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A Message to Foreigners in Korea

July 5, 2015


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Hoooooboy we were excited and nervous about this weeks video question! We asked people to send a message to foreigners living in Korea, and we weren’t sure how negative or positive it would turn out. We left it open ended so that people could honest and not sugarcoat. It was surprising to us that we got a nice balance of negative and positive comments.

I have to give a shout out to Maya and Whitney who appear at the end of the video because I burst out loud laughing with your “don’t be an asshole” comment. Hahahaha! But seriously, they went on to talk about a subject that Claire and Pat at the beginning of the video touched on too, and that is when people move to Korea for a job and then hang out only in the foreign neighbourhoods. This is a kind hot topic amongst foreigners in Korea and it creates a lot of angry fights online. I’m going to weigh in on this fight right now.


Martina’s Message to Foreigners Living In Korea

There are those of us that come to Korea with the mindset of exploring a new culture. Whether it be for work or for school the prospect of living in a foreign land is exciting and we can’t wait to sink our teeth into new food and adventures. I would say majority of foreigners I meet in Korea share this perspective, but we all experience living in Korea in different ways. If you are attending university in Korea with the goal of learning the language, you will have your own unique experience with Korean culture and school life and it will very different than those of us that came here to work. Having had taught for three years in a Korean high school, I’ve learned about the politics of interoffice relations, the Korean education system, and I came to understand the life of a high school student very well. And my experience of teaching in Korea will be totally different from another person who is teaching in a rural countryside town, because country life in Korea is nothing like city life! But if you come to Korea with the mindset of exploration and adventure you can make the most of your time here. You can see the positive with the negative and your time here will be amazing!

However, as Maya and Whitney mentioned, there are those people that come to Korea and only hang out in the foreign neighbourhoods and make no effort to learn how to read Korean. If you can’ t read Korea, you are limited to where you can eat as a lot of restaurants in Korea have no English on the menu. While I personally think it’s a shame that they are missing out on amazing opportunities to experience new things, I still have to be honest and just admit that some people are only coming here to work…and that’s okay. It’s okay! They haven’t been longing to travel to Korea their whole lives, they just need a job. Once you get a job, the appeal of the foreign neighbourhoods are in community. Organized events like poetry reading, trivia night, sports clubs, the streaming of sporting events, and more help people to feel part of something. Not to mention that it comes with the comfort of ordering a meal that reminds you of home. You can fall into a normal routine if you want, and so some people that come to Korea for a job enjoy the small comforts of a local community.

If you do come to Korea to learn the language, you’ll already be guaranteed to meet other like minded people in your program or in your classes, but when you come here to work, you might be the only foreign person at your whole workplace. It can be very lonely and even if you learn the language it doesn’t automatically mean your Korean co-workers are suddenly going to say “OMG now we can be BFFs forever!!!!” It’s a job for them too, they already have their own friends and family. Simon was unlucky enough to have this kind situation at his work and it made him very depressed but I was lucky to meet some amazing people at my work and I became very close friends with them, but at the end of the day Simon and I had each other. A lot of people don’t have someone to come home to so if hanging out in a foreign neighbourhood and developing relationships helps you to enjoy your time in Korea, go for it. But heed my one final thought: if you spend all your time in a foreign neighbourhood and you don’t interact with Korean culture, don’t fall into the pitfall of hanging out with people that are Negative Nancies. I totally support venting and being angry about your bad experiences in life, but I don’t support it when it becomes a blinding never-ending cycle.

At the beginning of the video Claire mentioned the “foreign groupthink” and it’s a real thing. Yes, you will totally have bad experiences in Korea (just as you’ll have bad experiences back in your home country) but if you focus on it non-stop and hang out with other like minded people you will become a sad crusty angry asshole spewing out negative shit all day on forums, blogs, videos, and to anyone that will listen to you complain. At the end of the day, what is the point of all that anger? It will only make you feel worse and in the end you are the only person that actually experiences your daily suffering. So instead I suggest Claire’s approach. Take a deep breath, step back from the anger or cultural misunderstanding, and go find some friends that support being positive…whether that’s in the foreign neighbourhood or not.

