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Drawing on his 4 years of teaching experience in South Korea, Brian’s blog Kiss My Kimchi has become a guide on surviving and thriving in South Korea. Here he shares with us a bit about himself and his life abroad.

 

Where were you born Brian and in which countries have you lived?

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the USA. I’ve traveled to a few different countries, but I have only lived in the United Kingdom for several months and now South Korea for just about four years.

 

When did you realize that you had the Expat bug? That you wanted to live abroad?

I’ve always wanted to travel since childhood. I’m a movie buff and whether it was a spy thriller set in war torn Germany or a romantic comedy filmed in the streets of Paris I wanted to be there as well. I grew up knowing the world had so much to offer so I just wanted to make sure I experienced as much of it as I could. That definitely meant travelling and especially going abroad.

 

Describe your first trip abroad.

My first trip abroad was to the UK. Excited doesn’t begin to explain my feelings of leaving the USA. I just wanted to get out into the world and see as much as I could and meet as many different kinds of people as possible. Milwaukee isn’t exactly a small town, but growing up gay I felt isolated. Leaving the country let me shed all the binds that I put on myself. It allowed me to be me. It allowed me to search for like minded people and people who were just out there looking for themselves and others like them. The United Kingdom opened up a world and life I never knew I could have. Thankfully the language and culture meant that it wasn’t as much as a shock as another country might have been. Living in the UK served to whet my appetite for travelling.

 

What has been your most enlightening experience while living abroad?

I guess my most enlightening experienced happened early on when I realized that my country was not the center of the universe. There are so many different perspectives that I never considered. American culture can seem so dominating that it was somewhat of a shock as an eighteen year old to be confronted with people who held fundamentally different beliefs. Even if I disagree I learned to listen and try to understand.

 

What has been your most disheartening experience while living abroad?

That would be running up against intolerance based upon bigotry. When it stems from ignorance I can handle that. Ignorance is an opportunity to show someone that there is so much more to what they thought they knew. Ignorance means there’s a chance to open hearts and change minds.

In South Korea you can still find signs that state No Military allowed. You hear stories of companies and schools flat out stating that they exclude people of color. Discrimination based on race, gender, nationality and even military affiliation is definitely disheartening. At the same time it’s not exactly new. Growing up in the United States more than prepared me for any discrimination I’d face elsewhere.

Gangnam-gu district of Seoul

Was it difficult for you to find a job? And what tips can you pass along to those interested in working in Korea?

I haven’t found it to be that problematic finding a job. Of course finding a good job requires a lot more effort. You’ve got to do your due diligence. Research the company you’re interested in. Scout out past employees on message boards. Check out the local blogs and see if they have anything thing to say about a particular company. Some folks don’t mind giving the scoop on the various hogwans and schools they’ve worked for.

Also try to determine what your own requirements are. Do you want to live in Seoul or a small town?  Do you want to teach adults or children? Do you like the nine to five grind or do you want a second shift position?  I’ve written this under Finding A Job in Korea on my blog Kiss My Kimchi.

 

How important is it to know the local language? Do you have proficiency in the local language?

You can survive in Seoul without knowing the language. The same can be said for the other Major cities. Sometimes it will be a pain not being able to communicate but you can definitely get by without it. However, your life will dramatically improve if you learn how to read the language and will skyrocket if you learn how to speak it. Just being able to navigate the city without getting lost will improve your peace of mind and quality of life.

 

What customs have you adopted in your new country?

Well, I now take off my shoes when entering my home. I drink more socially than I used to back home. I can use a pair of chopsticks like nobody else.

 

Which customs from home do you miss the most?

I miss that people back home are polite automatically. In South Korea if someone bumps into you it’s like a non event. No excuse me or beg your pardon is seldom if ever offered. Instead it’s like a country wide sea of shoving, jostling, and hustling that I have grown accustomed to, but will never enjoy. I was taught to say excuse me and it comes out automatically even though the other person stares at me like I’ve lost my mind for apologizing.

I miss the bubble of personal space that we have in the USA. The other day I was on the subway and with all the people pushing to get inside I ended up being face to face with a businessman. We were practically Eskimo kissing. I was pissed. Unless we’re dating you shouldn’t be close enough for me to know what you had for breakfast. After a few awkward seconds all I could was laugh and he did the same.

