I am Expat (And So Can You!)

By Lindsay Nash

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.” ― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

The American Dream has changed. It’s no longer owning your own house or staying in one job for the rest of your life. For millennials like me, it’s own less, experience more. An interesting article in Time Magazine says that millennials dream about travel and self employment–and staying far off the corporate ladder.

The article cites a poll that reports 38% of millennials say travel is part of the American Dream, well exceeding the 28% who name secure retirement.tandem

I have to agree. I held my first post-graduate job for three years before Whit and I left that world to explore the actual world. We haven’t looked back since. In the nearly decade that has followed, we’ve become comfortable American expatriates here in South Korea. We’ve traveled a good chunk of Asia, backpacking through India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, and China. And took family vacations in Bali and the Philippines.

The world is our house. Experiences are our possessions. And adventures are our dreams.

Even when we started having children, we knew we wanted to share this lifestyle with our little ones. And, while most parents would scoff at the idea, we’ve thrived in this world outside of America. Here are 8 secrets to our success of living an expat lifestyle, and loving it.

8 Secrets to an expat life of success

1. Get a job.
Teach in KoreaLet’s get real. As romantic as it sounds to just wander the Earth on someone else’s dime with no responsibilities, in the long-run, it won’t pan out. Plus, you won’t truly experience a culture without immersing yourself in it. To have experiences (your new “possessions”) you need to be able to afford them. Start at Transitions Abroad for ideas on how you can make your expat life a reality. Teaching English is a wonderful way to first make the leap.

2. Manage expectations.reading KoreanIt won’t be glorious, or glamorous, all the time. There will be days you want to scream your head off because a cultural tick gets on your nerves. Or times you get frustrated because you just want to be able to hold a normal conversation with your neighbor without sounding like a buffoon. But realize this is normal. Keep going. Keep studying. Keep accepting what’s different.

3. Keep an open mind.
dc05b-dsc_0215One of the best things about living abroad is how your perceptions of the world and everyday life change. Quickly. It’s important to keep an open mind, and to continue to grow and change the way you view the world. Otherwise, you’ll be left behind, or you’ll be left angry at why people can’t see the world as you do.

4. Make friends.Friends in KoreaFriends sweeten any deal, and living abroad is no different. Whether you want to move abroad with your family or by yourself, it’s important to make connections as soon as possible in your new home. Having someone to talk to, go to, and listen to will be one of your major keys to success.

5. Take advantage of the situation.
Live in Korea like I do? Learn Korean. Learn how to make kimchi. Live in France? Learn French. Drink wine. Eat cheese. Live in China? Visit the Great Wall. The possibilities are endless when you live in a strange land. Take full advantage. Explore often. Learn constantly.

6. Share it with others. 
cameraselfieStart a blog and write about your adventures. Or post your pictures on Instagram. Or tell people about it on Facebook. When you look at your experience in a positive light, and are constantly sharing it, it will be contagious. To you on bad days, and to others who dream of doing the same thing.

7. Get involved.
running clubOne of the best things (if not THE best) about being an expatriate is the expat community. Just think: A whole group of people who think a little bit like you and value the same experiences. I guarantee, you’ll make fast friends in these communities, as expats are always up for meeting other expats. It’s also easy to create groups in these communities, such as a running club, book clubs, dinner groups, girls nights, the list goes on and on.

8. Become a citizen of the world.
Finn at temple
I tell my children this all the time. You’re a citizen of the world. With this citizenship comes great responsibility. Respect religion, any kind. Respect dress codes, any kind. Respect customs, any kind. We are all humans on this Earth, and the only way we’ll survive is to be kind and respectful of one another. Period.

Korea changes its postal codes

New Korea zip code

For all you online shoppers out there in Korea, this is an important announcement! The Korean postal service adopted a 5-digit postal code for all Korean addresses, effective since August 1, 2015.

If you like to shop on Amazon or iHerb like I do, you’ll need to know your code to continue receiving packages at your address.

It’s quick and easy to find your new zip code in Korea. Click on the image above or go to the Korean postal service website. You can then search for your address in English and find your new postal code.

Learn yours today, and keep those packages coming in. ^^

Finn at his first taekwondo class

The inevitable pull of Taekwondo

Finn started his first taekwondo class last week. He was nervous about it, but once his best friend Abby signed up, he was ready to go. Especially since that meant a really cool white uniform and a class with bigger kids who doted on him the entire time.

Finn at his first taekwondo class

6 fun facts about Taekwondo:

  1. Taekwondo is the national sport of South Korea.
  2. Taekwondo became An Olympic Sport in 2000.
  3. There are six colors of belts in the sport: white, yellow, green, blue, red, and black.
  4. The Taekwondo uniform is called a dobok.
  5. A taekwondo gym or studio is called a dojang.
  6. Taekwondo is also used by the South Korean military as part of its training.

