Traveling is all about discovering life outside your bubble. Some people take two week vacations, some people spend months overseas, however some never return home!
Meagan LeAnne is a US expat who discovered life outside of Texas in 2011 when she moved to Korea. Having been there ever since, I spoke to her this week about her life abroad, and how Korea compares to life in the US!
Where are you from, and tell us a bit about you?
My name is Meagan and I was born and raised in a suburb of Dallas, Texas. I never travelled much growing up, but I caught the travel bug during a 3-week study abroad to Scotland in college. I alternated between full time work and college until I finally graduated in December of 2010 (at 26). I moved to Korea in February 2011 to teach English and I’ve been living there ever since.
My boyfriend’s name is Dave. He’s from Perth, Western Australia and we actually met in Korea. He works on an oil and gas construction project so when I finished teaching in August 2012, I moved in with him and my life in Korea completely changed!
You’ve been living in Korea since 2011 – why Korea?
Korea wasn’t my first choice. Actually, of all of the places in the world, Asia was the last on my list. I’m not sure why, I was just more interested in places like Europe.
After Scotland, I decided that I wanted to live overseas for at last a year. I acquired some debt during university so I needed a paying gig. I found out about teaching English overseas and immediately my heart was set on Prague… until I found out that teachers there only make about $700/year AND have to pay all of their own expenses.
Korea was just the perfect place to teach. It’s one of the best paid jobs for teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). They pay for airfare and housing, pays about $1,800 a month and you get pretty great insurance benefits.
What has been your biggest culture shock adapting to Korean life?
I have a blog post called “Things that just don’t seem strange anymore…” that was written by a group of English teachers in Korea. It humorously highlights some of the more quirky sides of living in Korea. Here’s an exerpt:
- Pedestrians share the sidewalk with automobiles and motorcycles…
- People think you should board the train first before allowing people to get off…
- Any decent men’s tie should sparkle…
- Everyone, including 7 year olds, has a nicer cell phone than you…
- Animals love to advertise their own consumption…
Is there a language barrier?
I think the less Korean I knew, the more oblivious I was. Now that I’m learning more [survival] Korean, I realize how much I missed out on before.
Korea is absolutely doable without knowing much of the language because a lot of signs are posted in both Korean and English, and people are generally quite friendly. Knowing a bit of the language is a blessing and a curse because I can communicate so much better.
The downside to that is that because I can say a few things in Korean, Koreans tend to assume I’m fluent. One of my most commonly used Korean sentences is, “I don’t know.”
I’m going to start private lessons in a few weeks though. I’m excited, but also really nervous!
Tell us about the food!
There are so many Korean foods that I just love. One of my favorites is Korean BBQ. It’s cooked right at your table and served with loads of side dishes.
I could go on and on about delicious Korean foods, but since it’s summer I thought I’d highlight two seasonal dishes: naengmyeon (cold noodles) and patbingsu (a shaved ice dessert).
Naeng myeon is sort of like ramen on ice. It comes with vinegar and spicy mustard on the side in case you want to add some flavor, and there are scissors provided to cut it up.
Patbingsu (pronounced pot-bing-soo) is shaved ice, sweetened red beans, condensed milk and other toppings. This particular patbingsu had almond slivers and corn flakes.
Do you feel safe living in Korea?
Absolutely! Korea is, hands down, the safest country I have ever visited. In 2 1/2 years, I’ve only once had a creepy encounter, but that kind of thing can happen anywhere. Even during all of the recent drama with North Korea, it was business as usual here in the South.
What’s it like teaching English in a foreign country?
The kids are adorable. What more can I say? Teaching in the classroom could have been quite frustrating (language barrier/behavior problems), but I loved interacting with the students outside of the classroom.
I literally said, “Hello!” hundreds of times each and every day to students that were eager to greet me in the halls. It’s hard to describe just how cute these little boogers are so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
You’re now living with your boyfriend who works in the oil and gas industry – what’s life like as opposed to that of an English Teacher?
Life as an oil and gas expat is like night and day from life as a teacher. My teacher apartment was a “one room.” You could probably fit 8-10 of my old apartments into my current one.
Dave gets 33 days of leave a year (not including weekends). Now that I’m unemployed, that allows for a lot of travel. This year, I have an international trip planned every month! And instead of roughing it in hostels, most of our travel tends to beautiful “luxury” hotels. It’s sort of like a Cinderella story. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought this was how my life would turn out.
What are your favourite travel experiences from the last two years?
I’ve been so many places that I never ever imagined I’d travel. As I said, Asia was never really on my radar, but I’m so glad I have been able to experience life on this side of the world.
Some of my favorite places include:
Would you recommend Korea as a destination for other travellers?
Korea is a fantastic tourist destination! The public transportation system in Korea is excellent, the people are friendly and the food is delicious! I highly recommend Korea to anyone.
What are 5 things we shouldn’t miss out on in Korea?
DMZ (Demilitarized Zone – Border between North Korea and South Korea)
Gyeongbukgung Palace, Seoul
Temple by the Sea (Haedong Yonggungsa), Busan
Green Tea Farm, Boseong
Cherry Blossoms, Gyeongju