What is it like to move abroad? To start over and build a new life?
In the Ask an Expat series I interview expats living all over the world. Hopefully this will inspire you but will also paint an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad. Whether for a few months or for the rest of your life, living abroad is a unique and sometimes challenging experience.
Expat life in South Korea
Location: Gangwon do Province, South Korea
Name: Kierra Ivy
Home town: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Kierra graduated from Duquesne University back in 2013. “Like most graduates, I really struggled to get out there and hit the ground running. I knew I wanted to travel, but I hadn’t been very smart with my money so getting started would have been very difficult. After experimenting with different jobs I decided to stop making excuses and finally apply to teach English in South Korea. I applied while I was working on a cruise ship in Hawaii, and my process was very quick and straightforward. This had a lot to do with my own preparation and timing, as well as my very helpful recruiter. I told my recruiter I was willing to teach anywhere. I also didn’t provide a preference for grade. I can say that not having any preferences is probably what helped me land my placement so quickly. All I had to do was complete my TESOL certification (also known as TEFL), complete my contract with the cruise ship, head home to process my visa, say goodbye to family and friends, and board that plane to South Korea.”
“It was the most liberating feeling I had ever felt! Now I’m here in rural South Korea teaching English to elementary, middle, and high school students. I have a free house that is paid for by my school. I am the only foreigner in my little town. I have lost about 10lbs (still need to lose another 10). Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”
Why South Korea?
“Quite simply put, South Korea offers the whole meal, not just the entree. When you teach here through the government ran program the benefits are tremendous. My benefits include: free housing, free utilities (I’m a special case), competitive salary (~2,200USD + rural pay + multiple school pay + Saturday camp pay), 40 hour work week (only 18 of these hours are spent teaching), full insurance coverage, employer pension contribution, severance pay upon completion of the contract, roundtrip flight reimbursement, and a generous $300 settlement allowance I was given when I arrived. They offered everything I needed and more.”
What do you like about South Korea?
“There are a few things I really like about South Korea:
- The food is AMAZING and very spicy which I love. I forgot to mention cheap! Very cheap.
- The people are very kind to me here and very interested in my story, but that is just my experience living in rural South Korea. This may be different living in the city.
- I love how easy the metro station is in Seoul.”
What do you dislike about South Korea?
“There are definitely some things that annoy me a little bit:
- Not many people speak English at all. This becomes a real pain when you are setting up your bank accounts, setting up a new cell phone plan, and trying to communicate with your colleagues about pertinent matters.
- In the major cities, there is no such thing as personal space, and people will push and shove you when entering and exiting the subway. This is very frustrating if you’re not used to it.
- Koreans in general tend to operate on a last minute basis. Meaning they will wait to give you important information last minute, or worst forget to tell you altogether. It just takes patience and time. These are things you just have to get used to.
- I am African American and people do touch my hair and skin without my permission, as well as stare. This does not bother me, but I will include it, because it does drive some people crazy. I’m okay with it because I know it comes from a good place. They are genuinely curious. My students have never had a black teacher before so their curiosity was to be expected.”
What is your favorite thing to do in South Korea?
“My favorite thing to do in Korea is go to the Jimjilbang (public bath house and sauna) in Seoul. I love it so much. It’s very relaxing and a really cheap alternative to hotels.”
What is your favorite thing to eat in South Korea?
“Some of my favorite foods are Manduguk (Korean dumpling soup), Denjonjigae (Korean soy soup), and Chukumi Samgapsa (Korean style octopus and bacon). All of these delicious dishes can be found in most of the restaurants in my little town.”
What is your favorite bar in South Korea?
“I can’t say I have a favorite bar, but the nightclubs in Hongdae, Seoul are so fun! If you stay at certain hostels, they take you on a pub crawl! It’s so much fun.”
Is there something you just have to see or do when you are in South Korea?
“You must go to the Jimjilbang (Korean style bath house and sauna). It’s a must for all tourists to experience at least once.”
Any tips for moving to / living in South Korea?
“I have a few tips for you:
- Do your research. this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Do yourself a favor and do the proper research and make sure this is the right move for you.
- Do not come here to teach if you don’t care about the students. These kids will make you want to pull your hair out, but they will also be the ones to brighten up your day. Some of them are so grateful to have you, especially in the rural areas, so please show them you care by putting your best foot forward when stepping into the classroom.
- Be ready for the culture shock. This is Asia. Asia is unlike any continent on Earth! Be mentally prepared to adapt to your surroundings. How things are at home don’t apply here. Don’t expect top notch customer service in restaurants, be prepared to take your shoes off in many places, be prepared to be pushed and shoved by tiny old ladies in the subway, be prepared for the bank tellers to not understand you, be prepared to spend hours on things that should take 15 minutes simply because of the language barrier, be prepared for people to stare at you, and just be prepared for the experience to change you. On a positive note, if you prepare, this will without a doubt be the most memorable experience of your life!
- Be positive!”
About teaching English abroad
Are you interested in teaching English abroad? To apply for English teaching jobs abroad you need a TESOL/TEFL certificate or diploma. Uni-Prep Institute offers online TESOL/TEFL programs making it very easy to obtain your certificate or diploma in a short amount of time from wherever you are in the world. Visit their website for more information.
About Kierra Ivy
Kierra Ivy is a passionate traveler who has been writing about her experiences abroad since March 2016.
If you want to know more about her experiences living life as an expat in South Korea or if you would like to check out all of her advice on how to design your own lifestyle around travel do follow her blog www.passionategypsies.com
About South Korea
South Korea is a country that is steeped in ancient history while being extremely modern. It is fiercely competitive on global markets and at the same time proud of its rich history.
South Korea, Asia’s third-largest economy, is situated on the southern half of the Korean Peninsula, with North Korea to the north, China across the sea to the west and Japan a short ferry ride to the southeast.
South Korea’s compact size and superb transport infrastructure mean that tranquility can be found in easy reach of the bustling city. Hike to the summits of densely forested mountains that transform into ski slopes in winter, sail to remote islands where farmers and fishermen welcome you into their homes or relax in serene villages surrounded by rice fields.
South Korea offers the traveler an impressive range of experiences, beautiful landscapes and 5000 years of culture and history.
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