Korea or Bust: Interview with Lucy

What’s your name?

My name is Lucy.

Where are you from?

I’m from England.

How old are you? What do you do?

I’m 26 and I teach English at a hagwan.

What did you study in university?

I studied combined honors arts. In which I did English literature and philosophy.

How long have you been in Korea?

Four months tomorrow.

What were you doing before you came to Korea?

I was working full-time at the University of Nottingham in an administrative job.

Did you like it?

No, but I stayed there for four and a half years [lots of laughter]. No, there were some bits of the job I liked. But, by the end, It was just too monotonous. It wasn’t stimulating.

Why did you come to Korea?

For a change of pace. I always wanted to go away and I have my list of a hundred things to do. One of them is to live out of England for a year. Another one is to teach English as a foreign language. So, this is kind of killing two birds with one stone.

I was looking for another job in England. I was trying to move to London. There are just no jobs. Nobody wanted me. I was speaking to Luke [a mutual friend], who was in Korea then. He’d always been trying to get me to go away and do something like this. And then, I was speaking to him one day. He sent me the link to YBM and about an hour later I had sent my CV. It was a very impulsive decision [said half laughing].

Do you think it had a positive outcome?

Oh gosh, ya! Oh my god, ya! For sure [even more laughter].

Did you look at other places in Korea?

I was always just going to go with YBM, because they seemed like the most stable company. I have no teaching qualifications. They were the ones where you get paid [on time] and stuff like that.

Well first, I looked at Bucheon in taking Luke’s position. But, it had already been filled. I kind of accepted [a job] in Songpo, I think it’s Songpo. Which is in Incheon, but it would started at the end of March and not the end of February. I was speaking to my friend Luke and then a friend from home and [YMB] had mentioned working at Ssangmun. So we looked the both up on google maps and then just again, an impulse, I told them I want to come at the end of February to go to Ssangmun. But I was looking at Seoul, Busan, and Incheon.

So, big cities?

Ya, big cities. At first, I wasn’t going to live in Seoul.

What’s something that shocked you when you first got here? Where you paused and thought, “Wait, hold up…they don’t do that where I’m from!”

Not putting toilet paper down the toilet [we had to pause for a second because the two of us were cracking up]. How do you not put loo roll down the toilet!? I don’t get it. So that’s one thing…that still shocks me, four months later. I think that was probably the biggest shock. I kind of thought that it was just one restaurant we went into. It said to not do that. Then when you figure out it’s actually everywhere. Ya, that bin there is full of used toilet roll.

What do you want to do while you’re in Korea? 

Nothing in particular. I just want to have a good time and meet new people and be around new people. I have always been in England. It’s nice to meet some people who are not English and see that they’re not all that different.

Even across the pond?

Well…you know…

Do you want to travel while you’re here?

I do! I really want to go to China because I was learning Chinese for two years before I came here. I don’t think I can remember any of it now. I never really thought of coming to Korea, but I really like it now. I’m going to go to Taiwan.

I think afterwards, when I go home, I won’t fly. I probably wont be able to go to China because of the visa, but maybe I’ll fly somewhere and take the rail. Go through Asia and Europe and back to London. Do it that way and not fly. Why not?

What has been the most difficult adjustment? 

Um…there hasn’t really been anything difficult. Everyone is really nice, like people in the street. I haven’t found anything difficult. I expected to find the language barrier a little harder, but people are so welcoming. If you go into a restaurant and they know you have no idea what to say they just bring you their best dish. Which is brilliant! It’s great and you can usually stumble something together. People try to have conversations with you. So the language thing isn’t as big of barrier as I thought it would be.

Work is….work is probably better because I’m really not a morning person. Now, I’m in a job where I start at eleven.

You brought up language. Did you study any Korean before you came?

I didn’t and I really mean to. But you blink and it’s four months later. Oh my god, I still don’t know any Korean. I know enough to get home in a taxi and say that I’m from England.

How have you found work so far?

Quite good. It gets easier when you know the kids. Its’ like any job where you have those days when it is really difficult. On the whole, it’s a good job. If I wanted to start jumping around the room and tickling my kindergarten students, I can! Pretending to act like a gorilla is perfectly acceptable. So, that’s good! I really like the job actually.

They’re kids, you’re going to turn into one.

Well, I already was one before I came. I used to try to be a kid in my old job. But when you’re around adults all the time it’s quite difficult.

How did your family react?