Learn more!

Road fatalities in Korea

By Whit Altizer

The Korea Herald runs some pretty fantastic graphic news photos. This one not so fantastic.

Getting on the roads in Korea as a cyclist, pedestrian or driver is a bit of a leap of faith as people seem to be always pressed for time, and not taking into account they are essentially driving a ground missile. 
To be fair, I never felt too safe on American roads either, especially as a cyclist (e.g. beer can thrown out of a moving truck at me). Now I see why, as America is just one fatality per 1 million people behind South Korea. 
The takeaway? Get off your phone. Slow down. Your life would be ruined by adding to this statistic and only mildly affected by being late to whatever you are rushing to. 

7 tips for staying positive in Korea

By Whit Altizer

Expats in Korea seem to fall into one of two camps. The positive and the negative. Trust me, having been here for almost 6 years now I’ve found myself in both. But I refuse to stay negative for long. So if you are teaching, in the military stationed in Korea or a professional working here, check out these tips on how you can get the most out of your Korean experience.

1. Get involved. You don’t have to learn the language. You don’t have to eat the food. But you should try to get involved in a community. There are Korean groups, expat groups, expat and Korean groups that will welcome you. Our friends go to Korean churches, join Korean hiking groups or have formed their own expat groups. One of our friends even started his own art magazine! There are communities out there right for you. Type in your interest or hobby and “Korea” or the town you live in on Facebook. You’ll probably find someone looking for you. If you don’t, start your own. Get off the base. Get away from your comfort zone. Leave your apartment. There are plenty of things to do, but you have to go find it.

Thanks to our lovely co-teacher and her boyfriend we enjoyed several lovely outings with a Korean photography club.

2. Find positive people. This might be the most important tip. If your community isn’t positive about life in Korea, go find another one. Negative attitudes from those around you can ruin your experience. Don’t let them. It’s easy to bitch about life in Korea, but it’s a lot more fun to enjoy the eccentricities that might annoy you about life here.

Every month we organized a Korean-foreigner dinner. We met our best friends through this dinner.
Good, positive people make all the difference. Find them.They are here.

3. Travel with a smile. Traveling around Korea with an open mind and heart makes it as good a place to travel as any Asian country. It is in Korean’s DNA to share and welcome a stranger. Especially when you are doing something active like hiking or running in a marathon or even cycling Korea’s bike paths. We’ve had a meal bought for us on the spot, had a lovely evening drinking with an old Korean couple we could barely understand (and vice versa), were welcomed into a home on our bike trip for drinks and food and just last week my friend and I drank makgeolli with a hiking group. Don’t shield yourself from these interactions. Smile, say hello, be respectful and accept what comes to you. These interactions will make you fall in love with Korea.

4. Be flexible. Life in Korea can be unpredictable most of the time. A lot of that comes down to language barriers and a lot of that comes down to being on a need-to-know basis. Every place I’ve worked in Korea I’ve had days off, classes and extra hours sprung on me at the last minute. Westerners need to know things well in advance, Koreans don’t. If you go with it, you might even enjoy the spontaneity.

My running buddies and I said “yes” to an invitation from Eeodeung Running Club void of details. We ended up running a half-marathon and drinking loads of makgeolli. It was a blast.

5. Leave things at home. Between Costco and other large supermarkets, these days you can find almost everything you want from home.  Also, sites like iHerb and GMarket can get you what you want or close to it.  If you are military or a professional that can ship things over for free, be sure you know that in the big cities you can stock your apartment with second-hand goods for cheap. Cars and appliances are all made for life in Korea and yours might not be. We’ve come almost empty-handed, stocked our apartment with second-hand items and then sold them when we moved. We’ve sold almost all of our possessions every time we’ve come and gone and it can be liberating. You’ll love the feeling of a good purge.

6. Don’t compare it to home. Don’t come with any ideas about how you think things should be. The moment you start comparing Korea to your homeland is the moment you start feeling negative about Korea and maybe even angry with it. It isn’t and never will be your home country. It’s best to only worry about what you can control.

7. Don’t be intimidated. I think the people who don’t survive here are the ones that are intimidated by the new food and language. You can find yourself scared to try the food. Scared to leave your base or apartment. Or scared to have an interaction with a Korean. It took me about 3 months to really feel comfortable getting out. My wife and I hesitated to try a restaurant in our neighborhood because we had no idea what to expect. It also took me a few times to be open to the random conversations on the street. Koreans usually just want to practice their English for nothing in return. And of course as we’ve said time and time again, the food is amazing. Don’t let anything about Korea frighten you.

See a similar post with expat “wisdom” from way back in 2008 after only a year here.