Coping as Expats in Korea
I've not written any recent columns for the Korea Herald's Expat Living section, but I read it regularly, for interesting and informative articles continue to appear on its pages.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this past week, three long, fascinating articles on expat-Korean relations were published. Tuesday's article, "Why do expats here complain so much?", was written by T.K. Park, a naturalized "Korean-American who has lived in the United States for the last 11 years" and who writes and edits the blog Ask a Korean. I do not know Mr. Park personally, but his article is insightful and worth reading for a Korean perspective. Park was followed on Wednesday by Robert Ouwehand, who wrote "Why do Koreans get so defensive?" as a thoughtful response from the perspective of an expat. Ouwehand writes and edits the blog Roboseyo, and I know him from online contacts -- we've at times commented on each other's blogs. Both Park and Ouwehand had first entered into dialogue over the issue of expat-Korean relations through their blogs, and I'd read parts of their respective articles online.
Yesterday, Gord Sellar entered the dialogue. Apparently, Gord had also originally printed some or all of his article, "Fending off discontentment," online at his blog, Gord Sellar, but I missed it there due to my lamentable inadvertence. I know Gord personally, having met with him several times for meals and drinks, and he's a very interesting Canadian who has published science fiction stories in such magazines as Asimov's (e.g., "Dhuluma No More") and Nature (i.e., "Junk") -- yes, that science weekly Nature. Gord lectures on culture and literature at a university here in South Korea, where he has lived since 2002.
I was thus very interested to read his perspective on expats in Korea. One passage especially intrigued me:
The expats I know who've adjusted here best are those who have some kind of, well, I don't want to use the word "hobby" again, so I'll say, "interface" with Korea. They interface by engaging with the place they live in some creative, responsive, energetic way. Some I've known in the past made documentary films or created art. Some produce zines exploring the local culture. Others do pop culture analysis, or perform independent research. A few take on academic studies, or work as translators, or live lives of scholarly inquiry in an apparently idyllic familial home.I'll have to ask Gord to be sure, but I think that the line "or live lives of scholarly inquiry in an apparently idyllic familial home" refers to me . . . or at least includes me, and perhaps also Charles La Shure, of Liminality.
At any rate, the line captures how I've adjusted to living as an expat in a world very different from the one that I grew up in. Compared to many expats, I've got an easy life -- lecturing in a good university on subjects that I have interest and even expertise in, publishing two or three scholarly articles each year for local or international journals, being married to a lovely Korean woman who can deal with the practicalities of life in Korea, and helping my wife raise two beautiful children who usually bring us much joy but always make life more interesting.
And I've got my blog . . .