Next week we’ll be posting the response video which is a message to Korean People Living in Korea. How exciting! :D



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A Message to Foreigners in Korea


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  1. I don’t live in Korea, but I am all for the “Don’t be an asshole” suggestion.
    During my last trip, my friends, sister, mom, and I were at a market. Mom went to a food stand for a sample, standing amongst other buyers. I was oblivious to what happened until my sister made a disapproving, angry noise, which always sets off my inner protective alarm. I noticed a group of Western girls kind of standing in the way of the Korean women, and my sister pointed one of them out to me, telling me that she had shoved several of the Korean women out of the way, calling them rude. It seemed like said girl’s friend wasn’t able to make her way to the front of the stall for a purchase, so this girl felt that it was appropriate to just shove people out of the way because her friend was not defensive. The problem with that, aside from, oh, EVERYTHING, was that MY MOM was one of those women she shoved. I have to say, for having grown up mostly without my mom, she knew I was ready for a confrontation, because she proceeded to shove whatever food she got from the stall into my mouth. xD;; It didn’t stop me from staring down the girl, who, upon realizing that I was with one of these women she shoved, sheepishly walked away with her group.
    Seriously, I don’t care which country you’re visiting – DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE. You might not be as lucky as that girl was that day.

    5 years ago
  2. I think people make two mistakes when they go to an unfamiliar place for an extended period of time.
    1. They learn nothing at all about the culture with the idea that it will be different, but not THAT different. They believe in universal values and it’s a rude awakening to find out that’s not an actual thing.
    2. They have only learned about a country’s entertainment culture. This is fine when you are visiting for a short time, but if that’s all you knew before an extended stay, get ready for disillusionment because you weren’t expecting a real country, you were expecting Epcot.
    This isn’t just a mistake that people make when they go from country to country. It’s a mistake people make when they go a different region, or city. I had a friend who had never been to New York City and knew I had family that lived in Manhattan. She was imagining Sex and the City. She wasn’t imagining a Lower East Side immigrant neighborhood, which was the reality (and before gentrification).

    At the very least, travelers should learn that there are two different types of cultures. Individualist and Collectivist. The United States, Canada, the UK, much of northern Europe, are individualist. Korea is most definitely collectivist. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in a collectivist culture it’s important to learn a little about what that means so that you can understand why things happen the way they happen.

    5 years ago
  3. I’ve been here 2 months now and I must say I NEED FOREIGNERS! I live in Sacheon like Claire & Pat and it’s such a tiny tiny country city. I have been learning Korean and talking to Koreans and eating Korean food but I crave being able to talk freely. I work at 2 public schools but if I’m not teaching, teachers don’t speak much because of the language barrier. I get to practice my Korean with the kids that visit me in between class but it’s a lonely work day. Culture shock is exhausting and it really helps to have a community around you as long as you don’t have too many negative Nancies. If it weren’t for them I’d probably cry every day. I think connecting to other foreigners becomes a lot more valuable when you’re in a rural area.

    5 years ago
  4. My suggestion would also be to find a hobby that involves lots of social interaction with locals.

    I happen to be into swing dancing which is really lucky for me because Seoul has one of the best, if not the best, swing dancing scene in the world. It allows for lots of social interaction, yet also not put too much strain on the language barrier since you’re spending most of your time dancing.

    But what ever your favourite dance, or other hobby, you’re bound to find it in Korea and it will provide a great way to interact with locals.

    5 years ago
    • That’s amazing that you suggested swing dancing, because some of our friends from Korea that we knew ages ago were also into swing dancing! They loved it. Ah…thanks for reminding me of them :D

      5 years ago
  5. What I would say is: don’t be discouraged when a Korean friend can’t hang out or cancel. They have crazy busy lives, especially in Seoul. And also English is a huge challenge for them because of that fear of messing up. Try to learn the language. Uh be warned, there is a lot of Koreans who it felt like they would just friend me to practice English. If they taught me Korean though, I was cool because I felt like it was a real cultural exchange.

    More positive note, Koreans are fun and sweet,get to know them and appreciate the ahjummas at your local cvs and restaurants, because they kind of feel like family.

    5 years ago