Everyone was really shocked. My mum was really supportive, but then she told me a week before I came that she kind of didn’t want me to come. She did want me to come, because she knew it was what I wanted to do. But she was going to miss me. She never really said anything about that before because she didn’t want to be the reason I didn’t go.

I think a lot of my family thought I was joking. It was like, oh ya…I’m going to Korea. They would do a double take, “What!? Are you joking!?” I don’t think any of them thought I’d actually go.

People from my work were more shocked. I handed in my notice. They asked, “do you have another job?” Ya, “alright, where are you going?” I’m going to teach English in South Korea. Everyone said “WHAT!?” It was great.

What has surprised you so far? Positive or negative. Something you did not expect.

I really didn’t come with any preconceived ideas of what it would be like. I made sure I was really busy at home. I never really thought about it. When I got here and heard how much research everyone else had done I felt really bad that I had just rocked up and done it. I think that was better. I don’t know if I’ve been shocked…was that your question?

Ya, what has surprised you? Maybe something out of the blue that you just did not envision seeing or hearing or doing while you were here. 

I didn’t envision going out later than I was when I was at university when I was eighteen. I didn’t expect that from Korea. I didn’t expect people to rock home at 7am. Or to see drunk older men on the street. I don’t know…

I guess it’s a lot more western than I thought it would be. I expected it to be completely different to where I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. I thought people’s view on things would be different. It is a lot more western. There are a lot of western shops and food. I didn’t expect there to be McDonald’s 24 hour delivery. I expected just Korean food all the time. Boring answer…

No! I’m from the south. I did not expect to find good fried chicken.

YES! I did not expect that! When I saw KFC, I was like ok they have the chain. Then I found out they have friend chicken everywhere. It’s absolutely mental! Chicken Mania!

What do you think of the food?

Good! So good! So cheap and so good. Korean food, I’m going to miss that when I go home. There’s so much more to try.

You’ve got eight months.

I’ve got eight months to gorge on galbi  and jjimdalk. Oh, and that bone soup place down the road. I don’t know what that’s called but it’s really good.

I probably going to write a post about friend chicken in Korea…ok. What do you think of the expat community so far? Based of what you’ve seen in your four months. 

Ok, everyone that I work with luckily is good. I haven’t really run into many military guys. One guy that I did speak to, who is in the military, was actually really nice and really chatty. He didn’t seem to have attitude. But you see clubs and bars that don’t want them in. You hear about all the stories where the military have been bad. I haven’t seen any of that myself so I can’t really say about that.

People are either really in the same mentality, where they’ve come to experience something new. Or I feel like they don’t really know why they’re here and they’ve just kind of found themselves here. I don’t hang around with anyone who I think is like that. I just get that feeling when you go to immigration. When we went to go get our fingerprints done, there were some people who just won’t engage you in conversation. You’re kind of like, surely we’re here for the same reason, we could at least be nice to each other. On the whole, I think everyone is pretty decent. Everyone’s respectful of the culture here, but you sometimes see people who are not. That’s like anywhere. I think everyone is on the same wave length, though.

I’ve run into a couple of people who just despise hanging out with other foreigners. 

I can understand if you don’t want to hang around with foreigners all the time because you can just stay home for that. But, there is never an excuse to be rude to anyone no matter where you are, no matter who you are. Unless, they’re being rude to you.

What’s something you wish you’d brought from home?

Um…more clothes. We had a very low [baggage] allowance, so I really didn’t bring much. I’d spoken to you and Aliya before I came. I knew to bring deodorant.

Any toiletries?

No, I wish I had been able to bring more photos. I didn’t really get to bring anything. It’s been hard to personalize my living space. I got some photos sent to me in the post. I couldn’t bring them, and I felt bad because some of my friends had given me photos. You had to leave something because there’s just no more room. Then when I rock up and see all the Americans with their five suitcases and ten carry on bags, I’m like WHAT!? I came with one suitcase and one hand luggage, am I insane?

Everything is bigger in the States…next question! What do you miss from home? 

I miss my friends. I miss a Sunday roast. It’s probably the biggest thing. I’ve tried to make yorkshire puddings in my toaster over. I’m determined that in this little toaster oven, I am going to make a Sunday roast one day. That’s my dream over the next eight months. That’s it really. It’s very easy to stay in contact with people, except for the time difference. There’s just sometimes when someone mentions something and you’re like “oh my god! I miss that!” There’s nothing that I long for. Except, every Sunday…I long for a Sunday roast. That’s about it.

