1 August 2016

Karli Vezina - Expat in South Korea

Karli Vezina - Expat in South Korea

We’ve had the chance to talk to Ms. Karli Vezina, 33, a Canadian Expat living in South Korea.

Administrative-wise, it was a smooth transition for Ms. Vezina who  went to South Korea to work as an English teacher. While language poses a barrier, she found that locals are quite welcoming when they see her trying to speak and learn. On the challenges, Ms. Vezina said, “It’s hard to make an impression and show your intentions when you can’t express yourself verbally. You can do it but it takes longer because it has to be shown through actions alone.”

Having found her social circle through Facebook groups, Ms. Vezina now participates in scenic hiking trails and expat gatherings at the bars in her free time. In her opinion, the cost of living is generally a lot cheaper than Canada.

Read more about Ms. Vezina’s tips as an expat in South Korea, in her full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from? What made you move out of your home country?

A: I’m originally from Brampton, Ontario, Canada. I moved out of my home country because I missed South Korea. I was here in 2004 for a year and as soon as I got back home I knew I wasn’t finished in Korea yet.


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Now I’m living in Namyangju city in Gyeonggi province. It’s the province right next to Seoul. Although Korea overall isn’t new to me, Gyeonggi province is, since the last time I was here I lived in Seoul. I chose Gyeonggi province because it’s close to Seoul, it’s mostly connected to the Seoul Metro subway line and it’s right in the middle of everything, so it’s a good hub for connecting to other places.


Q: How long have you been living in South Korea? What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new there?

A: I’ve been back in South Korea for a year and a half now. The most difficult experience was the language barrier for sure. I remember how intimidated I was just to go out and buy my groceries. I would practice my money words and listen so carefully when the cashier would tell me how much it was. I’d usually panic and just guess what they said and hand over a fistful of money and hope for the best. They were always very kind and patient with me though. They would even help me with my pronunciation which I was always grateful for.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance was particularly difficult in your host country? What was your experience with these?

A: In my experience coming in as an English teacher, my recruiting company organised the whole visa process and once I arrived, my public school set up the health insurance. If your school has had experience with sponsoring expats in the past, it should be easy. If you’re their first native speaker they’ve hired, you may have to help them out with the process so read up on what’s expected before you arrive.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I’m living alone.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in South Korea? How did you manage to find a social circle there?

A: It was pretty easy to meet people and make friends once I got out and became more social. Most people find their social circles through Facebook groups. There are groups that expats and Koreans can join, all organised by city or province, and some by activities, like the Seoul hiking group for example. I do mainly socialise with other expats, only because my Korean friends now have families and babies so their evenings and weekends are taken up with family responsibilities.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Namyangju is known for its beautiful mountains, hiking trails and bike paths. It’s a pretty healthy, outdoorsy atmosphere out here but there are also great restaurants and bars in every town, with some bars hosting large groups of expat regulars.


Q: How does the cost of living in South Korea compared to your home?

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

          A: I don’t drink coffee so I’m not sure, but I think it’s around the same as in Ontario. Regular coffee is a couple of dollars and fancy coffees are more expensive.

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

          A: An inexpensive restaurant in Korea will serve you a meal from $4-$6 so it’s way cheaper than Ontario. Back home an inexpensive restaurant meal will cost at least $10-$15.

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

          A: Expensive restaurants in Korea are still less expensive than back home. You can have a feast with Korean alcohol, tons of fresh meat you cook yourself and endless   side-dishes (complementary) and it will cost maybe $30 at the most. In Ontario, an expensive restaurant can cost you anywhere from $70-$100 per person if you go all out with wine and a three-course meal. 

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

          A: Not sure about wine, but I’ve heard it’s not too expensive. Cigarettes are around $3. Korea has one of the lowest priced cigarettes in the world and the government wants to raise the price by $2 starting in 2015.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: The locals have been really kind to me and I like my town a lot. I think if the locals see you trying to speak their language and taking an interest in their culture, they let their guard down and embrace you because they see you enjoying their country.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in your host country?

A: The positives are that the cost of living is pretty cheap if you’re a teacher, since most job come with paid housing and round-trip airfare. If you eat the local food, eating out is pretty cheap too and it’s really easy to get around by subway in my area. Some parts of Korea aren’t on the subway line, so it depends where you are, but for me, transportation without a car is doable.

Negatives I would say can be some of the locals who write off expats as ignorant or rude just because they’re not from here. Some people can judge you pretty harshly but this is not the mentality of the majority of Korean citizens. I’ve found that if you can see past that and say “hello” to them in their language, they see that you’re trying and be more welcoming.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I miss home and family a lot. I cope through messenger apps on my phone and computer, and Skype is a huge help too. Seeing your loved ones faces on Skype really helps to take the edge off. There are lots of phone apps you can download these days that allow free international calling too.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: I plan to stay here for another year and a half and once that is finished, I’d like to go home.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The hardest part is fitting in at my job with such a big language barrier. It’s hard to make an impression and show your intentions when you can’t express yourself verbally. You can do it but it takes longer because it has to be shown through actions alone.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in the country?

A: The best tip I can give is to suggest they try to learn some basic phrases in Korean before arriving. Even just, “hello,” “thank you” or “how much is this?” would put you ahead of the pack. Also, reading Hangeul is really quite easy if you take the time. Most people I know had it down in under a week. The key is to keep reading things so your reading gets faster. It helps with buses and restaurant signs that aren’t always in English.

Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about your host country?

A: Not really, but if I had to choose one I’d say it’s probably eatyourkimchi.com. I’ve been watching those guys for years and they’re from my hometown too so it’s nice to see their perspective on things.