Megan: Meg's Got Seoul
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Seoul, etc.
My name is Megan Peet. I moved to Seoul in August 2012 when I took a teaching job through EPIK—English Program in Korea. Before that, I was a writer for a local television news station in Boston, with a bit of barista-ing on the side to make ends meet.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I discovered early on that I express myself best through writing. I’ve kept journals, attempted to start writing several books, and have been blogging on and off since the medium came into existence. Keeping a blog about my experiences in Korea was never really a decision; it was always something that was going to happen. My blog functions both as a sort of public journal for me to keep track of my experiences and a way for people I know (and don’t know, for that matter) to get a glimpse of what life is like here. Also sometimes I write things just because I think I’m really clever—with mixed results.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I think my favorite one is about my first time at a jjimjilbang. The moment when I saw myself in the full length mirrors and felt my self-esteem shatter at my feet still haunts me… and motivates me to go to the gym.
Alternately, I ‘m rather proud of the Christmas poem I composed while I was sitting alone in my classroom on Christmas Eve. That one got a lot of appreciation from my fellow English teachers.
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?
Well, most of the differences are good. At home, I was working two part-time jobs (totaling about 50-60 hours a week) with hourly wages and no benefits. Now, I work a “school day” schedule with a salary, paid leave, free housing, and health insurance. The first time I had to take a sick day to go to the hospital, I was like, “Wait… I’m actually getting paid for this?!”
I think this dramatic improvement in my financial stability really helped me cope with all the other adjustments. I definitely went through culture shock, though, and if you read my blog chronologically, I think you can hear it in my writing. I had low days (ok, fine, weeks) where I just didn’t want to deal with all the stress of living somewhere where you profoundly don’t fit in, but overall, my experience here has been extremely positive.
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’m one of those people who over-thinks and over-plans everything, so I was definitely prepared when I hit the ground in Seoul. I’d spent a lot of time reading blogs of teachers who had gone before me and getting an idea for the wide range of possible experiences. If I could do it again, I would put more effort into learning more Korean before I left, but I picked it up pretty quickly once I got here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
One?! I can only pick one?! I have a whole bunch of these! I call them K-fails, even though I’m the one failing, not Korea.
But I think the one that stands out for me is my very first “K-fail”. I’d bought a soap dish for my bathroom. When I took it home, I opened it up, peeled the plastic off the sticky bit and stuck it to the wall. I immediately started to take a shower. As soon as I turned on the water, the soap dish fell on the floor. I just looked at it and it occurred to me that the directions probably said something like “Attach to clean, dry surface. Allow to set for 30 minutes before showering.” But I couldn’t read them… because I don’t speak Korean. So I had to go buy a new soap dish. It was one of those simple things where I was just like “C’mon, Meg. Pull it together.”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Seoul?
- Read, read, read. Read anything you can get your hands on about other peoples’ experiences here. It will help to temper your expectations and realize that there is an extremely wide range of possible experiences you can have here. Also read about the research behind culture shock. It’s a lot more complicated than you might think, and it’ll help you to deal with it better when (not “if”) it strikes you.
- Learn Hangul, the Korean alphabet. It’s the most useful hour and a half you’ll ever spend. Ever.
- Don’t panic about not being able to find your favorite food. Most western food staples are available here if you look hard enough. Except cheap fruit. Get used to never eating fruit that isn’t an orange or a persimmon.
How is the expat community in Seoul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I was lucky in that I had a weeklong orientation when I got to Korea. I had classes with all the other English teachers who had been placed in Seoul, so I had a built-in group of friends from the beginning. But overall, I’ve found the expat community here to be very welcoming and supportive.
How would you summarize your expat life in Seoul in a single, catchy sentence?
I drink a lot of instant coffee.