It’s Not All Sunshine and Lollipops, or Where I’ve Been For The Past Few Weeks

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I know, I know:  Living abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, a chance to experience something most Americans never see, a complete test of your personal fortitude, the ultimate exit from one’s comfort zone…yadda, yadda, yadda. 

Sometimes it also just sucks.

I’m a little behind on the blog right now because, quite frankly, the last couple months have been, at best, forgettable, and at worst, more than a little depressing.  However, rather than engage in an overly detailed online rant, I’m going to discuss a couple of challenges of life here in Korea, because, basically this little blogging endeavor would be a lie if we pretended there weren’t days when we really just want to hop a plane back to our family, Bojangles chicken biscuits, and the comforting familiarity of life in the Old North State.

So, here’s the nitty gritty, the real stuff about living in Korea.

I know, I know:  Living abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, a chance to experience something most Americans never see, a complete test of your personal fortitude, the ultimate exit from one’s comfort zone…yadda, yadda, yadda. 

Sometimes it also just sucks.

I’m a little behind on the blog right now because, quite frankly, the last couple months have been, at best, forgettable, and at worst, more than a little depressing.  However, rather than engage in an overly detailed online rant, I’m going to discuss a couple of challenges of life here in Korea, because, basically this little blogging endeavor would be a lie if we pretended there weren’t days when we really just want to hop a plane back to our family, Bojangles chicken biscuits, and the comforting familiarity of life in the Old North State.

So, here’s the nitty gritty, the real stuff about living in Korea.

1)  Strange things are more difficult.  Locating items like glitter or food coloring turn into humungous endeavors that require pantomiming your requests to sales associates who may or may not understand you.  All of a sudden, your supervisor asking you to pick up the items you need to teach your arts and crafts class becomes an overwhelming and frustrating ordeal. 

2)  The language barrier is enormous and it overshadows everything you do.  Your landlord leaves you notices in Korean on your door, which you then have to take to your supervisor to have translated (because while useful for single words, most online translation sucks when it comes to whole sentences).  All your requests for your landlord, boss, or nearly anyone else have to be translated through another person, which renders you completely dependent on that person’s command of the English language and their concern for translating your needs faithfully.  This includes information about health care, your salary, bank accounts, and your home.

3)  Everything is tied to your job:  your apartment, your visa, your income, your health care.  So, when things are not 100% kosher with your employer, you are looking at a drastic whole-life change if you decide to seek another position.

4)  The luxury of hopping into the car to do anything is gone.  You and your desire to go out and get a pizza for dinner are at the mercy of the bus, subway, or taxi services in your neighborhood.  Any groceries or other items you purchase have to be something you can physically carry home by one of the aforementioned means of transportation.  Or, of course, by your own two feet.

5)  Korean culture has all these complicated rules about age and respect and saving face.  This basically means that dialogue in the workplace is very top-down.  Your boss tells you what you will do and you do it or quit.  There is very little room for discussion or dialogue.  Complaining to your boss is viewed as disrespectful because it might cause him or her to lose face or be embarrassed in front of a subordinate.  Again, all of these cultural norms have to be transmitted through an intermediary if you, like me (and many other ex-pat teachers) work for a boss who OWNS AN ENGLISH SCHOOL but does not actually SPEAK ENGLISH. 

6)  While you have met wonderful people here, they are not the friends you have known for years and years in the States.  Even if they are also American, they probably don’t share your cultural background and may think you talk funny.  Your normal support system of family and friends back home–the people who have known you for decades–isn’t as readily accessible.  Obviously, you miss them every single day, but you miss them even more when things are sucky and you really just want someone to drive you downtown to the winery for a couple hours of marginally bad behavior. 

So that’s what we’ve been up to lately….mostly still exploring and seeing wonderful things and doing the whole ex-pat adventure thing, but occasionally getting our Oscar the Grouch on, too.  On the bright side, it’s getting a little warmer over here every day, and the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom all along the streets in our neighborhood.  Spring may just be the impetus we need to leave that trash can dwelling demeanor behind.

 

 

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: Busan, Homesick, Korea, Teaching



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