Charlie, Liz & Meagan: Seoul Sub→Urban
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Seoul, etc.
I was born and raised in Wisconsin, where I also attended university, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I moved to Korea for the first time in 2005, spending two years there before leaving for ten months of travel throughout Asia and a year living in New Zealand and Australia, and returned to Seoul in 2009.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging shortly after returning to Seoul in fall 2009. The impetus was mostly to provide myself with a commitment to see more of the city than I had during my previous stint living there, to open up its hidden corners, and to engage with it and get to know it more. It’s an enormous city, but only a small portion of it gets covered in the tourist literature.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Seoul differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
The pace of life is probably the most salient difference. Seoul is a notoriously fast-paced city, and there’s an urgency that is at turns stressful and invigorating. Compactness is the other big difference. I come from a car culture, but in Seoul there are so many things that I can simply walk to. It’s great. I feel that I adapt to new places and situations fairly well, and I’m very laid-back, so culture shock wasn’t much of an issue for me.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Seoul? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I was decently prepared. Mostly I came with an open mind, which is 90% of the necessary preparations for moving to a new country. The biggest thing I would change if it was possible to go back in time would be to have taken Korean classes in university instead of Italian, but then again, I had no plans to move to Korea until about a month before I graduated, so I can’t really regret that too much.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My first year living in Seoul proper I joined an amateur baseball team with a co-teacher from the middle school I was working at. It was about 15 middle-aged guys and me. Other teams in the league were named things like the Jets or the Bears or the Spiders. Our team name was in Korean, and at the time my Korean was pretty bad so I asked my co-teacher what our name meant. He sucked air in through his teeth, thought for a moment, and then said, “It means something like ‘Feels so good.’” We made it to the semi-finals.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Seoul?
Seoul is not a city that will sweep you off your feet. You’ll get out of it what you put into it, but if you make the effort it’s endlessly fascinating. Bone up on the country’s history, especially the modern stuff. It goes a long way to understanding the country’s society and attitudes. The city and people move at a breakneck pace, and you’ll unavoidably get caught up in it. Relaxing here pretty much requires a deliberate decision to do so, but it’s absolutely necessary that you make that decision once in a while.
How is the expat community in Seoul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
It’s continually getting bigger and more varied, with more organizations and groups and projects constantly springing up. I don’t find it particularly hard to find like-minded people, particularly of the expat stripe.
How would you summarize your expat life in Seoul in a single, catchy sentence?
The city can seem overwhelming at times, but the flip side of that is that things are constantly changing, evolving, happening; I’ve never been bored here.