1 August 2016

Meryl Volker - Expat in Ansan, South Korea

Meryl Volker - Expat in Ansan, South Korea

Meryl Volker is a 25-year-old ESL teacher. She was an expat in Ansan, South Korea. Although, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Miss Volker relocated to Korea in search for a new experience and the chance to live and work overseas. “I wanted to travel Asia and fully experience a new culture. What better way than living and working there, close enough to hop on a plane during breaks and explore a new place!,” she said. She had taught English in Korea for 15 months, however, she is back in South Africa for now.

Miss Volker says that Korea is a beautiful country, and noted that she never experienced much difficulty aside from dealing with the culture and language. “I found that Korean people are very proud of their Korean heritage, sometimes so much that for a select few, it is hard for them to accept people of different cultural backgrounds,” she explained, adding that language barriers were difficult to deal with. Miss Volker also noted that it was difficult to make friends at first, and that going on weekend trips and events that people invited her to help her meet foreigners and locals.

Expatriates new to another country and culture may find it challenging to establish new contacts and meet people, but one way to get involved in local activities is by joining clubs and associations. Club activities can do a great job of getting expatriates to participate in events in their host country, as well as giving them the chance to meet fellow expats and mingle with the locals. Expats may also find that their local embassies can provide them with some support when it comes to adjusting to the local culture by informing expats of any cultural or language programs in their host country.

Find out more about Meryl Volker’s experiences in South Korea in her full interview below.

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: I am from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Q: What made you move out of your home country?

A: I moved to Korea for an exciting new experience and a chance to live and work in another country. I wanted to travel Asia and fully experience a new culture. What better way than living and working there, close enough to hop on a plane during breaks and explore a new place!

Q: How long have you been living in South Korea?  

A: I lived in Ansan, South Korea for 15 months.

 

Q: Where are you living now?

A: I’m currently back in South Africa after teaching for 15 months in South Korea.

Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I chose Korea because it was a place that was different to anywhere I’d ever been, I knew very little about it but knew there would be a lot of expats to help me out too. An average ESL teaching salary would also give me the opportunity to save loads for further travels. 

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

A: I never really experienced much difficulty and anything I did experience was usually just to do with language and cultural differences. I found that Korean people are very proud of their Korean heritage, sometimes so much that for a select few, it is hard for them to accept people of different cultural backgrounds. Language barriers were difficult to deal with at times as some people were perfectionists, if they didn’t know English well enough to have a conversation they often wouldn’t try use any of their English skills at all which made it difficult to understand things at times.  

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: Working in Korea as ESL teachers, we are very fortunate to have our school deal with our visas and health insurance. Majority of the jobs in Korea require you to have your working visa before you enter the country. Once you sign a contract in your home country and send all your essential documents through, your employers help you with the visa process from their side so it does make it a lot easier. Health insurance is also usually included in your contract with your company.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I lived alone in an apartment but had other foreign co-workers in the same building as me or within walking distance so I was always surrounded by other foreigners.

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

A: It wasn’t easy at first. I was quite set in my ways back home and had my set group of friends so it was hard to think I was now on my own and had to make new friends all of a sudden. Going on weekend trips and going to literally every event anyone invited me to definitely helped. I met great people through small interactions and met great new friends through them too, foreigners and locals alike.

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

A: There are a lot of great things to do in Ansan. Renting an Ansan city bike and riding around the city on the weekends was one of my favourite activities on my days off. There are bike stops at every corner and are relatively easy to operate once you have your ID card and cell phone set up. Ansan is also just an hour or so on the subway from Seoul city centre. Going into Seoul was a given on any weekend. 

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

A: The prices of things in Korea did work out to be more expensive than South Africa if you converted it. A cup of coffee in Korea would be around $5 at times whereas it wouldn’t usually get above $3 back home. Other things like good cheap restaurants seemed a lot cheaper compared to home whereas things like wine and cheese are luxuries in Korea and are a lot more expensive than home. When it comes to food it’s all about going with local products and eating locally, possibly changing your diet a bit unless you’re okay with spending loads of money on western dishes. 

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in your host country?

A: Korean people are usually very friendly and helpful. You’re definitely treated a little differently being a foreigner but there are only a few rare cases when it’s differently in a bad way. 

Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in South Korea?

A: The positives of living in Korea are that it’s a beautiful country with tons to do in it. You can do quick trips to get away from the city life but be right back in it whenever you want. Exploring the country is relatively easy with a little time and patience. Negatives would just be language barriers.

 

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: I definitely did miss family and friends but there was nothing that Skype couldn’t fix. The time difference was only seven hours so putting in a little effort and arranging times meant getting in touch with people at home wasn’t very difficult at all.

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

A: I am home now but would love to go back to Asia for another year of teaching, possibly Hong Kong or Taiwan, both places I visited on holidays from Korea that I fell in love with.

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

A: Learning to do things on your own and in a different language was probably one of the hardest things for me. I left home after living with my family for so long and was used to pretty much everything being done for me. It was difficult to adjust but really rewarding knowing you’ve done it on your own.

Q: What tips can you give other expats living in South Korea?

A: Learn to read Korean and speak basic sentences, even a few key words will help you. Korean writing (Hangul) is very easy to learn to read. Even if you don’t always understand what the word is you are reading, some Korean words are just English translated so if you spell it out you find some words are actually just English words written in Korean. Use apps like Jihachul (Seoul subway maps) these definitely help and are pretty much always dead on accurate train times. Korea’s messenger app Kakaotalk is also great. You can phone other users with it too. I often used it to call home if I wasn’t near a computer for Skype. The number one tip though is have an open mind, don’t expect anything and do your best to understand the culture even if it is far from anything you’ve experienced.

 

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

A: I did read a lot of blogs about Korea before coming. Each one of them had something different and interesting about the place to say with a lot of different opinions. A lot of what I read was completely different to what I experienced so I’d suggest reading a blog for some information but don’t ever swear by it.