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Living in South Korea – Interview With an Expat

What is it like to move to South Korea? To start over and build a new life in South Korea?

To find out I interviewed Kierra, an American living in South Korea.

This interview is part of the Ask an Expat series. In this 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.

Expat Life in South Korea

Location: Gangwon do Province, South Korea
Name: Kierra Ivy
Age: 27
Home town: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Her story:

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.

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.

Not having any preferences is probably what helped me land my teaching job quickly. All I had to do was complete my TESOL certification (also known as TEFL), be home in the US to process my visa, say goodbye to family and friends, and board that plane to start my life in South Korea.

It was the most liberating feeling I had ever felt!

Now I’m here, living 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. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.”

Why Did You Move to 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 workweek (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 Life in South Korea?

living in South Korea

“There are a few things I really like about living in South Korea:

  1. The food is AMAZING and very spicy, which I love. I forgot to mention cheap! Very cheap.
  2. 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.
  3. I love how easy the metro is in Seoul.”

What Do You Dislike About Life in 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 account, 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 worse, 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?

expat living in South Korea

“My favorite thing to do in Korea is going to the Jimjilbang (public bathhouse and sauna) in Seoul.

I love it so much. It’s very relaxing and a really cheap alternative to hotels.

If you want a good night out, the nightclubs in Hongdae, Seoul, are so fun!”

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.”

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).

Whether you’re just visiting South Korea or moving here, it’s something you have to experience at least once.”

Also Read: 7 Things You Have to Experience in South Korea

Any Tips for Moving to / Living in South Korea?

moving to South Korea

“I have a few tips for you if you decide to move to South Korea:

Do your research. this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Do yourself a favor, do the proper research and make sure this is the right move for you.

Don’t 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 doesn’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!”

Also Read: 6 Reasons Why Moving Abroad is Such a Valuable Experience

About Teaching English Abroad

Are you interested in teaching English in South Korea or anywhere else?

To apply for English teaching jobs abroad you need a TESOL/TEFL certificate or diploma.

I-to-I 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 South Korea

about life in 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 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 great transport infrastructure mean that tranquility can be found within 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 an impressive range of experiences, beautiful landscapes, and 5000 years of culture and history.

Also Read:

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Interview with an expat about what it's like to move to and live in South Korea. #expat #southkorea #moveabroad

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Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. Owner of marketing company A to Z Marketing.
I spend most of my time living and working abroad and use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

12 thoughts on “Living in South Korea – Interview With an Expat”

  1. This is such a helpful post. I have been considering teaching abroad and this gives such an honest expression of what actually living in a place like South Korea would be like. It sounds like an incredible experience!

  2. This is awesome! Teaching English in South Korea always intrigued me! Kierra’s journey sounds so exciting but also practical! Love this series!

  3. This is a really informative blog, thanks for sharing! We are hoping to move to Asia in a few months and this was really helpful! Will look out for more moving abroad related blogs 🙂

  4. Kierra sounds like this is a dream job, pays well and you get to experience a culture so different from yours and to travel. I want to be in your boots once atleast :).

  5. As a teacher, I love hearing your story. I have a friend who just started teaching in Thailand and is going through some culture shock.

  6. Such an honest interview. I really enjoyed hearing about Kierra’s experience. I had neighbors who taught English in Korea and hated it. They didn’t make it through the school year. But their expectations may have been too high and had not done their research. I think Kierra has a realistic attitude about it. Nice article.

  7. Would like to visit one day, but not sure if I could live there for a while. Mostly because I cannot really handle spicy food. It definitely would be an interesting experience, though.

  8. Having spent a year of my life in Korea, I can certainly attest to much of what the interviewee said, particularly about Koreans operating on a last minute basis. I found that endlessly frustrating! And I most certainly do miss Korean cuisine and I’ve always tried to find a good Korean restaurant whatever city I move to. Enjoyable read


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