Westerners should try not to jump to conclusions when not greeted warmly in Korea. One member explained it well in recent ExpatExchange.com online survey , "An outsider may think they are cold, stoic, uncaring and a bit rude....but this is just not true, in my mind. Here's a story: in my building the older security guard would just look at me as I came in the door. I thought it was kind of rude...no wave or smile or word...but later I heard from a Korean friend that that is just how he should react to me, a foreigner. How can he say anything? If he made a gesture he might offend (we all know how some movements are respectful in some countries but an insult in other parts of the world). So, he did his best to be respectful by doing nothing. Later he started to salute me as I came in, which was fine...I did a little bow back and within a few months he actually cracked a smile."
Koreans are one of the most homogeneous countries in the world. As one person commented, they are really only homogeneous on the surface, "Koreans are, on the face of it, homogeneous. They have similar fashions, only a few deviants (unlike, say, Seattle) and with the clear-cut emphasis on family and work for the sexes it is not odd even to see same-sex parties, gatherings and (where they are mixed parties) mini-cliques. Under the surface, and after some time, many find that Koreans can be very, very different from one another--and why not? They are just like people anywhere: they want to fit in and be themselves as well."
Spinning a Social Web
As an expat, meeting other foreigners is easy...especially for those living in Seoul. There are dozens of clubs to fit every personality.
The Seoul Club, Seoul International Women's Assocation, Australia and New Zealand Association (ANZA), American Women's Club of Korea and many other clubs are great ways for newcomers and others to network. To find more clubs, visit The Seoul Times.
If you're itching to delve into Korean culture and history, consider joining the Royal Asiatic Society, which hosts lectures and tours.
For the thrill-seeking expat, Adventure Korea puts together weekend trips, such as rafting, bungee jumping...even trips to the Mud Festival in Boryeong. Single expats won't feel left out either. One member recommends, "Bar-hopping in Itaewon (especially during a Rugby or Football/Soccer game) is sure to turn up many, many expats from all over the globe."
A Note about Family Life
In the typical expat family, husbands and wives often lead very different weeknight lives. An Australian expat explains, "I am an expat wife and as such spend most evenings with our three children. It is rare for my husband to be home before 9 p.m. so someone in a similar position to me has to be prepared to enjoy their own company and cope with all the homework too! For the men there is quite a lot more socialising after work than what we used to have at home, but that is part of the work ethic here. You set your own standards and guidelines."
Job-Hunting Korean Style
If you'd like to move to Korea and aren't a candidate for an international transfer from your current employer, you might want to consider teaching English. When participating in our surveys, many members mentioned teaching English as the most popular job for foreigners. One note of caution from a respondent in Seoul, "English teaching is the big expat thing here. Some make some good coin, others fail miserably (really miserably, if you think you can live like a Westerner here you might as well stay away)."
Jobs in technology, finance and factories are also common among foreigners. Finding a job is another feat. One person remarked, "It was said that you need a connection even to get a job in a toll-booth...and this may be true. Friends do business with friends here and they hire their friends and relatives of friends and friends of relatives and friends of friends. Once you're in you're golden, but to be an outsider is tougher."
Pack Your Bags
When we asked one member what she wished she had brought from home, her list included several cold-weather items: lots of winter clothes, floor heaters and salt for a icy driveway. It seems she -- along with many others -- had a false impression that Korea is warm year round.
Share Your Experiences
If you would like to help other newcomers to your country, please participate in any of our online surveys about: moving & relocation, jobs & career survey, city profiles, finances, schools, relationships.
To read full responses to our surveys, go by subject to:
moving & relocation
jobs & career