Last Updated on August 24, 2017 by Christine Kaaloa
I found jawbreakers! Oh yes, I found jawbreakers. My friend, Margaret, found soy products at E-mart and Chance, found dried garbanzo beans… and that equals hummus!
I even found Goldfish crackers at HomePlus, dried lentils in Itaewon (Seoul rocks!) and soy chickennuggets at Loving Hut. The expat game of living abroad is sometimes, like playing a game of Scavenger Hunt!
Moreover, my cool expat community here is quickly making me realize how I occasionally underestimate being a part of one. I don’t know how I would have gotten by without them.
I used to think of expats as isolated bunch, desperately clinging to each other to shield themselves from their foreign environment, but that’s not been the case. Many expats are very accepting of their environment and open to making local friends. Unfortunately, that’s not enough for survival or often times, sanity. Thousands of miles away from home, sometimes you crave a little familiarity and normalcy.
5 Reasons to join your Expat community
1. Bitch sessions are necessary.
While not always healthy, everyone occasionally needs to blow off steam from a bad day (or many) at work. That outlet is necessary.
Who will understand you any better than fellow expats going through similar experiences?
Most of the frustrations of adapting to a foreign workplace, comes from “cultural differences”, unfamiliarity and not understanding or knowing how to navigate the system.
Expats, who have gone through or are going through your situation can help provide information, insight and support, …even if only to let you know you’re not alone.
2. All expats share the same challenges with “adapting” to their new lifestyle
If you’re playing a Scavenger Hunt game in piecing your life together, then your fellow expats are doing the same.
You’re not in it alone.
Where can I get shoes that fit?
Is there a Greek food restaurant?
Where can I get a good deal on a cellphone plan?
Or a travel agent (or doctor or dentist) which speaks English?
What bank is the best for foreigners?
… Who knows this better than the long-term expats or the expats, who are researching the same question.
3. If you’re teaching English in Korea, your fellow NETs (Native English Teachers) and Facebook are your best friends.
When I researched Korea, it had the worst bitch sessions of any other country in the ESL teaching forums. There is good reason. Aside from bad hagwon experiences, expats have to deal with the Korean work culture, which is prone to constantly shifting work schedules, job politics and conduct that may seem backwards to westerners.
It’s not uncommon to be tossed last-minute projects (like teaching English to parents and teachers, video broadcast, etc… with the schedule for the entire semester being due in a week!) or feel like the rug is pulled out from under us.
Jumping onto ESL teaching websites like Dave’s ESL Cafe and Waygook.org is certainly help for quick lesson plan ideas or workplace help. Also in Korea, everyone teaches from the same classroom textbooks. Usually, your fellow English teachers are also teaching the same lessons and thus, a lot of sharing goes on, both here and on Facebook.
Facebook in general, can also be a source of finding help and support groups. For me, it’s become my expat newspaper.
On Facebook, my expat friends share cultural tips, they ask forum questions, seek information and help with lesson plan ideas. Our Daegu EPIK group created a FB page, so we can share ideas, connect for social outings or gain advice for our last-minute scrambles.
Other FB social network groups: Daegu Social Network Group, Seoul Veggie Club, English Teachers in South Korea.
4. Everyone hits kimchi overload
If you’re not tired of eating the local food everyday, one thing is certain,… you need to get your head out of that ESL funk!
It’s not healthy to live your life 24/7 living, thinking in and speaking ESL. It can feel like re-training course in retardation, as you’re constantly pushed to speak slowly and think in short basic phrases that foreign students might digest.
It’s good to have Native English-speaking friends to occasionally have dinner with or do things with to keep your English skills fluid! (I’m not kidding)
I’ve been here less than a year and I occasionally catch myself speaking grammatically poor and broken sentences. Further down the line, I hear it gets worse…
5. Making local friends is not as easy as you think it is
Meeting and making new friends after a new move can feel challenging anywhere you live.
Unless you find shared interest groups or hobbies, finding local friends with similar interests can feel a bit like dating.
It’s not always easy to make friends with locals. I’m not saying it’s impossible or don’t try it. Definitely try to enrich your experience of the culture by having as many local friends, as you can.
But the cultural differences and language barriers between an Asian society vs. Western presents an obstacle. Unless your local friends can speak a bit of English, you may feel like you’re back in your ESL classroom during your recreation time .
