1 August 2016

Morgan Sullivan - Expat in South Korea

Morgan Sullivan  - Expat in South Korea

Ms. Morgan Sullivan is an American expat living in Daejeon, South Korea. Ms. Sullivan moved away from home to gain a new perspective in life and get a chance to travel abroad. Ms. Sullivan came to live in South Korea when she came across TEFL programs. She’s been living in South Korea for over 3 years.

Despite her excitement over the prospect of living in Asia, Ms. Sullivan admitted that living far away in a country where you don’t speak the language, and the culture is very different from your own, is the biggest challenge she’s ever faced. According to Ms. Sullivan “Doing something I’ve never done, in a place I’ve never been. Korea is very different than America: the food, the social norms, and especially the language. When I arrived I had nothing – no phone, no internet, no friends – So, that first weekend was definitely tough.”

Experiencing culture shock in your new place of residence is not easy, especially if there’s also a language barrier that keeps you from interacting with the locals and adjusting to normal life, but with enough time and experience, this is something that you can overcome.

Read more about Ms. Sullivan’s experiences as an American expat in South Korea in her blog, “Beautiful View”, as well as her complete interview below.


Q:  Where are you originally from?

A: U.S.A.


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

A: I moved away from home because I wanted a new perspective, and after graduating university I finally had the chance to fulfill my lifelong dream of international travel.

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Daejeon, South Korea


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

A: I’ve always been interested in traveling to Asia, but as I have student loans I needed a way to travel and make money at the same time. Once I heard about the excellent TEFL programs in Korea, I knew it was for me.

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

A: Almost 14 months


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

A: Doing something I’ve never done, in a place I’ve never been. Korea is very different than America: the food, the social norms, and especially the language. When I arrived I had nothing – no phone, no internet, no friends – So, that first weekend was definitely tough.

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

A: For me it was actually pretty easy to get all the formalities taken care. As an EPIK teacher, your school is expected to help you with all the logistics such as health insurance, cell phone, and internet. In terms of a visa, there is a special visa available for foreigners from English speaking countries who want to teach English, so once you have an employer it’s very easy to acquire.

Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: Alone.

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 Korea?

A: Though I have a few Korean friends, I mostly socialize with other expats that I met through our teaching program. However, this is something that I would like to work on changing in the next year – I think learning the language and being able to make Korean friends would be such an enriching and fantastic experience.

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

A: This largely depends on where you live. If you are located in a bigger city like me, there is plenty to do: restaurants, movies, café’s, and great nightlife. If you’re in a small town, your options are definitely more limited.

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

A: It’s relatively similar; overall though, I think Korea is somewhat cheaper than the U.S. - or at least my lifestyle in Korea is cheaper.  With all the benefits we receive, as long as you budget well you can live a really comfortable life and still save a lot of money. As a general rule, imports in Korea are much more expensive than imports in America. However, Korea’s domestic products are very affordable.

a/ how much is a cup of coffee? For a latte above $4.5

b/ how much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant? Between $4-$6

c/ how much is a meal in an expensive restaurant? $20-$30

d/ how much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes? Wine: $10 and Cigarettes $2

Q: How do you find the local culture and people in South Korea?

A: Though Koreans can be pretty reserved or shy; overall, I’ve found most people to be very nice and friendly. There is a huge culture of giving here (especially with food): I’ve had strangers say ‘Hi’ and give me a piece of fruit or a coffee just randomly. Also, the foreigner population in Korea isn’t very large, so Koreans are often very curious and will stop to talk just because you look foreign. 

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

A: One huge positive for me is definitely the food. I love Korean food! It’s healthy, the flavors are bold, and there is a huge variety. One thing that could be a negative is what I just mentioned earlier – Korea is a very homogenous country, so if foreigners stand out like a sore thumb.

Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Of course! I think everyone has moments when they can’t help but think, ‘Man, I wish I was home’. But, the reality is that if I was at home, I would absolutely be dreaming about the world and planning my next adventure.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I just try to remember that my home isn’t going anywhere, and my family will always love me. If needed, I could go home at anytime, and that fact alone brings me comfort.

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

A: Right now, it’s very up in the air. The tentative plan is to move to another country (maybe Japan or Australia) until the start of 2016, and then I plan to do some backpacking through SE Asia. However, as of yet, nothing is set in stone. I think that’s part of the fun!

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

A: Working through what they call they “adjustment” phase. At this point, I consider Korea my home and am very happy with my life, but I had to do a lot of emotional and personal work to get here.

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

A: Do as much research as possible before you arrive. Learn about the food, the customs, and social norms. This will help you to fit in more. Also, study the language! This will make your life so much easier it’s ridiculous. Finally, enter with an open mind and as few expectations as possible.  You will enjoy yourself so much more if you don’t hit the ground with a bunch of pre-conceived notions about how your experience will go.

Q: Do you have favorite websites or blogs about South Korea?

A: I really enjoy Eat Your Kimchi for tips and everyday helpful knowledge, Seoulistic for news and culture, and Talk to Me in Korea for language learning. I also post advice and thoughts about Korea frequently on my personal website A Beautiful View.