Commentary

Why I Love Expat Life

Why I Love Expat Life! It's Always Interesting!
Written by Carl Hedinger

Why I Love Expat Life

Expat life is great, you know. I promise that I’m not rubbing it in and just stating a fact. Living in small town South Korea is a big reason why I love expat life. There are many detractors out there, so just trust me as I explain why.

For one, these places are rarely as noisy as those big city hotspots though spending a Sunday in a busy coffee shop can make one want to rethink that position. Winters here gets boring, due to the lack of indoor options. Otherwise, small cities are awesome! Most of them are chock full of nature featuring scenic hiking trails and if one is lucky enough to live near the coast, beautiful views of the sea.

Expat Life in Korea, Namhae Boriam

Take for instance, Namhae on Korea’s south coast, it’s been a favorite spot for many people and is home to lots of beaches to enjoy. Another highlight is a spectacular hiking trail right in the middle of the island.

And though the beach (Namhildae) isn’t spectacular, Samcheonpo is another great place with a plethora of islands to explore within a short ferry ride. The best and scariest experience we encountered was on Saryang-do and the “Jagged Rock Trail” there. What memories! Expat Life in Korea, Gaksan in Samcheonpo

Get Over the Staring

One small-town annoyance is the staring. Surely, there is still the occasional glare which may happen in Busan or Seoul but honestly, it’s certainly a more frequent occurrence in the smaller towns.

Sometimes I wonder if the people giving the EYES have ever seen a foreigner in the flesh before. That’s an honest question because it’s possible. Some Americans have probably never seen someone different from their own family and in Korea, certain pockets are seriously too rural and isolated. So the staring is understandable. It happens all over the world.

But occasionally, I seek escape behind my sunglasses and can’t because of some old guy and his evil glare. Yes there are times when shaking someone and say “ITS RUDE! STOP IT!” looks like a solid option. But one has to remember that it won’t end. They won’t quit, at least for the short-term. Just ignore and if possible, appreciate it. Because back home, you’d just be some normal person walking along the street and NOBODY would care to look at/talk to you.

While the endless questions regarding name and hometown will never cease, we all have stories about more inappropriate situations that may have occurred away from the bigger cities. Perhaps a friend of yours has been fondled up and down by an old lady while touring one of the small town festivals scattered between Korea’s larger cities. Maybe someone we know received threats by an incoherently drunk (and yes, naked) man in a sauna before he slammed his head on the tub and “took a nap.”

Expat Life in Korea, Gurye Sansuyu Festival

Expat Life is Always INTERESTING!

So there are some weird things that may happen to foreigners in Korea and for that matter, everywhere. Everyone has interesting stories of daily encounters with strangers that would never happen in our respective hometowns. That will always keep our time here… what’s the word… interesting.

People are eager to meet and speak with outsiders and yes, some are unhappy about the foreigner presence. That sentiment is everywhere and it’s our responsibility ignore those people while enjoying the folks who DO want to meet and speak with us.

Conclusions

If living away from home, always remember that expat life could be much worse. Take advantage of as many days as possible. Enjoy this fortunate life and don’t think of those stares or uncomfortable situations as a personal affront. It took me too long to realize this.

Aside from the near-death experiences with scooter drivers/taxis, pushy old ladies at markets, and the publicly drunk guys feeling slighted after bumping into you; things are okay and expat life is always interesting and easier/safer/infinite-good-comparatives than being at home.

Do you think this is true? What do you make of life abroad? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section! 

Expat Life is Always Interesting!

About the author

Carl Hedinger

I'm a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family's travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

17 Comments

  • I, fortunately, don’t have to put up with as much staring as most foreigners do because I’m Filipino and look more like them than white people do haha. But I still do get stares occasionally and people are very blunt about my skin color (I’m pretty naturally tan). People always ask where I’m from and when I ask them to guess, they usually say Africa. Kind of annoying because it’s pretty ignorant, but what can you do!

    • Ah, that’s terrible. Hate to hear that but I also feel bad for any white foreigners here who get lumped together as Americans. That really annoys some of them as well.