I have a Korean friend from Canada, who was always wary of Koreans befriending her, because she felt like they always just wanted to practice their English on her . She felt used a lot, so she ended up growing armor around it. As she said, once she’s clocked out of classes, the last thing she wants to do is find recreation, where she’s forced to work again. I get it. Even with my co-teachers, they’re constantly asking me to back up and explain the way I’ve phrased things, so I can never get through my sentences, without having to tangent into an English lesson. It’s frustrating to have a stop and go, when you just need to have a normal conversation.
The other option is to learn the local language in order to make friends. For instance, I’ve been taking Korean languages at the YMCA. While learning the language isn’t a bad thing… it will probably take you a good chunk of the year or longer to master.
I’m new to your blog and really enjoyed this post. I’ve applied to teach English in Spain next year and have friends who have taught in Korea too. I think all the reasons you listed here are good points and can be used as reasons to join an expat community in any country.
ATEK has forums and volunteer opportunities that bring expats together, address questions about lufe in Korea, and help with labor issues. You can also make Korean friends who belive it or not have similar challenges.
Great article. I am an expat living in northeastern Thailand and seek out fellow expats. They are a rich source of information especially if you just moved here and they have been here for years. It doesn’t matter that I have been traveling to Thailand for the past 35 years. Living here is completely different. If nothing else, a fellow expat is someone i can speak English with!
@Khon Kaen: Thanks for your comment!
Yes, I’ve found the expat community -new and old timers- to be excellent resources. They know what you’re going through in adjustments and they’re usually supportive in offering a helping hand with information that locals can’t provide or won’t understand.
Totally. As much as it’s good to make friends with locals, it’s a very different feeling to come home to your English roots with a fellow expat. The mentality is similar as the foundational values and beliefs and eases the transition a bit. Without my fellow expats, my English speaking skills would’ve gone retarded. Well, they’re already slowly evolving that way.
[…] 5 Reasons to Join your Expat Community when Living Abroad […]
Good post – and congrats on getting picked up by Expacked 🙂
The biggest reason to create community is one of enjoying your time. Would you rather spend your time finding the best place to find XYZ, or would you rather spend your time experiencing what this culture has to offer? If I share one tip with you – and you pass it on to another expat – you’ve contributed to that goal. Finding a Thanksgiving turkey shouldn’t be a scavenger hunt (OK, it really is, but it SHOULDN’T be…), and neither should a hundred other things. Figure life in Korea out, then go out and enjoy it. Keep up the good work 🙂 Chris
@Chris in South Korea: Thanks for the congrats on Expacked (tho it took me a while to figure it out! LOL. My site stats don’t always show who’s linked up to me). Let me also add, your blogsite has definitely contributed information to help me figure out life in Korea, so thanks back at ya! =-) Totally agree w/ you– “Enjoying your time” & “figuring life in Korea out” are definitely great perks of the expat community! We all strive to enjoy our time & life here; & yet, there’s much to figure out when you want to make your life in Korea an enjoyable one. Occasionally, some of the “figuring out” is an enjoyable exploration; other times, it’s arduous & frustrating… a potential obstacle. Tips from expats can help inform, remove or ease the latter, so you can appreciate your new life and home.
Some great suggestions but I don’t agree with them all. I came to to Korea to escape my fellow countrymen and while I miss the company of decent people, many of the expats living in Korea are twats – just like they are back home. One of the expat bars near me, since closed, was notorious for fighting. Many are just passing through and see Korea as a place to get pissed, pick up a local girl because they can’t do that back home, and go to a mud resort. Sorry if that sounds horribly negative but over the years I’ve seen a small army pass through the area I live and there are now so many of us living here, since EPIK introduced teachers into every school, that being a waygukin is pretty run of the mill. Anyway, I’m generalizing and I acknowledge there are decent people with decent intentions out there, but once you’ve lived here even a short while you realise that most are passing through.
On a positive note – some great photos and interesting info.
@Nick: I appreciate your comment. Everyone has their reasons for feeling differently about situations and all of them are valid. Those negative aspects about expats and/or military stereotypes definitely do exist all around (not just in Korea); and yet, as not every expat will experience a positive welcome into Korea or an easy transition. Korea seems to be one of those countries where it’s really a hit or miss on what you will experience and have to deal with on a daily live & work basis. If things go wrong in your life abroad, it takes a lot of inner strength to maintain a positive attitude when you’re feeling vulnerable and helpless, and not having local/country support in adapting or learning to understand your foreign surroundings can add to negative beliefs about the culture. But overall, I get what you’re talking about and thanks for adding your point of view. The military’s presence and sometimes, insensitive actions is something I haven’t touched upon in my idea of the expat community. They seem to be a slightly different lifestyle.