Why did you choose Korea? That’s a question I get asked often - both by foreigners and by Koreans. I knew early on that I wanted to live abroad after university. I just didn’t know where. Often people are surprised by my response. I guess they assume that I’ll see I was a huge fan of some K-Pop idols and/or watched a lot of Korean dramas. However, my appeal of Korean culture came in a very different manner.
In university, I would spend most of my free time helping international students in some way, shape or form. I was involved in three programs that provided help to foreign students. There was Conversation Partner Program, in which I would meet with students assigned to me on a weekly basis for one on one casual conversation practice. Also, there was Global Connections Program, which required that I meet weekly with an assigned partner and be their friend. This was fun, because I had to help them successfully integrate themselves into American college life and live comfortably in the US. My partners and I would explore local restaurants and coffee shops together, visit amusement parks, and attend university music festivals. We were just normal friends, with the added perk that they knew they were not inconveniencing me if they needed help with a trip to the DMV to get their international license. Lastly, I was an English Tutor - that’s what the program was called. It’s pretty self explanatory, too. I met so many international students from several countries. I highly encourage university to look into all the programs offered at their university or community that are geared towards helping foreigners. It’s a very enriching cultural experience.
From all my involvement on campus, there were two countries with many universities that specifically sent their students to my university - one being Korea. Thus, after so much volunteering, I had developed strong friendships with people from Korea. Thus, I ended up with many Korean close friends quickly. I had an ability to immerse myself into Korean culture in a truly unique way. From them I learned about social norms and their cultural rules/habits - eating, drinking, socializing, dating dynamics, family dynamics, even workplace dynamics. We exchanged our ideologies. Ultimately, I kept hearing from them that I needed to visit Korea, because they believed that I would fit into Korean society well.
In 2015, I decided to trust their opinions and give living in Korea a try. Thus, I signed up for a study abroad program. Then, I hopped on a plane and arrived in Incheon International Airport thinking “I didn’t think this through, because I can’t speak a lick of Korean!” and I had to somehow make my way to the dormitory of my new university. I figured it out. It didn’t take long for me to see that my friends were right. I could easily see myself living in Korea. Aware that student life and working/residence life would be different, I placed my focus on learning out working life in Seoul. I learned a lot.
I will say that aside from my appeal to many of the cultural aspects and social norms, there were two other MAJOR reasons I choose Korea. They are the following:
- Safety!! I feel safe in Seoul at all times of the day. Sure, I follow basic precautions at all times - as we all should. Still, the crime rates here are not the same as those from my home country.
- Modernity. South Korea is the perfect place to experience a country that has held onto its social norms and cultural. It is a great juxtaposition of tradition and modernity. There are all the amenities that I’d been spoiled with growing up and the nuance and intrigue of a minority experience where I cannot speak the native tongue.
I was fortunate to learn a lot about Korean culture and society before ever stepping onto Korean soil. Moreover, I was lucky to get the chance to test out living in Seoul through my study abroad experience. I know that my experience helped me assimilate quickly. Still, I know people who just took a chance, and came to start their life in Korea as a completely blind experience, who don’t regret their choice at all.
Giselle Moreno is from California, USA where she attended the University of California, Riverside. While a student, she always worked with international students and she decided to teach English abroad upon graduating during her third year of university. It was through the experiences of being an English tutor for international students that she felt really fulfilled. She found it particularly easy to get along with Korean students which is why she decided to pursue a teaching opportunity in Korea. She even attended Yonsei University in Seoul for a semester as a study abroad student and fell in love with the city. She is currently working at ChungDahm Learning’s April Daechi branch located in Gangnam, Seoul.