Saturday, February 28, 2009


This is something I've noticed since firmly making the decision to move back to the States. In a lot of situations when I say I've decided to move home, instead of the usual response of wishing me well on my journey, I get a confession.

I think that's an interesting twist. I'm sure it's not exclusive to expats in Korea, but, being someone who has done a couple of big moves before, I know I've never experienced this. Maybe it's a feature that is present in other expat communities. I don't know, but if you have experiences like this with other ones, let me know. However, when I moved to San Francisco for law school, folks were supportive, wished me well and assured me I could come home to open arms. When I moved from San Francisco to Korea, in what I thought would be a year or two of adventure overseas, pretty much the same thing happened. I mostly had well-wishes from friends and family but sometimes there was concern as San Francisco to Korea is much further away than L.A. to San Francisco.

All-in-all when I move on, things are pretty standard. The Koreans I know provide the litmus test here. With them, it is heartfelt goodbyes, well-wishes and sincere promises to try to make our paths cross again. However, with some in the expat population something else is happening.

What I've noticed is I say I'm going and, depending on who I'm talking to, I end up getting a confession. The person will start telling me why they're staying and giving me tons upon tons of information that feels oddly inappropriate and, in some sense, insecure.

I've also gotten people launching into attacks of the foreign population here. I know I've made my quips about not missing certain types of people, but, I know that there are some I will miss. I've not made my dislike for some a secret; I have no love for particular types foreigners here. However, I do realize that people are here for a range of reasons. Some are bitter losers but others are new graduates looking for adventure and a way to put a dent in their student loan debt. There are also people who come here after raising kids to travel and live abroad for a bit. There are people here with some pretty impressive education credentials or pretty impressive life experiences who have a range of personal and professional reasons that they've chosen to be here. There are some who had or developed a deep love for some aspects of Korean culture and choose to stay.

It's a concentrated population for sure, but there is a spread that goes from pathetic to surprisingly impressive and inspiring. There are some unique and interesting stories with some. With others, not so much. However, what it comes down to with some of the odd responses is that I've gotten is the feeling that some feel that they're closer to the pathetic end of the spectrum and feel more trapped than anything. That's interesting but also sobering and sad.

Considering all the mess foreigners talk about Korea, what's also interesting is when I say I'm going someone tries to sell me on reasons to stay. These are often the very same people who just a few minutes before were talking mess about the frustrations that come with living in Korea. I've been here for a number of years. I KNOW both the pluses and minuses of living here as a foreigner. I guess that flip and hard sell is a particular strain of misery loves company. But that always has me thinking "wait, if it was so terrible last week or five minutes ago, what's changed and why are you trying to sell me on staying?" I'm known to be a pretty happy expat. I have my gripes and bad days, but I'm not one to go on an extended bitch-fest about life here. I've always known that when and if it became unbearable, I'd pack it up and move. However, we all know that doesn't represent everyone here.

The economy is another reason people give me to consider. While it is a concern, I think I'll be fine. I know the current economic situation is definitely stirring up fear. Actually, that's part of the problem, a loss of the public's confidence in the markets. Things in the States and worldwide are overwhelmingly intimidating. Korea is an export driven economy. No one is buying, so demand for goods has plummeted. The Korean won is weak, but, trust me, it's going to stay weak to make Korean products the better buy against its competitors. (I know there is more to it than that, but that's one feature of it.)

What that means for people earning Korean won is anyone who transfers money has taken a big pay cut. That's just a long-winded way of saying, the economy isn't really an issue because, even if I stayed, I'd be making less. I might as well go home and see how things go for me there. There will be tough economic times no matter what country I'm in.

Basically, it's time for me to go. The tug home started for me when I went home in early 2008. I had a great time being home. I went on an insanely fun cruise and visited places, like Manhattan, that I'd not been to in years. I'd never felt that sad having to leave and that made me realize something had changed. The same feeling happened when I was home in late 2008 for a friend's wedding.

It's just interesting that these confessions reveal much more about the speakers than I suspect they realize. Many around me have made my imminent departure about them and make me feel like Oprah. Unfortunately, it's being an Oprah without the couch jumping celebrity confessions and the fat paycheck.

