By Reginald Smith

How do you know when you are a true expat? When you cry on the plane all the way home. That’s how Sheryll Donerson, originally of Fontana, California, felt as she flew home from her first expat experience living away in London.

“The freedom, culture, and experiences I had living in London changed me. I knew from then on I’d make it one of my life goals to be a long term Expat. ”

She made good on her word, eventually traveling to France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, China, and her new home in South Korea. There she teaches English at the Cheongdeok Middle School in Yongin. She has been chronicling her adventures and her so-called “Quarterlife” crisis via her blog, The Wanderlust Project. While nervous at first when she started her stint in South Korea, she now loves her job; anyone familiar with the crapshot ESL assignments should have a huge appreciation for how fortunate she is. She and her students have embraced each other and she has been delighted to see many going from speaking no English to talking with her in full sentences. In addition, she also serves as a positive role model to help expand their view of the world. She includes information about people of color in her lessons (something many students in Asia are surprisingly uneducated about) including a lesson on Soul Food. She has even been looked up to by some of her darker-skinned students who may need encouragement about their looks in a region where lighter skin is considered more beautiful (historically the nobility were indoors and not working in the sun so dark skin was considered a sign of lower socioeconomic status).

South Korea is a land of deep traditions and Sheryll has embraced many of them to the point of her adherence being almost subconscious. One custom, similar to Japan, is the frequent use of bows in greetings, expressions of thanks, and other occasions. “In Korea, a bow is a hello, goodbye, thank you, sorry, you’re welcome, excuse me, everything under the sun. I bow at any and everyone.” In China, however, bowing is hardly ever done, especially as it is seen as a feudal custom. She learned this the hard way getting quizzical looks wherever she went. “I bowed at everyone, and people definitely looked at me strange. It’s going to be a big habit to break!”

She has also adopted other Korean customs such as removing her shoes before entering her residence and dealing with the almost universally East Asian hustle and bustle of rush hour train commutes: “People in Korea push and shove. It’s just a fact of life. Try to get on a subway during rush hour in Seoul and you’ll quickly see what I mean. In the US, it’s incredibly rude to push and shove people, so it takes a lot of restraint to not get very angry, very fast.”

Despite adopting new customs, she has kept close to her American roots having dinner with expats in her area every Tuesday, missing macaroni and cheese, and having company with her partner Johnny who moved over and teaches school in Korea as well. Fortunately she has not experienced much discrimination though she does think it is more prevalent in larger cities, especially where there is a concentrated underclass and large number of foreigners. There is still the eternal fascination though with Black hair: “As a Black woman, I definitely get stared at, and when I wear my curly hair out, I’ve definitely had people try to touch it.”

Overall she is extremely happy with her experience. We would recommend her blog (link below as well) to anyone and everyone interested both in the Korean and ESL experiences. Also, please share any other ESL experiences with us you may have had.


Living & Spending in Korea

Monthly rent:

Free. As a Native English Teacher, I am provided with a free studio apartment.

Cost for Meals:

Korean food, between 1,500W and 10,000W. Foreign food: 10,000W to 50,000W

Transportation Costs:

1 bus ride: 900W, One Way Subway Ride: 1,200W

Compared to Home are most things cheap/same/expensive:

I would say that the things I buy are definitely way more expensive than in the US. I buy a lot of fresh fruit and it’s insanely expensive here. During the summer, watermelons cost about 17,000W, or about $16, and that was at their cheapest! Cosmetics on the other hand, are great quality and relatively inexpensive. How Modern? South Korea is an extremely modern country. Amenities are not only basic, they are sometimes luxurious. The bathrooms in the subway stations are extremely clean, and the busiest areas of Seoul are somehow always free of trash. There are high speed trains, 2 airports and high end restaurants. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like I’m in Korea, especially in the foreigner heavy districts of Itaewon and Hongdae.?? My website is

Photo credits: All photos courtesy of Sheryll.

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