moving to Nova Scotia but we also want to go to South America and Europe... So who knows!