Tips for first-time Korea expatriates

I recently got an email from a fellow named Chris, who will soon be moving to Korea for an expat stint. Hoping to get the most out of his overseas experience Chris wanted some pointers on how to explore Korea for the first time.

Off the top of my head, here were my top-five pointers for life in Korea:

1) Read up before you go. I always wished I’d done this before I first journeyed to Korea in 1996. A guidebook is a good place to start. Moon makes a great Korea guide, and the Lonely Planet is not bad either. Also look for a book called Culture Shock: Korea, which can prepare you for certain matters of culture and etiquette.

2) Remember that culture is instinctual, so a bit of culture shock is inevitable, no matter how well you have prepared. So just be patient, and be prepared to roll with all the seeming weirdness of living overseas.

3) Stay active, make Korean friends, and don’t spend all your time in bars. The big expat cliché anywhere in the world (and especially in Korea) is that expats are drunks. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of hanging out at the expat bar all the time (I know I did my first year). The best way to avoid this habit (and the mild depression that can ensue) is to throw yourself into your Korea experience. Join a gym or swim club or rock-climbing club; study Korean history; visit temples and hike in the mountains; go to lunch or on excursions with students or friends. The more you do, the more you’ll learn and the more positive your experience will be.

4) Learn Hangul. The Korean alphabet is very logical and easy to learn, and within a week of applying yourself you should be able to read signs and write people’s names.

5) Study Korean. Speaking the language itself can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s worth it to try, a little bit at a time.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | June 19, 2006
Category: Vagabonding Advice

2 Responses to “Tips for first-time Korea expatriates”

  1. Laura Says:

    I expatriated to Buenos Aires, Argentina three months ago. It’s been a great experience, only tempered by some cultural adjustments. Before expatriating anywhere, definately try to learn about the culture and to get as much of a base in the language as possible. It will make your adjustment smoother. Also, although expat friends are important – expand your horizons, step outside your comfort zone, and make local friends. Not only will making local friends enrich your experience but they can often help you deal with and understand the nuances of your new culture. Last, do some research. There are a lot of expat bloggers out there now, and through their experiences you will have a look ahead into what you should expect – but always keep in mind that each person’s experience is unique and not necessarily the same that you’ll have, but it is a great way to get a preview.
    If you are considering moving to another country, whether for awhile or for good, I applaud you for taking a chance at changing your life forever. Go for it!

  2. verygatal Says:

    good advice!
    learning to read korean is indeed surprisingly quick to do.

    only wish there were better guides than Lonely Planet, which is very middle of the road. better than nothing, i guess.

    keep up the good work!