Passport – check! Money – check! Sense of adventure – check!
Moving to Korea for the first time is SUPER exciting but one of the things new teachers preparing to make the move don’t give enough thought to is the fact that life in Korea is drastically different from life in the West. It’s great to let your mind wander and dream of all the new places you’ll visit, friends you’ll meet and experiences you’ll have but it’s also important to understand that settling into Korean life is not as easy as you may think.
Follow these 5 tips on how to make settling into Korean life much easier and allow yourself to bypass many of the problems many others have as they fail to take them into consideration!
1. Laugh. Lots!
A sense of humour is the biggest asset you can have when moving to any foreign country let alone one that is so far removed from what you are used to. There are two types of foreigners I’ve encountered living in Korea; those who stress out when things don’t go to plan and those who raise a laugh and get on with it regardless of how frustrated they are.
Life in Korea DOES get frustrating as hell sometimes. You’ll wonder why they do certain things the way they do. You’ll wonder why they leave everything to the last minute and you’ll scratch your head in amazement at everyone suddenly rushing to finish a task that could have been done hours ago.
It’s how you react to these frustrations that for a large part determines how happy you will be in your life in Korea. Get frustrated, argue, question the locals and tell them you know better and you’ll be hitting a brick wall. Laugh, accept it as a cultural difference and just get on with your day and you’ll have a blast!
2. Don’t “Think” You’ve Sussed the Culture
It’s a common trap. Arrive in Korea having read all about the culture and how it’s different to home. After a month of witnessing it first hand you think you’ve got it nailed. Do not take cultural familiarity or knowledge at face-value. Even as you become more savvy about rituals, customs and protocol in your new environment, be careful not to attribute an explanation or rationale to what you now believe you know.
Korean life and culture is made up of a complex set of rituals that are instilled from birth. Teachers who have been in Korea for over a decade still try to wrap their heads around it and get caught out. Knowing the basics is advisable but getting caught up trying to follow everything will leave you a nervous wreck in day to day life.
As long as you are respectful most Koreans understand that you are trying your best and allow lots of leeway for foreigners – they don’t expect us to be perfect! Try to enjoy the experience without becoming bogged down in trying to conform to every cultural and social quirk the locals do automatically. You’ll thank me for it later!
3. Get Your Social Circle Going!
Make sure you get to know people in your new environment. The first few months will be a mind mash of new sights, sounds and smells. You’ll feel like you’re on an emotional roller coaster that just won’t end. It’s breathtaking but can leave you longing for “normality” and some home comforts.
You can start your social circle before you leave your home country! Facebook is a great resource for meeting other foreigners and simply searching for “your new location” will bring up the generic foreigners group which you should join. The local ex pat community will be more than willing to answer any questions and point you in the direction of other groups in the area that are of interest to you. They’ll even be willing to meet you and show you around if you ask nicely!
Once in Korea, be sure to take time to interact with the locals. Koreans are a friendly bunch for the most part and if you show you are willing to get to know them, they’ll be more than happy to take you under their wing. Making Korean friends is a great way to not only broaden your social circle but it’s a great way to broaden your horizons and get a closer look into their world. Once you are friends with a Korean person you can be sure to count on a close friend for life.
4. Establish Your Routine!
Try to achieve a sense of stability in your life. Establishing a routine will give you a feeling of safety and will help to ground you on the days where that longing for home nags away at you.
Although the first few months will feel like a holiday in that you are not living at “home”, your new neighbourhood will become your home so it’s good to get your routine going as soon as you can. Grocery shopping on Tuesdays, Gym after work, beers on Saturdays, lunch with friends on Sundays, Friday movie night.
I found having a routine helped me negate most of my homesickness and really helped me feel a part of my local community.
5. Learn the Lingo!
Make an effort to learn the local language. Yeah, you aren’t going to become a fluent Korean speaker in a year unless you spend all day learning it but you can certainly easily learn basic phrases that will help you get by in your day to day life. In fact, learning to read Hanguel, the Korean alphabet, is extremely easy and can be mastered in an afternoon.
Learning it will not only help you in day to day activities but it will give the locals a great impression of you and they will be extremely grateful you are trying to fit in. You wouldn’t believe the number of foreigners who can’t utter more than “hello” in Korean which, to me, is a great shame.
Hopefully these tips help you get settled into Korea much easier. If you have any more to add, feel free to leave a comment below!