 

Did you move with your family?

No, I wish my family had come with me but that was impossible. I came alone, though my brothers do visit me every year. I’m hoping they bring my nephews next time.

Brian and friends at Mudfest 2010

How have you gone about making friends?

I’ve made friends here a number of ways; Going out with co-workers, meeting people in bars, joining social networks and clubs, and meeting like minded folks online. There are a number of ways to make connections if you’re looking. The local English magazines are a great resource to find the pulse of the expat community.

When it comes to Koreans the biggest hurdle to making friends is the language. Although a great way to meet a new friend is to start a language exchange. Still, I’ve managed to find a great mix of both expat and locals to connect with.

 

Have you connected with the expat community where you live?

Definitely. I don’t feel isolated. I’m in a gigantic city with so much going on its impossible to do it all. You can meet people if you want to. You just have to step out your door and be open to it. Itaewon in Yongsan gu is a Mecca for expats. And throughout the city you can find groups focused on photography, acting, books, rock climbing, movies, language, writing and the list goes on and on.

 

Can you describe the general composition of expat population?

In South Korea the foreign community is actually pretty small. Then you can factor in the other East Asians and finally after that the Westerners. One percent maybe two of the total population is considered an expat. That’s not much at all!

 

From your perspective do Blacks (or foreigners in general) have any problems with adjustment or discrimination?

I have had a couple incidents happen that I think were due to my race, but overall I have had an outstanding time here in this country. People have been nothing but kind and generous to me. Sure, I stand out a bit more because of my race but its not like that didn’t happen back in America either. I will say that certain foreigners, like English teachers, get stigmatized by the media much more than say foreign students.

 

How do you keep in touch with family and friends from home?

The reason I started my blog was to keep my family in the know about my life. My blog has become more of a guide on surviving and thriving in South Korea so now I primarily use Skype and email to keep in touch with folks back home.

 

Are you an entrepreneur? Is it difficult to start a business in Korea?

No, I am not. It’s been something I’ve been considering but haven’t started yet. In South Korea you need an investor’s visa if you’re a foreigner. There is help though. Invest Korea’s sole purpose is to help foreign businesses start up in the Korean market place. They will provide a caseworker and staff to help you navigate the language barriers and arcane zoning laws.

 

Have you found that you have to live on less income? And if so how have you made the adjustment?

The cost of living is so much lower that any adjustment was negligible. If you live within your means you can thrive here in Seoul. For instance, my week day budget is 20,000 KRW. I allow myself 100,000 KRW for the weekend. In a typical month I can comfortably survive on this and still bank two thirds of my paycheck.

 

What is the housing situation like, is it hard to find a good place to live?

One of the benefits of being on an E2 visa is that employers usually will provide housing or a housing stipend. In the case of a stipend you must go out and secure your own housing. I’ve written about the steps to do that on my blog Kiss My Kimchi.

 

Are there opportunities to buy property?

I have no experience with buying property here in South Korea. You would very much have to do your research into the area, before considering buying property here.

 

What are your top 3 attractions or places of interest?

There are several destinations that come to mind. For me, I think my trips to the Damyang Bamboo forest, Busan, and Jeju turned out to be a fabulous time. I don’t regret anything about any of those trips. Busan during the summer is a glorious beach experience. The seafood is amazing and the people friendly. Jeju is so entirely different from Seoul that it should be experienced just for that fact alone. I love living in Seoul, but sometimes a change of pace is necessary and Jeju definitely provides that. It’s an island getaway that everyone who comes to Korea should see.

Activities around Seoul: Flea Market at night • exhibition of Tae kwon do

Where are the best places to vacation in Korea as a single person? A couple? A family with children?

As a single person I would stick to Seoul or Busan. Those cities are big enough to provide ample amounts of entertainment for a lone guy or gay. A couple should probably take off to Jeju during the summer months or try a ski trip to A1 in the winter or camping and hiking at Seoraksan.

 

What goals have you achieved while living abroad?

I’ve seen an area of the world I’ve always planned to see. That goal is still ongoing as Asia is a pretty big area.

