1 August 2016

Leah Rutz - Expat in Seoul, South Korea

Leah Rutz - Expat in Seoul, South Korea

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: United States

Q: In which city are you currently residing?

A: Seoul, South Korea

Q: What do you do in your new city?

A: Work and volunteer. I have been here for a little over three years.

Q: How is the quality of life in your new city in comparison to that of your home city?

A: The quality of life in Seoul is generally good. Expats, especially English speakers, have many interesting professional opportunities here especially if they can communicate in Korean. Public transportation is cheap and very efficient (don’t even both with a car unless you have kids). For a big city, rent is reasonable (I rent a studio apartment for about $500/month in central Seoul, though I admittedly got a good deal). There are ALWAYS plenty of things to do to keep busy at generally reasonable prices if you are willing to take the initiative and get out there. Though there are cultural differences, day-to-day getting around and treatment of foreigners are just fine. Foreigners receive stares, especially in areas far from downtown, that can be quite uncomfortable (elderly people on the subways staring at you unapologetically for ten minutes even if you stare right back at them...curiosity, I guess).

The only real negatives I would put out there is that Korean culture tends to be a bit closed off. I have lived in other places where they embrace foreigners and bring you into their group. In Korea you will always be an outsider and forming true friendships can be difficult, though definitely possible if you put in the effort, time and patience. As with any culture, there are many culture clashes and misunderstandings, though whether those are negatives or opportunities to grow depends on your reaction to the situation. Many foreigners come here with the intention of cultural immersion and end up with far more foreign friends than Korean friends.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare system in which you are currently enrolled?

A: The quality of healthcare is good though I have gotten the impression sometimes that doctors try to make you come back so they can get you to pay multiple times. For example, you get three days worth of pills for a sinus infection and they want you to come back on the third day if it isn’t cleared up. When I have gotten tests done, they want me to pay for another appointment to get the results or they give me results and medicine and then want me to take the test AGAIN a week later to make sure its cleared up when it’s something really minor. Though paying for tests is a bit more costly, it’s the time hassle of going to the doctor so many times that annoys me and I’ve found myself on the phone a number of times telling them nicely I just can’t come in again and they usually eventually agree to work with me on only coming in when it’s completely necessary.

Compared to the United States, Korea has very affordable healthcare. To talk to a doctor (no tests etc.), I have paid between US$3 and US$35 depending on the neighborhood and whether it is an English-speaking clinic or not (at English-speaking clinics you can expect to pay around US$30 without insurance, a non-English clinic in a middle-class neighborhood is about US$5 – US$10). Getting tests done is more expensive but I can’t really give estimates on those as there are many kinds.

Q: How does the cost of living compare to that of your home city?

A: My hometown is small so there’s really no comparing a US town to a huge city like Seoul.

This site is pretty accurate, though for housing they use the price of a one-bedroom apartment, which is unheard of in Seoul. There are studios and two+ bedrooms. For a cheap two-bedroom in an old building, a roommate and I paid a total of US$700 a month. However, apartments here require very large deposits of between US$5,000 and US$10,000 but the law requires that deposit be returned at the end of the contract and the government guarantees that return up to a certain amount (well above US$10,000).


Q: Did you use a relocation company to help you with your move?

A: No. 

Q: How easy or difficult was the relocation process?

A: Very simple but I packed my whole life into two suitcases and came here to a job that provided me with housing.

Q: Did you move here with any family members?

A: No.

Q: What is your favourite mobile app which you use to aid you in your expat life?

A: Kakao - Free chat instead of texting that also allows you to call people for free but the call quality isn’t so good. Everyone who has a smartphone in Korea has this app.

Naver Map – It tells you where you are, where to go and how to get there including which bus or subway to take. You have to be able to read and write the Korean alphabet to use this app though.

Seoul Bus – It tells me how long I will have to wait for a bus at any stop.

Q: What is one piece of advice you’d like to offer a new expat in your new city?

A: Expats here all know how hard Korea can be socially upon arrival with cultural misunderstandings and language barriers. Don’t be afraid to walk up to a foreigner and ask for help finding something or whatever. When I first got here I approached and was approached by foreigners in coffee shops, in the street, in the subway, in bars, etc. either asking for help or friendship. Also, reach out to social networking sites like meetup.com or expat organizations like Seoul International Women’s Association (siwapage.com). Oh and lastly, the tourist hotline is 02-1330. When the recording comes on, hit 2. You will get an English-speaker who can help you with answers to tons of things like locations, buses, addresses, times places close or open, movie show times, translating directions to a taxi driver, calling a restaurant for you to order take-out, etc.