The state of the expat – looking to 2011


The year of 2010 was good for Korean expats. We saw a number of K-bloggers get married (congrats to Roboseyo and Brian in Jeollanam-do), get pregnant (congrats to Joe and E.J. @ ZenKimchi), get to do something other than merely blogging and teaching (congrats again to Joe @ ZenKimchi and also to Dan @ Seoul Eats), and get noticed by a larger community (including this K-blogger, who was featured on TBS e-FM, Arirang, and was published in almost every issue of the Groove magazine in 2010).

The year of 2010 was good for Korean expats. We saw a number of K-bloggers get married (congrats to Roboseyo and Brian in Jeollanam-do), get pregnant (congrats to Joe and E.J. @ ZenKimchi), get to do something other than merely blogging and teaching (congrats again to Joe @ ZenKimchi and also to Dan @ Seoul Eats), and get noticed by a larger community (including this K-blogger, who was featured on TBS e-FM, Arirang, and was published in almost every issue of the Groove magazine in 2010).

Arguably one of the most well-known K-bloggers – Brian in Jeollanam-do – has left Korea (albeit some drama – and a warning for fellow K-bloggers) and returned to the USA. Anonymous Korean Rum Diary has also left Korea – taking his blogposts with him – but has continued blogging his thoughts under his real name. Best of luck to them both in their future endeavors.

Magazines and publications

Speaking of magazines, 10 Magazine and Groove Magazine (published online through Hi Expat) seem to continue their ‘Coke vs. Pepsi’ type of battle, although the audiences each respective magazine garners is quite different. The former seems to go for the business traveler or working professional, while the latter aims at the younger, English-teaching crowd with won to burn. Newcomer Neh Magazine seems to be serving Bucheon quite nicely, while the Seoul Selection magazine maintains an excellent reputation among those that can find it.

The 3 Wise Monkeys have been busy garnering a reputation for independent journalism. The Dokdo Times has begun to carry the torch in the Korean satire world, although Dokdo is Ours is still going strong as well. Let’s not forget about the Busan Haps and the Daegu Pockets when mentioning expat-created magazines. In the podcasting world, the Seoul Podcast continues getting together for long-form commentary and occasionally information, while the Midnight Runner hasn’t posted a new one since May – a shame since his shows were typically tightly edited.

A couple of downers

Unfortunately, a couple of expat websites have gone defunct – KoreaSparkle and Chatjip – which tells me that the era of meta-blogging for the sake of meta-blogging is over. While the lesson of the former is clear – don’t get a virus on their website, then take months to get back online – Chatjip just never really took off.


Traveling around Korea has gotten a lot easier in 2010. The KTX train system has gotten somewhat faster, a Gyeongju train station has made it easier for tourists to connect to this wonderful city, while the Gyeongchun line will take you all the way to Chuncheon. The 2nd phase of the AREX train system (which connects Incheon International Airport to Seoul Station in central Seoul) is complete as of late 2010. Bus stops have been getting upgrades around the country, and I’m seeing a LOT more bus stops where a screen tells you to the minute how long your bus will take to arrive.


It’s been a fairly quiet year for the Association for Teachers of English in Korea (ATEK) – even as they’ve elected a new president, appointed a bevy of new officers, made some new partnerships with the Seoul police system, and plenty of other things behind the scenes. Although some of my previous criticism on ATEK has focused on the organization’s lack of publicity, it could be said that the lack of news would be good news. I see good things ahead for ATEK, although it still needs to toot its own horn more often, distilling the true benefits of what the organization can do for people not yet part of the organization.

Teaching English

Staying legal as a teacher in Korea got a little harder – regulations were passed requiring a national-level background check (for Americans, an FBI check that would take 3-4 months to get back). There are some positive changes to come (13 month visas, no more diplomas to send off once they’ve been verified, etc.), and American teachers already in Korea may not need the national background check until 2012.