 

What could you say that living abroad has taught you about yourself?

Living abroad has taught me that I can thrive living in a foreign country with no friends or families to speak of when I arrive and to find those things and build a life for myself.

Mural in ChinaTown – Incheon

To a friend or relative who is considering moving abroad, what would be your words of advice?

I would say be sure to do your research about your destination. Find out as much as you can about the culture including political and social circumstances so you know what you’re getting into. Be sure to question your peer group who may be living there under similar circumstances.

 

You classified yourself as a temporary expatriate, are you thinking that at some point you will return to the US to live?

I know eventually I will return to the US. I just cannot fathom living my life so far away from family. Also I do enjoy the United States. I’m not bitter about my homeland despite the problems there.

 

How has your life as an expatriate changed who you are?

Living overseas has exposed me to a lot more experiences, people, and lifestyles than back home. The world is so huge that just living in one country isn’t enough. South Korea has whetted my appetite to live in a few more countries before finally heading back home.

 

Living & Spending in Seoul

The won (KWR) is the currency of South Korea, we have included a currency converter below for your use.

 

Monthly rent:

Rent is usually between 400,000 to 800,000 won but there are a lot of things to consider that will factor into rent. If you’re here on an E-2 visa most places will provide a small studio, officetel, or apartment. Others will offer a housing stipend. If you have to find your own place be ready to come up with enough for the key money (housing deposit) that can start as low as 3 million won and go as high as 100 million. The more key money you pay the lower your rent will be even going as low as zero.

 

Cost for meals:

The best thing about Korean food is that it’s tasty and inexpensive. You can have a great meal for 5,000 won. This includes a main dish and numerous side dishes.

 

Transportation costs:

Nothing beats Seoul transportation. This city is connected! Subways are 900W and may go up a few hundred depending on your journey. Taxis start at 2,400 and are a great convenience. Or you can hop on a bus and get anywhere in the city quickly thanks to special bus lanes. Sometimes the bus is faster than the subway but it depends on where you’re going and at what time.

 

Compared to your home country are most things cheap/same/expensive?

Korean food is CHEAP. Seriously, if I only ate Korean food my budget would probably be around 200,000 won a month. However, if you want Western things expect to pay higher prices than back home.

 

Recommended monthly living budget?

This really depends on the individual. Some folks have bills back home they have to pay while others live high and mighty, pay check to pay check. It just depends on your priorities. If you live modestly with no extreme boozing and partying or western restaurants then you can probably save well over half of a 2 million won paycheck.

 

Currency-Converter.com

 

How modern are basic amenities/infrastructure?

Korea truly is on the cutting edge. The place is wired from top to bottom. You’ll have no trouble accessing high speed internet. The transportation system is outstanding. No need for a car, scooter, or bike unless you want one.

Namdaemun Gate at night – Traditional Korean architecture coexists with the modern in Seoul

Any legal hurdles all foreigners have to face to live there?

It really depends on the type of visa. The typical E-2 visa teaching visa that many foreigners are on requires a national background check, a notarized copy of diploma with apostille as well as a health check in Korea. Also you cannot legally work outside of your E2 visa unless you have the authorized permission of your employer. People have been known to be deported so caution should be exercised.

 

Top 3 things you would recommend someone to bring when they come:

Shoes. Finding shoes here is an impossible goose chase that has me crisscrossing the city all for naught. Itaewon is still my best chance, but even then the choice is severely limited.

Deodorant. You can find it here but it’s so expensive you’d wish you brought it from home.

Toothpaste! The local stuff just doesn’t cut it. You can find it at specialty stores, but once again the price will have you wincing.

 

Top 3 things you would recommend for someone visiting or living here to do:

Bamboo Forest at Damyang

Green Tea Fields of Boseong

The majesty of Sunrise Peak on Jeju Island

Boseong Green Tea Fields

 

Photo credits: From Wikimedia: Gangnam-gu (Sakoku) and Namdaemun gate at night (Isageum). All other photos courtesy of Brian Dye.

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Facebook comments:

2 Responses to “Interview: Brian Dye – Shares his Seoul”

  1. Tjransomenote says:

    That interview really set my mind toward South Korea. Also Brian is extremely cute and muscular.

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