JSMP! When your Expat Honeymoon Fades (Hitting the 6-month mark)

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Last Updated on August 24, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa

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Chuseok (추석), the Korean Thanksgiving is  next week and EPIKers are abuzz with vacation plans… again. This is a six-day vacation for many NETs, so imagine the excitement! Though summer was only four weeks ago, the national holiday will give NETs a second wind for getting over the hump of months to come. Why?

We’ve officially hit the 6-month mark of living in Korea and this vacation will be our last breath of freedom until December. Thus. the freedom we found in our summer vacation getaways have made returning to Korea, our schools  and the Korean school cafeteria a bit more …challenging.

Has the expat honeymoon faded?

Hitting the 6-month mark: when your Expat Honeymoon Fades

If I have to see seaweed soup one more time…

Koreans love seaweed soup! It’s supposed to be great for pregnant women and it’s the ritual food for birthdays. But I am neither pregnant, Korean nor having a birthday, and the sight of its milky green goo makes me shudder!

I feel guilty saying this. Especially because I like my cafeteria manager and she’s always setting a separate vegetable dish aside for me.

There are foods that I do like… but the things I once politely took onto my lunch tray and smiled courteously to, I just don’t want to see anymore…

What’s going on with me? …With us… you and me, Korea?

What’s going on with the expats around me and why are we going through a similar funk? Have the leashes been on too tight?

Maybe it has something to do with the 6-month mark.

Maybe we all need to come up for air.

 How is the expat honeymoon fading?

Adapting to the foreign surroundings of Korea, ranges from highs to lows, and it’s unpredictable, how its roller coaster runs.

First love, then hate… then love again, then hate…

I think it all just comes with the territory of living abroad and battling the ups and downs of a country that’ not your home.

But if there ever was “a honeymoon period” for some of us, this 6-month window may have signaled its turn. Word on Facebook sums it up- everyone is exhausted with navigating the rigors of Korea to the point of being fed up.

It’s like a couple’s argument over who leaves the toothpaste cap off or the toilet seat up. The pettiest compromises and most minute differences, now loom large to urk, disgust and place a strain on a once pacified relationship.

For instance:

•  A tug-o-war relationship with your co-teacher.

•  Sitting in long-winded conversations between Korean teachers, where no one translates things for you (…And out of politeness, you can’t leave until the group disbands).

•  Not feeling improvement in your mastery of the Korean language, despite taking classes. (Only further exasperated by Korean teachers not translating things for you)

•  Storing your perishable trash in my freezer, until there’s enough to fill your trash bin (you have to pay for the garbage removal!)

•  Watching friends get preferential treatment because they “look foreign”!

• Koreans assuming you’re Korean just because you look Asian; and thus, you are not given preferential treatment, but instead, scoldings. 

•  Finding your nose has developed an acute sensitivity to the “fishy smells” which greet you daily in the school lunchroom; and the realization that certain foods really, really turn you off.


Occasionally, I’m tempted to give into the “US” against “THEM” mentality

…it’s a monster that takes energy to restrain to a cage.


It’s not Korea.

But I need a break.

While I know I should be patient — sometimes, I just get tired of the overall struggle.

It’s as if I’ve scarfed so much cultural foreign-ness to acclimate, understand, respect and survive, that now I want to vomit.

Incidentally, I thought I was the only one who’s developed food funk but it seems there’s a bit of a vibe going around. Some EPIKers want to ask if they can cancel their (*compulsory) school lunch plans.


Should I renew your teaching contract?

Bandaid, chuseyo?

Will I re-new my contract for another year?

I’m trying to keep an open mind (but I’m also fielding backup plans- if anyone has ideas send them my way!). The school, my co-teacher and DMOE’s treatment NETs will be a big factor in my decision process, as well as whether I feel adopting a kimchi lifestyle has held positive or inspiring benefits.

For me, I’ve booked tickets to Jeju Island and next week I’ll be off to the Korean Hawaii.  I’m excited.

Hopefully, I’ll reignite my fading fascination with Korea… or if nothing else, discover a small window of escape!

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  • I think we all go through that period when everything just doesn’t seem to fit and it can extremely frustrating. The real bright light is when you develop deep connections with people and they make it seem much more livable.

    • @Chris: Yes, I think you’re totally right. Although, I wouldn’t say deep connections are even necessary at that point. Usually, a connection is just a God-send to your life period. Ha ha…

  • As an expat of four years (today is actually my four year anniversary) I know where you’re coming from. It’s a bit different for me, I live in Korea with my husband and two year old son (who was born in Korea). I’ve been fortunate to have jobs where I was loved, translated for and treated well.

    I got his with spam for lunch today and had a moment of rebellion. Every time I hit the freak out “I hate this place” point, I remind myself of the things I love. I got out and eat shabu shabu or take a stroll through the rice paddies.

    6 months really is the big culture shock/hate point… I got pregnant after 8 months in Korea so that sort of broke up my hate period.

    Push through, it gets better.

  • I was fascinated by your comments about looking Korean in Korea. I live in the Netherlands, an Dutch by background long time ago, but American by birth. So people think I’m native Dutch until I open my mouth.
    I speak good Dutch but with an accent, and still struggle with the look on people’s faces as I see them realize that something is different about this guy.
    After 20+ years it still bugs me…
    Anyway – good blog, well written.
    One piece of advice: take a long term view – it’s worth it.

    • @Norman: Thanks for dropping in–you are so right about taking a long term view! That’s sometimes the hard part– you cross the midway mark and frustration with the culture mixes with the tempting knowledge there is potential freedom on the other end if you choose it. There’s also many factors surrounding frustration w/ this culture: as someone who gets confused as a local, you experience the pressure and expectations a culture has for its locals and these are all cultural differences that either you don’t know or are still learning… it’s not your roots or upbringing. Korean culture is less lenient with its own kind, while it gives much freedom and tolerance to outsiders. For instance, if I’m with other expats & they’re being loud, Koreans look at/scold ME and expect me to discipline my friends. Not to mention, I’m proud of my U.S. multi-ethnic roots; sometimes, you just want that recognized.

  • Oh Christine… I am in the same phase as you… but you seem to have much more patience and optimism than I do. I am finding it harder and harder to smile each day. I’m jealous that you still find the willpower and inspiration to write. My blog has been untouched for almost 2 weeks. School lunches are one of the largest catalysts for this Korea hatred lol. Squid AGAIN!?!?

    We will get through this.

    • @Amanda: I get the impression many people are struggling over that hump right now. Might’ve had to do w/ that awesome getaway break, where we could re-experience a life of few compromises and of somewhat normalcy… or at least different foods ! Squid, fish, whew. I’m even getting pickier about my kimchi these days. ;-(

  • Laura in Cancun
    September 17, 2010 3:51 pm

    Your upcoming island trip sounds fun!

    Oh, the hate phase of culture shock… I know it well. The “me vs them” mentality definitely sounds familiar. For about a year, I hated EVERYTHING. Any little thing would piss me off.

    Trust me, it will pass 🙂

    • @Laura: Thanks. Coming from you it means a lot. Your story turned out so wonderful and you love your new country like a native. I realize I’m probably going thru a withdrawal funk or something but fingers crossed it passes soon. I’ve got to get thru 6 more months!

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