Who are you?
I’m a mid-30s American expat and marketing professional. I live in Gyeongsan, South Korea with my husband and two young children: Finn (6) and Poppy (2). We love living abroad for the opportunities it presents every day to experience a different culture.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My husband Whit and I first moved abroad from Asheville, NC, in August of 2007. I had just finished my first three years after college as a newspaper reporter (which I loved!) and Whit had just finished his graduate degree in U.S. history. We were young at the time (mid-20s) and wanted to see the world. We wanted to travel as much as possible, but we had limited funds. So, we started an international job search. Google kept coming up with the same answer over and over again. Teach in South Korea. We very quickly secured a great job at a private elementary school in Gwangju, South Korea, where we taught for 2 years. Nearly 10 years later, we’re still in Korea. Whit is the head of a foreign language department at a local university and I work from home as a digital marketing specialist. It’s a great life!
What challenges did you face during the move?
It’s funny when I look back to when we first moved. I’m sure we had challenges, but none of them were very big. We wanted a good job. We wanted a fair boss. We wanted to feel safe. We wanted the job we chose to turn out as good as it looked on paper. We were accepting an offer on the other side of the world in a place where we didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anything yet about the culture. But, it all worked out – as you can see.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes. We live in a very multi-cultural neighborhood, thanks to the university at our doorstep. This can be a rarity in South Korea, given the extremely homogenous population. But, with young children, it was very important to us that they feel safe and comfortable in their surroundings. Because the neighboring university attracts students and professors from around the world, we are just one ingredient in a melting pot of cultures. We keep a map on my son’s closet door and every time we meet someone from a different country, we put a sticker on the map. We’ve met people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and more. It’s a wonderful opportunity for my children to meet people from all over the world, especially the places that we as Americans only hear about on the news.
What do you like about life where you are?
I love the community. This is very important to me and the reason why I’ve grown so accustomed to expat life. The expat community is a tight-knit and welcoming family. We’re all going through a similar life experience, which ties the bond between us all very tightly. I have a wonderful group of mom friends that I hang out with regularly. We share our lives, stories, backgrounds, joys, and challenges. Just recently, we were sitting around a table drinking wine and sharing stories when we realized that every single one of us was from a different country. What an experience. What a gift!
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The only negative we experience is being away from family. Whit and I both come from close-knit families. We make it a priority to get home every summer for at least a month to spend quality time with family, especially so our children can play with their cousins and grandparents. But, we miss out on a lot. Birthdays, holiday celebrations, random visits, etc.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
I think mothers around the world can be quick to protect the way they do things. We all want to be right in this game of parenthood. It’s no different here. There are significant cultural differences between Korean and American mothers. For example, I ran into a friend and neighbor (and fellow mom) recently when I was pushing my youngest daughter in a jogging stroller on our way home from eating at a nearby restaurant. She and I started catching up, talking about our jobs. And, she said, “Oh, seeing this stroller reminds me of when I first saw you. You were jogging around the lake with your new baby, and I thought it was so wrong. In Korea, we take extreme care of new mothers. We don’t do anything like that.” I laughed politely and told her how I wanted to start exercising quickly after I had a baby so I could lose the baby weight. (In fact, I ran a marathon later that same year.)
Sometimes it’s hard to be different and for others to notice and make comments on how you go about your daily life. But, at the same time, on a different day, I’ll stand with that same mother as we wave goodbye to our children on the school bus on their first day of school, water collecting in the corners of our eyes. One thing I’ve learned is this: we are all just people. So human. So much the same.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be open-minded. When you live in a different culture, you have to be open to different ways of doing things. If you think your way is the right way, you’ll never make it. My family tries to embrace a lot of Korean traditions. We take off our shoes in the house. We love to eat kimchi. We teach our children Korean manners.
What are your plans for the future?
For now, we are continuing to enjoy our very enriching lives in South Korea. Our children are immersed in the schools here and are becoming fluent in the language. They are officially “third-culture children,” which we consider a wonderful life opportunity. We sometimes dream of living in other countries. Who knows, we might even make it back to America one day.
You can keep up to date with Lindsay's experiences on her blog, Kimchi and Cornbread.