What’s a Sunday roast?

It’s a roast dinner that you have on a Sunday. It has roast chicken or roast beef, veg, yorkshire pudding. You’ll have to google that. It also has roast potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. It’s very fit. You go to any pub in England, in Britain, on a Sunday and you can get a Sunday roast. It’s brilliant!

This is my last question. What advice would you give to someone moving to Korea?

DO IT! And that’s it! Don’t think about it too much. You can actually get anything you need here. Food is not an issue. The food is good. There are foreigner places, which are not as good as you remember the food to be at home, but it still kind of takes the edge off if you’re really craving something from home. You can get deodorant. You can get things like that. You’ll have to pay slightly more, but you can still get it. Just chill out, it’s all right, there are lots of nice people. Everyone is willing to help you. There’s not a thing you can’t do.

Alright, those are all my questions.

Can I ask you questions now?

Sure! YA!

Oh, I don’t know what to ask you. Sean, why Korea?

Well, my major was in Spanish and I didn’t want to go to a Spanish-speaking country. I wanted to go somewhere else and learn a new language and my cousin is here. 

Why YBM?

Well, my cousin’s boyfriend had worked for them. From the research I had done online and now my personal experience, they’ve been so stable. They also have a good reputation. Everything is on time and everything is legitimate. I’ve read so many horror stories online. Some of the crap people had to go through at sketchy schools. I know some people who have to deal with some real shady activity like late payment, not being paid in full, or being given a month’s notice that you’re being fired because the school doesn’t like you. I’m very glad I lucked out with a good school. 

How long have you been here now? 10 months?

Next week, will be the end of my eleventh month.

WHAT!? Ok, so in the last eleven months, if you had to pick one highlight. What has been your highest point? Is there anything that sticks out in particular?

Not in Korea. I’d have to say my trip to China.

Oh ya?

That was amazing! Completely unexpected. I did so much in four days. 

So, what about China? What made it so good?

I was expecting it to be like very secretive and very Communist. I don’t know how it is in England, but in all our history textbooks, China is portrayed as the red devil. I formed my ideas around the pictures in the books. I imagined a very backwards country. Then, I stepped into the Beijing airport…I was totally unprepared. It was so awesome. I was blown away. Beijing is super modern, but there is so much history. It was really cool to see places that I had read about in grade school. 

So that’s a must do?

Yes! I feel that people fear China in the States. Especially with the way China plays a role in our economy. It hit me, why did I fear this? China was totally not what I expected. 

What’s been your lowest point?

The cold. I came in August and I floated for five months of “Oh, I’m in Korea! I’m in Asia!” Then the cold hit. There was less going out, less seeing friends outside of work, less interaction, like everything kind of slowed down. Also, that’s when I realized Korea is where I live. At the end of January, I got out of that dip and now I’m not in the honeymoon phase, but it’s just my life now. Every time I fly back into Incheon or Gimpo, I get excited because I’m going home. I never thought I’d think of Seoul as home. 

In one of your low points, did you ever consider just going home?

Um…no. Well, the thought has crossed my mind, but then I would stop myself. What would I be doing at home? I’d be living with my parents, working…

You’d want to leave again. You’d want to come back.

Yes! I start by imagining living at home and working in a fast food joint. No! I’m going to stay where I am. Then I’d start to think, summer is coming. I’m going to be traveling. I have been, and it reminds me why I’m here. Sometimes I forget I’m in Korea because I hang out a lot with my coworkers and my foreign friends. When we go to a restaurant, I feel like I’m at home. When we walk outside and there’s hangul everywhere and Koreans everywhere…I’m reminded I’m in Korea. 

That’s usually what I have. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m a little drunk and I’m like “WOO! I’m in Asia!”

It’s just not worth it to leave; to break a contract. Unless, obviously something family related or an emergency, yes I would drop everything and go home. If I was in a position where leaving was my only option, I would miss Korea. It’s just not worth it. The lifestyle I have here is WAY cooler than what I had back home. 

I’m nearly four months in and I’m all ready thinking, “Oh my god, I’m going to miss Korea.” Come on I’ve got like another eight months.

They blow by. It still feels like I stepped off the plane. At the end of next month I will have been here for a year. It doesn’t feel like it. It has just blown by. Any more questions? 

I don’t think so…thank you for your time.

NO! Thank you!


About travelingenglishteacher

I want to see how many things I can cross off my travel bucket list in five years.
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