      Things are gradually changing but hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  • What’s this ‘Jagged Rock Trail’ story? :p

    Yeah, the staring is just part of living here, I think. I’ve noticed it in other countries as well. It can be annoying, sure, but it’s really not that bad. It’s just a quirky part of expat life!

    I visited home for four months last summer and actually found myself missing being the ‘odd one’. To go from a place where random kids will yell out, “Hello! How are you? You are handsome!” to one where people barely acknowledge each other in passing was a tough transition to make.

    As always, great post!

    • Honestly, I wish I had some better photos of the Jagged Rock trail on Saryangdo. That was a beautiful place to hike although it nearly scared us to death! There’s a youtube video about it that we saw that got us into it.

      Thanks for stopping by. Love reading your stuff as well!

  • My Korean co-teachers actually admitted to me that I was the first foreigner they had ever spoken to and were too shy to talk to any others. In fact, I went out to eat dinner with them and they said they wanted to “see” my boyfriend, but not meet him because then they’d have to talk to him.

    I think you have a really good attitude about the staring. It’s just a fact of life here and if you let it bother you then you’ll have a harder time enjoying your time here. I try to enjoy the quirky sides of things.

    What I think is even more strange than the staring is when they touch you. I was sitting in the front seat of a taxi recently with a few of my friends in the back and we all had a good laugh when the taxi driver not-so-subtly reached over and rubbed my hand… just wanted to see how the foreigner felt, I guess? haha

    • As a man with hair on my arms, I’ve had kids rubbed them and tug on them sometimes. It was so crazy the first time but yeah, I’ve gotten used to it. Now the locals have been staring at me even more lately because I’m zipping around their neighborhoods on a scooter.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • It is weird, and even up in Seoul I get tons of people who get the nervous jitters just when I ask them a question. One of the most fascinating things to me about the staring is the babies. I think it is so interesting that babies as young as infants will sit and stare at me, as if they can see I look different from everyone around them. I also find that I don’t get as many stares as I did when I first got here. It feels like they sense I live here, I dunno. But when I’ve had visitors the stares are everywhere. But I usually just smile or something at them and that’s that. Gotta just realize that we look different from everyone!

  • We love small towns too and have no plans on leaving the “country”. I’m kind of used to the stares and attention. But in my neighborhood most people know I’m the teacher of my school, even some taxi drivers I’ve talked to! The more anonymous stares from old people I usually just wave and say hi! 🙂 Some are really, really friendly and I love our conversations.

  • I take the stares as a mix of flattery and genuine curiosity. The not-so-subtle stares, however, are still a little awkward. All part of being an expat!

    • I agree. I get frustrated on occasion but for the most part, it’s kind of endearing that they stare. It means we are still needed in a way, for them to continue progressing towards multinationalism.

  • Yeah, I definitely get more stares when I venture out to smaller towns. Usually when I see it, I just have a laugh. I make sure they see it too, just to let them know it doesn’t bother me. I just try to put myself in their shoes: they are just curious. I’d imagine that if I saw an Asian for one of the first times in America I’d probably stare too.

    • Yeah, true. I came from a rural part of the U.S. and lots of people would stare at minorities in a most uncomforting way. Living within such a homogenous society as Korea can make for uncomfortable situations such as staring commonplace though. It’s changing, but ever so slowly in some places.

  • Always get stares when we leave Seoul. Sometimes people even try to “sneakily” take photos of us on the subway. Uncomfortable at the very least.

    But it is a cool perspective to have on living in a smaller area. It is definitely alluring to my GF and as another option if we teach again in Korea because more hiking which is our favorite, and less activities during the winter means more savings!

    • Small towns rule, to me. Other than Busan or Gwangju, I’m not a big fan of the big cities. I might be biased because I love Yeosu and really have no thoughts on leaving here for the time being. Thanks for commenting!

    • Wow, that’s surprising. I’ve had students who’ve told me they were afraid of foreigners but understandably, not from Seoul. That’s very very interesting.