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  1. Expat Jane
    I wish you the very best in your endeavors and I enjoyed this site very much and your candid and honest thoughts not only on being an expat in Korea but other subjects as well.

  2. Thanks. It's not over. This chapter is almost over. But I'm pretty sure the blog will go on ;)

  3. Hi~ As a single female expat here I feel Im constantly having to justify why I live in Korea, and why I dont go back to "my country". I think you get asked "what are you doing here?" so much as an expat, that it does make you feel insecure sometimes.
    Anyway, Bon Voyage!

  4. In that respect I have always been pretty cocky. I know that at anytime I could go home and get a higher paying gig if I chose to practice law. So when I got that question, I'd just point out that as a university level instructor I got five months paid vacation and very little, in terms of demands, on my time.

    That usually stopped any and all queries as to what I was doing here. There were other positives too like medical care, which I've written about a few times. But I think my answer depends on who I'm talking to. Sometimes you get smug foreigners who just got off the plane. They're going through culture shock and trying to make sense of it. Sometimes you get Koreans asking you questions too. The questions are coming at you for different reasons. I've always felt it's much more about the person asking than about me because it's one thing to be truly curious. It's another to throw the question out there knowing full well your intent is to try to drag someone down. What I've noticed is there are a lot of people who just want to walk over you to make themselves feel better. That gets stopped real fast when someone tries to pull that with me.

    I do think some Koreans have a negative view of their own country and want to get out. So they wonder what is in it for a foreigner to be here. I point out that the expectations put upon me are much different. I don't have the same social pressures that my Korean friends do. I've also disengaged from the "my stuff is better than your stuff" Matrix. That exists here just as it exists in the States. Once you're past caring about superficial stuff, I just think it's easier to just be.

    I address the question in different ways depending on who is asking. It really does depend on the context.

  5. Wow Regina,

    If you were to replace the word Korea with Chile, you'd get almost the same story in a lot of ways. Exports, insecurities and all. I have also been privy to confessions from people, on topic ranging from my not eating meat to liking to bike around. oh! I can't bike to work! I would get sweaty. But who asked you?

    I think it reflects on the general human condition of people preferring to a) talk about themselves b) be insecure and c) base 90% of the advice they give on their own needs.

    So I guess it's just another layer of "I knew you were/weren't my kind of person," and will help you decide who's keep-in-touch worthy. But I bet you already had a really good idea.

    Really looking forward to the next chapters!

  6. So, yeah! Confirmation that it's not just this screwed up expat community that has madness like this ;)

    I think being a foreigner in a foreigner land where the divide is so clear, either you're Korean or you're not, makes this concentrated population neurotic in some ways. Plus, there are so many subgroups: teachers (which in itself has a few subgroups), diplomats, students, immigrant workers, spouses, business people, etc. It makes for weird social moments at times.

    And, yeah, I pretty much know who is keep-in-touch worthy too ;)

  7. I am soooooooo sad that I just found your blog and now you are leaving. I've been here in Korea for almost two years and will stay longer because I just like being here. (So many people thing I am nuts)
    I hope you keep the blog going and and I want to say thank you for the blog in general you are a wealth of information.

    About the weird confessions. I find for me that it so much more common than when I was in the states. People tell you things and you are like "Oh God Why I just met you. Why did you tell me your brother shot you?"

    Anyway hope for more posts, about your next adventure.

  8. "Oh God Why I just met you. Why did you tell me your brother shot you?"

    LMAO. Yeah, that would definitely be in the TMI category. But it's that kind of stuff that's strange to me and makes me avoid a big number of foreigners here.

    This whole explaining why you're staying when I didn't ask you is just tweeky strange. I'll be glad when I'm back in the States and have to explain (over and over, I'm sure) why I chose to live here for so long. At least, it will be a change ;)

  9. Greetings and nice blog. I just dropped through to see where a visit had come from and it led here. Interesting blog and I envy your traveling adventures.

  10. Well, thanks for stopping by ;)

    As for travel, right now I'm replying from the Mayercraft Carrier 2 somewhere on the Pacific Ocean. Travel = good.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.