How moving to South Korea helped me find my culture

with 28 Comments

temple roof

Nobody understood our decision to move to South Korea, until we got there.

Few people back home could understand what would make us want to pack up a few bags and move to the other side of the world. “Won’t it be hard since you don’t know the language?” Yes. “Do most people speak English over there?” Not really. “What about the communists???” What about them??? I’d had already asked myself all of these questions, and more. Would I be able to pay my bills back home? Would I show up in Korea to find there was never a job in the first place? And seriously though, do I really want to be that close to lil’ Kim (Jeong Un)?

The truth is, we were unsatisfied with our lives in New York. I found myself getting so angry over the littlest things. Things that just came with the territory, like traffic, and high taxes, and low paying jobs. The real problem was that I couldn’t find my culture; the section of society that I fit into just right. Most aspects of American society either bored me to death or inspired hopelessness for the future. I had to find a life that would excite me. I had to get out. Photo By Our Best Friend Dana
Photo By Our Best Friend Dana

After weeks of research online, watching videos of other expats, reading blogs, trying korean food, and brushing up on the history and politics of Western Asia, we were committed. Nobody was going to talk us out of it, but that wasn’t going to stop them from trying. No matter how excited we got, it felt like everyone we talked to was full of negativity and doubt.

We started to actively look for jobs online. As a couple, we sought out schools looking to hire couples. Having two teachers who live together means only one rent payment for the boss, although it does add in the potential risk of a catastrophic break-up. We were quickly hired, had an interview and found out that our bosses would be a Canadian man, and his Korean wife. This gave us a bit of confidence knowing that there would be few communication issues in that department.

After three months of preparation, finally the time came. We had a lawn sale to get rid of the stuff we couldn’t take with us, and didn’t want to store, strategically packed a few suit cases with extra shoes, razors, and deodorant, and a year’s supply of tampons, handed in our keys to our apartment, and headed for the airport.

My dreams came true the day we got off the plane. I was living in another country, I had a job to support myself, and the possibilities were endless. Every street was new, every face was new, all the food was new. This was what it was all about. Within weeks I couldn’t believe how different I felt as a person. I was happier, and more excited about life.

We started meeting other foreigners immediately. People from seemingly everywhere who all start out with one BIG thing in common; we all packed our stuff into a few suitcases and moved to the other side of the world. This makes a huge difference in the way you make plans. “Meet you next year in Australia? Definitely, I’ll be there.” When you make friends with these people, you don’t just daydream about the places you’ll go, you make plans and you go there. This was the culture I was looking for.

Waygookin of the Green Blue Festival. South Korea
Waygookin of the Green Blue Festival. South Korea

All it takes is making that one huge step. Get out of your life, do something crazy! The people in your life might not support you right away, but the people you meet along the road will make up for it. You’re going to meet amazing people around the globe, develop close intense relationships with them for hours, days, weeks, or months. Then eventually, you’re going to go your separate ways with the full understanding that one day in the future you’re going to be sleeping on that person’s couch instead of staying in a hotel.

Adam's Birthday at Tequilaz Gwangju, South Korea
Adam’s Birthday at Tequilaz: Gwangju, South Korea

If you have any questions about teaching English in South Korea, or stories of your own to share, please leave them in the comment section of our page. We try very hard to respond to as much as we can and we looking forward to hearing from you!

28 Responses

  1. Aimee says:

    Love the way this is written! A lot of my friends moved to South Korea to teach english and loved it x

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks so much, Aimee! We had an amazing time in South Korea. Upon our return we decided to explore the USA a bit before taking off to be expats again. We’ve lived in 5 different states since 2014.

  2. Sarah Ebner says:

    Really enjoyed this post – that you had a plan, that you went ahead and did it, and that it has worked so well for you. It’s so exciting to experience a new country and an entirely new culture. And brilliant you’ve met so many great people too. Sometimes we just need to go ahead and do something – and ignore the naysayers!

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks Sarah! Meeting all the people is the best part. Since returning from South Korea we’ve been traveling the US extensively. Rarely do we have to stay in hotels as there are so many friends to catch up with along the way! Thanks for your comment!

  3. Bravo on packing it in and going. I once felt that living in the SF Bay area was too expensive, low wages and unsatisfying too. When I made the leap to live in SE Alaska no one could believe it. True I didn’t have a language barrier but without work and only a new relationship to hang onto it was a complete turn around. So glad I did it – new jobs, friends and opportunities to travel the world sprang from that. Sounds like your experience on the other side of the world is leading to some of the same.

    • LocalNomads says:

      It’s funny, Elaine, we’ve never felt so at home as when we lived in Skagway for two summers. SE Alaksa is one of the best places to find a community. Thanks so much for your comment!

  4. Amber says:

    It sounds like you had a really amazing experience moving abroad! Have the people closest to you become more supportive during your time there?

    • LocalNomads says:

      It’s about 50/50, Amber. Some of our family members are behind us completely, while there are still others who’d rather we came back home to NY, and got “real careers.” 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment!

