Banner design by Helena, portrait by Eva


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Life as an Expatriate

Back home in Montreal, my boyfriend is moving into a new apartment. He is hoping a change of scenery will enable him to break bad habits. He has a new grocery store, bookstore and gym. He wants to be more disciplined.

My apartment building

That's what lifestyle is; habits we've acquired, good ones and bad. I think many people move to a new country, hoping to escape routine and change themselves for the better. I do think moving, be it down the street or to a new country, makes it easier to change, but not easy. You don't escape the tendencies.
Before I moved to Korea, I found little information about Suwon, and the outdated photos led me to believe the city was dirty, industrial and almost rural in parts. I thought I could live a simple life here for 12 months.
I was surprised when faced with the pressures of Korea- the competition, the superficiality, the high tech obsessions (small TVs on Taxi dashboards).
I did that silly post about assimilation, but I have changed and assimilated in many ways.
You may say, "so what. There's a 7-Eleven on every corner," and yes- Korea is a developed Nation; I have cable TV, running water and a flush toilet, but the customs and lifestyle are different. On a map, it seems I traveled as far away from home as I could go.
I have kimchi and red pepper paste in my fridge, I send about 10 text messages every day, I keep a neat appearance, I hang my clothing to dry and speak a little bit of Korean.
When I was at Everland on Sunday, I noted how strange it was to see so many foreigners- that they stood out in a crowd. Kyle reminded me that I am a foreigner.
My neighborhood in Suwon has a small town feel. My neighbors, especially the older generation, were initially leery or perversely curious about me. They held back smiles, but I now feel accepted. No one stares. Instead they nod and say hello in Korean, like I'm one of them:

There's a traditional market with the same vendors selling slabs of beef, brown eggs and kimchi.

I'll miss the man who owns a wine bar next to my building. He sits on his veranda all day long, lets his wife do the work, and waves to passersby like me. He has photos of his travels on the wall; green pictures of Thailand and Vietnam that he is eager to discuss.
There's a convenient store clerk perpetually unpacking boxes of inventory. The family run kimbap Heaven restaurant leaves the TV on a Korean drama channel so patrons can watch. The server at Coobuck Coffee flips through an Elle or Vogue magazine, ready to serve a latte in her pressed apron.
Everything is familiar- even the unpleasant things, like a cat I saw for the first time yesterday, after hearing its cries of agony for a month. It has only 3 legs, and fur in patches.
I made the decision to only have Korean friends this year. Sometimes I get frustrated when I have to repeat myself continuously or simplify my English, but I've had a more "authentic" stay in Korea because of my relationships.
I was telling Josh last night, I have it in my mind that I'm leaving Korea in 5 or 6 months, and I may never return- even for a vacation, so I can't get too attached to the people here. I hate to think I'll have to wave goodbye forever.


Helena said...

(Trying this again--I messed up my coding)

Hi Eva! It just occurred to me that I could give you the link for the that I made. This is from when my husband and I were teaching in Chonan about ten years ago. I made the website quite a while ago--maybe one of these days I'll get around to moving it to a site with no ads.

Korea kind of gets under your skin and lingers. I had a dream about going to the 시장 (market) just last night.

Helena said...

Once again! Huh. That's supposed to say "for the Korea Scrapbook that I made." The link works.

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Wow, fantastic! It's so well organized. This is fun.

(Thanks for the link!!)

Roy said...

Statistically Eva, you'll never ever visit Korea again after you leave. I've heard overwhelming majority of foreign ESL teachers never go back, even to visit. So enjoy your time in the strange land called Korea.

Also, I agree it's not easy to change when you move to a new place. Since growing up in California, I've lived in a lot of places (even Montreal!) and I've realized that there aren't that many differences. Sure, food may change, people may look different but it's likely that you haven't changed all that much. So you find a way to recreate what's suitable for you.

Enough typing, back to studying for the bar exam.

Chrissy121875 said...

Your life in South Korea sounds strikingly similar to my life in Japan. It is really amazing how living and teaching overseas can change your life so much. I can totally relate to EVERYTHING you mentioned in this post.

I love your blog! I do miss my life teaching overseas sometimes. I had a good life in Japan. When I returned to Montreal after 2 yrs in Japan, I experienced "reverse culture shock"!! Anyway, I'll be living vicariously through your blog and experience overseas, since I won't be doing anymore traveling and teaching now that I've planted roots and have gotten married! :)

Eva Karrin McKinnon said...

Thanks for the comments/insight Roy and Crissy

Hmm, Japan or a husband, Japan or a husband... ;)