Even though Indians have been talked about as future English teachers, they haven’t (yet) taken over most people’s jobs. The first one is getting along fine, but still… Even English-teaching robots, which were hailed as one of Time’s top 50 inventions of the year, haven’t yet caused a human teacher to be let go. Meanwhile, quite a few people got a kick out of a computer-voiced video explaining why you shouldn’t teach English in Korea – receiving 41,000+ views in just over a month’s time. The warnings are a collection of true or possible horror stories and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Moving forward

The question for expats in Korea in 2011 will be one of association and engagement. For years, expats in Korea have had the option to associate freely with fellow foreigners or Koreans of their own choosing. For people calling Korea home beyond their first (or second) contract, who you choose to associate with will determine the sort of network that you build up. Choosing to become a ‘lifer’ means you’ll be better off associating with Koreans – they’re not leaving as often as the foreigners on one-year contracts, and they’re likely better connected in many ways that could be helpful.

Another thing for the past-the-first-year expat to consider is the ‘settling down’ question. While teaching English in Korea is a job, not a career, it can become a lifestyle that requires far less than is received. With the economy in most first-world countries still in a slump – and jobs still hard to find – it’s fair to say the grass really is greener on this side of the ocean.

Some predictions for 2011

  • Content creators with their own platforms will find even more opportunities coming their way – figuring out how to leverage that into… whatever may come next. Those best able to create opportunities – not just contribute to someone else’s opportunity – will find themselves in the best position.
  • A rash of websites and businesses will rush into the Korean expat scene, hoping to cash in on what they perceive as a gold mine. They’ll be disappointed when they find there’s no gold mine, and leave as quickly as they arrived.
  • Video blogging (AKA ‘vlogging’) will take off and possibly surpass the more traditional form of blogging you’re reading right now. Why? Arguably, vlogs offer a very dedicated content creator – making a vlog often takes at least one hour per minute of footage – and is the multimedia many people are looking for. From all indications, the Qi Ranger and Eat Your Kimchi lead the way in the genre, and already have an audience to cater to. Other people will jump on the bandwagon, but they’ll need to make a splash – and keep up production quality – to keep their viewers engaged.
  • ATEK will continue developing contacts and support – albeit quietly. They’ll have a hard time to make a splash with new arrivals, however, unless the organization can reach out for their support before potential members actually need it. Perhaps 2011 will be the year where the organization will expand beyond word-of-mouth to market themselves.
  • Expats will find themselves as a crossroads – staying in Korea as a teacher or heading back to their home countries. To develop option C, more than a few expats will pair up with Koreans to create their own side businesses. This may mean a few people will risk going outside of the visa regulations, but that’s probably a risk they’re willing to take.
  • New teachers coming to Korea will find themselves with more Western options than ever before. Taco Bell opened earlier in Itaewon this year, while another location opened in Hongdae more recently. McDonalds is everywhere. Burger King, KFC, and Popeye’s have a decent foothold in Korea. The Foreign Food Mart in Itaewon has 95% of what you might be looking for from your home country. In theory, the Korean expat of 2011 never has to touch Korean food unless they want to – or are invited to a Korean restaurant by their co-workers.
  • The relationship between foreign English teachers and gyopo will continue to evolve, although both groups will tend to prefer their own kind when given a choice.
  • The 2011 Boryeong Mud Festival will suck. Sorry, but ’nuff said.
  • Korean food will continue to grow in popularity despite (NOT BECAUSE OF) the large-budget operations of the Korean government and BiBiGo. Kogi tacos will still sell well, but bleeding-edge foodies will be eager to promote the next big thing – and it won’t be coming from a well-funded government program. Never has, never will. Whether it starts with Bulgogi Quesadillas with Smoky Gochujang Aioli and Korean Pear Salsa or something else, the Korean government should stick to what it does best – FIGHTING!
  • Mainstream Koreans will finally learn what deodorant is, and begin using it in months other than June, July, and August.
  • More expats will find themselves satisfied with non-Seoul options – places like Ilsan, Bundang, Suwon, Bucheon, and others around the capital city still contain plenty of life. Some may be happier taking that rural job – and the decent raise that comes with it. They’ll still come into Seoul every so often for those expat-friendly elements, however.
  • Except for those homesick expats or those really missing Jersey Shore, more expats will find Korea to be a good long-term home. Having called Korea home for nearly three years now, reading the New York Times’ words of the year remind me how separated I’ve become from the country I once called home.

Readers, any predictions for 2011?

Disclaimer: I make no guarantees about my pontifications – these are opinions, guesses, and hopes for a new year. I am not your lawyer, your mommy, or your editor, and I can’t be held responsible for any actions you take, don’t take, or anything else you do or don’t do as a result of reading this post.

Creative Commons License ⓒ Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog,Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.

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