Vanessa: Sautéed Happy Family
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Seoul, etc.
Hi! I’m Vanessa, an American expat who is still coming around to the fact that I just might be addicted to the thrill of traveling. A little over two years ago, I moved to Korea with my husband Daniel. We live about an hour outside of Seoul in a “small-ish” city of just over a million people.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
After graduating college, I lived in Paris as an au pair (like a nanny) for a year. (It was awesome!) While I was abroad, I felt like writing a blog helped me keep in contact with folks back home, so I decided to start a new blog, Sautéed Happy Family, for any Korean adventures that might happen… and there have been plenty! After teaching very basic English all day, the blog also gives me a venue for using words more complicated than “kitchen.”
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
The Dark Side of Teaching in Korea: or Am I a Hypocrite? is one of the most emotional entries on the blog. How NOT to Learn Korean is for anyone who has every felt ashamed of their lack of knowledge of Korean. For something lighter, check out How to Make Friends While Naked.
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 year before I moved to Korea, Daniel and I were both working 60+ hours per week, sharing one car, and hardly ever got to spend time together. For the last two years since teaching English in Korea, we have been together 24/7. We both teach at the same school and share the same office. Some might think that’s too much time together, but for us, what’s better than being with your best friend all the time?! I think my super power is “Easy Adaptation in Foreign Cultures” because I haven’t ever really experienced culture shock (except when going back to the US!).
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Seoul? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Thankfully, we got to talk for several hours to the teachers we’d be replacing, so I felt pretty informed about what to expect. As for what awaited me as I stood in front of a classroom full of screaming children, one can never be quite prepared. If given a time machine, I would go back and tell my old self to not apply for a public school job (but that definitely wouldn’t be the first place I’d go with a time machine!). Applying to teach in a public school in Korea required a lot of extra paperwork and several intensive interviews and, in the end, we were told that because Daniel and I are a couple, we probably wouldn’t get placed in the same city. Errr, no thanks! Even though hagwons (after-school academies) can be riskier, just ask the right questions and keep an eye out for weirdo schools!
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
This one comes directly from a blog entry (couldn’t have said it better myself, right?):
While teaching a lesson on pollution, Dan started to teach the students about different kinds of pollution: visual, air, personal, etc. In the middle of Dan explaining that smoking is a kind
of personal pollution, a clever girl named Sunny raised her hand:
“Teacher, do you smoke?”
“No, I’ve only smoked a few times, and it was gross. If I smoke, Vanessa says she won’t kiss me all day.”
**eruption of mayhem of screams and cries of horror**
“YOU KISS VANESSA?!?!”
“Uh, yes.” (why are they surprised?)
**screams turn into whispers**
A student spoke up for the class and turned with a serious face to Dan.
“Teacher. But… but… how much do you kiss? … many times?”
As Dan formulated his answer, he decided to just go with the most conservative choice.
“Well, at least once a day.”
**the whole class screams in horror so loud that neighboring teachers consider peeking in to make sure that everything is ok**
Sunny screams above the cries, “TEACHER IS KISSING POLLUTION!”
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Seoul?
- If you’re working at a hagwon, ask a current teacher at your school a million questions because once you sign the contract, you are at the mercy of the school because they own your visa. For newbies, I wrote out a list of a ton of important questions here.
- If you’re thinking of taking a job outside of Seoul, totally go for it, but I would suggest if you’re a first time expat, make sure your city is at least connected on the subway line. Seoul is too busy for my personal tastes, but being in the general area is great for sight-seeing and making friends.
- Lastly and most simply, ask if your school will be providing sheets. Korea doesn’t do bedding like the West, so if you like to curl up between the sheets, bring your own!
How is the expat community in Seoul? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
When I first came to Korea, I went to a few meet-up groups in Seoul, but because I live a little over an hour away, I didn’t get a chance to form deeper relationships. But there are definitely expats and English speaking Koreans in my city, so I’ve been able to make several good friends. But within the last month, my sister, sister-in-law, and their significant others moved within an hour of me! This third year is going to be rockin’!
How would you summarize your expat life in Seoul in a single, catchy sentence?
Full of ridiculous shenanigans. Okay, I guess that wasn’t technically a sentence…