Who are you?
My name is Nichola Gwon. I’m Australian and I’m an artist and blogger / YouTuber and also a webtoon artist (for the international version of Naver Webtoons). My husband Hugh is Korean. We run a blog and YouTube channel called ‘My Korean Husband‘ where we make comics and videos about being an intercultural couple and exploring cultural differences.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My husband and I married in Australia (though we did come to Korea for a Korean wedding too) and while we were happy living in Australia, I wanted to have the experience of living in Korea. I wanted to understand and experience more of Korean culture. We moved to Korea at the start of 2014 and lived with my husband’s parents in the countryside for 2 years before moving to Seoul. We weren’t sure how long we would stay but are both loving living in Korea so we are here indefinitely.
What challenges did you face during the move?
It’s always difficult moving to a country where you don’t speak the language well and don’t know how things work. I realised very quickly how much I need to rely on others. There are certain challenges about living in the Korean countryside, though I did enjoy it. Homesickness is something that most expats deal with but luckily my homesickness wasn’t too bad.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There weren’t many in our area of the countryside. A few English teachers at local schools and a few women who had arranged marriages with Korean men. As the male / female ratio is particularly unbalanced in the countryside there are many older men that have marriages with foreign women. I rarely saw those women though. My life differed a lot from them I think.
In Seoul there are many expats and my husband and I have a wide circle of friends.
What do you like about life where you are?
In Seoul I like the convenience and living in a vibrant city. I especially like people watching in Seoul and seeing all different types of people. It’s easier for me to be more independent than in the countryside. I love having a range of food here as well. In the countryside I enjoyed nature and the fresh air especially. I would go for long bike rides and loved seeing the mountains and the river. It was also nice for my husband to be with his parents and strengthen his relationship with them especially after living in Australia for so long.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I dislike the assumptions people make, though I understand why people make them. In the countryside many people assumed my husband and I had an arranged marriage and that he had paid for me (and that I was from Russia). While I’m not criticizing those marriages, it can be jarring when you have a love match marriage. My Korean tutor from the Multicultural Families center said I was her only love match student. There were no other foreign wives like me in the countryside. Also because I worked full-time at home and wasn’t a housewife, I didn’t fit into the foreign wives community there. Ignorance about foreigners among Korean people is a constant battle but I’m hopeful for the future. Living in Seoul has been good for us and we encounter less backwards attitudes.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Since I lived in the Korean countryside, the community aspect of Korean society is a big difference. In Australia, being a western individualistic society, there is more of a belief about privacy. In Korea where it’s community orientated, your business is also everyone else’s business. There are positive and negatives to that.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Try to research as much about Korea as you can. Not just modern articles but also read books about older Korean ways of thinking. I was quite prepared when I came to Korea and it helped me to adjust to rural Korea. Try to see the positives in situations. Things can be difficult but you have to be understanding, even when things are hard. People that constantly see everything in a negative way will end up missing out on amazing experiences.
What are your plans for the future?
Now my husband and I are living in Seoul and we have many projects planned. My husband has recently started a coaching / consulting business for Koreans wanting to travel to Australia. Later he may expand to foreigners coming to live in Korea and help them settle into life in Korea. We will expand our YouTube channel, we have a book in the works, and I’d love to start a drama webtoon. Currently my Nicholalala webtoon has elements of Korean folklore, but it’s light hearted. I would like to start a serious webtoon and expand on folklore from our area of the countryside.