  5. Katie says:

    Good for you! We picked up and moved to South Korea for similar reasons. I get bored quickly and I had been teaching in Vermont for 4 years – I needed a change! So, I didn’t resign my teaching contract and embarked on a backpacking trip through Central America. I had been dating my boyfriend for only about 3 months when he decided he was going to leave his job and travel with me! While traveling through Central America, we realized we wanted to move slower (not jump from city to city every few days). So Korea was thrown in to the mix. Best decision! We have been here for almost 18 months, also got a couple job, and have traveled all over the country plus 8 other countries on our vacations. Amazing! Are you guys still here?

    • LocalNomads says:

      Actually, after coming home from Korea we decided that we’d like to spend a little time exploring the US a bit more extensively. Since then we’ve lived in 5 different states, NY, OR, AK, CA, and CO and driven across the country twice! Glad you’re having a great time in ROK, we were able to travel to Japan briefly while we were there, but as hagwan teachers, our vacation time was very limited. Slow travel is definitely the way to go, we tend to sped 4-6 months in a single place before moving on. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Natasha says:

    Great post! You really put living in a new country into perspective. We were also unsatisfied with our lives in NYC, I even sometimes found myself angry at people moving too slow! Sounds like you found peace now 🙂

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks for your comment, Natasha! We visited NYC a few weeks ago, and you’re right, people who are too slow get in the way of your hustle and bustle! We used to live in the NYC area, too, and leaving was the best thing we ever did for our sanity. You don’t have to leave the country to get away from the NYC madness. Even moving out west can give you an extremely different life. Living away from NY is so much cheaper than living in NY, we were able to pay off our debts much more easily by moving away from NY than we ever would have by staying. We were shocked to realize that once you get past the east coast, highway tolls disappear, rents are cheaper, and the population density drops off, which makes all the difference. Once you get out west,you NY resume looks a lot more competitive, and you NY culture makes you a great worker in comparison to west coast natives. If you’re feeling unsatisfied, I recommend making a big change for the sake of happiness, time is our most precious commodity!

  7. Nikita says:

    I know exactly what you mean! It’s so much easier to feel at home with fellow vagabonds than with any particular nationality.

    • LocalNomads says:

      It’s a great feeling. There’s a restlessness inside us travelers that we rarely find in stationary folks. The idea of staying in one place and building a comfortable life is freeing to some, it looks like prison from my perspective. Thanks for your comment, Nikita!

  8. South Korea or Vietnam are on my shortlist to teach at next winter. If you don’t mind me asking, what company did you go through for the school?

    Your comment about the traveling lifestyle is so on point. Once you start, you realize there is a whole community out there that thrive on Where to next? It’s amazing.

    • LocalNomads says:

      We actually found jobs on our own through ESl Cafe. We were looking for work as a couple, so we specifically searched for those jobs. We had some friends who worked with recruiters, but from my experience most recruiters don’t want to deal with you until you’ve got all of your paperwork and everything in order. Basically, they just want to swoop in at the last minute and collect their recruitment fee from the employer.

  9. Rob Taylor says:

    I know it’s the standard response but, OMG, packing up life and moving into another culture. Wow. I love that you listed the questions that immediately popped into my head. And bravo for knowing that you WILL meet the people you need in your life to support you as you proceed. Still though, OMG, packing up and heading for SK. It’s more brave than I think you know. And even if you think you know, you don’t. It’s more brave than you know. 🙂

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks so much, Rob! I really appreciate your words. Living in SK for a year helped us to develop a fantastic network of like minded people from all over the world, we’ve been able to use this to our advantage while traveling many times. Our traveling friends understand that we can’t be physically present in their lives all the time, it’s different at home though. As we’ve gone on and continued to travel and live out our lives this way we’ve gained a bit of support on the home front. However, not everyone can understand our need to keep it moving. Lately we’ve been visiting our families in New York, and as amazing as our time has been we’re dying to take off again. It’s sometimes hard to know how much our leaving hurts the ones we love and those who love us back.

  10. Kevin Wagar says:

    Great story! I have friends who taught in SK as well and they loved every minute of it! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks Kevin, I hope that one day you and your family will have the opportunity to visit South Korea! It’s often overlooked as a tourist destination, but Korea is one of the safest places you can go and full of great food, ultra modern cities, beautiful beaches, and lots of natural beauty!

  11. That is so cool! I am very happy for you and glad you’ve found the happiness that was missing in your life and causing you grief. People can just be so negative and just because they cannot understand someone’s actions or desire to be happy, they should be nothing other than anxious for them and supportive. I find that unattractive quality in so many people. Maybe it is a US thing. Much luck in living abroad and shoot for the moon! We only get one go around.

  12. Voyager says:

    Nice and motivating post, it indeed takes real guts and conviction to move out of your comfort zone.

  13. mark says:

    Cant wait to visit South Korea. It looks amazing the food the scenery the cities amazing. You are so lucky to be able to work different places around the world. Major jealousy

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks, Mark. You’re right, I feel incredibly fortunate that we were able to find work in places like South Korea and Alaska, but the truth is that anyone can do it if that’s what they truly desire. They just have to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and say yes when the world and society are telling them no.

  14. Liesbeth says:

    I love your writing and it’s sooooo great you just did it!! There’ll always be reasons to stay at home and people who won’t understand, but it’s your life, make it a good one! 🙂

    • LocalNomads says:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment, Liesbeth! Moving to Korea was a huge step that started us on this crazy path we’ve been on. We’ve learned and experienced so much from traveling that we would never have by staying in New York for all these years.

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