Michael: Stupid Ugly Foreigner
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Seoul, etc.
My name is Michael Em, and I’m a teacher originally from Canada. Faced with the terrible realities of the job market back home, I decided, instead, to flee. Korea is the first stop, and I moved here in 2010.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging originally just to keep my family and friends back home informed, and started just before I left for Korea. I quickly came to realize how much I enjoyed the process and, of course, how much I loved talking about myself and my experiences. Having a blog has really allowed me a chance to organize and formalize my feelings about my experience here.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours? These three were probably some of my favorites.
- English: Loving the Frankenstein Language
- Seasonal Affective Zombie Disorder
- We Can’t Stop Here, This is Traffic Country
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?
Life in Korea in general has a through-the-looking-glass kind of a feel, but the lights were probably the most shocking. Even coming from a big city, surrounded by so much neon everywhere was a bit of a shock. Living in such a densely populated city was another big shock. Everything is faster and more compact and has just so many more people than at home, in Toronto. I absolutely experienced culture shock, in both the delirious highs and exhausting lows. I like to think that I’m over it, but there are always still surprises.
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 was about as prepared as I could have been, and I spent a lot of time researching before I left. I learned a decent amount of Korean, but I feel like I should have learned more, if only to hit the ground running.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I once went to a fish festival in a nearby port. My friends and I were the only non-Koreans in attendance, and as such attracted some attention immediately upon entering. In seconds, a camera crew had found us, scrounged up the best English speaker, and conducted an interview with us about the port festival. We reported that it was awesome, that the food was great, that we love-love-loved it! We had not been in the front gates for more than three minutes, but we imagine it made a pretty great clip for television.
Luckily, it turned out to be an excellent festival, with really good food.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Seoul?
- Learn Korean. Some, a lot, any. It will change how you live here, and enrich your life considerably.
- Try not to say no. There will be lots of weird, confusing, uncomfortable things – know your deal breakers and what you absolutely don’t want to do, and try to make the best out of everything else. At the very least, you’ll emerge with a cool story.
- Breathe deep. Life moves fast and busy, and you’ll need the occasional break.
How is the expat community in Seoul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The foreigner community in Seoul is huge, and still quite large in my corner in Incheon. It can be easy to fall into a big, heavy-drinking crowd, and that’s cool if that’s what you want. But you can also easily find like-minded types and people who are interested in the same things if you put out a little bit of effort.
How would you summarize your expat life in Seoul in a single, catchy sentence?
Going to the country, gonna eat a lot of kimchi.