Friday, September 26, 2008

Coping as Expats in Korea

Writer Gord Sellar with Saxophone
(Image from

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 . . .

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At 5:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Jeffery, you have your education, your career,
a wonderful family, your blogspot with interesting subjects of every known (seemingly) topic....and best of all, YOU HAVE UNCLE CRAN and his exciting tales of yesterday to brighten your blog when things become stale!!!!
{SIGH!} Some just don't know when they are truly blessed!
(Does this belong in the humor column, or some other germane spot?).

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The term "yesterday" refers, of course, to my past youth, not to anything specific on September 25, 2008 (Korean time), or 11/25/08 my time.
I am sure there will be other things favorite nepher Jeffery will note to criticize.

At 6:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such as my topo that should be 9/25/08.

At 6:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps even nephew, instead of typo nepher.
Could this be Alzheimers kicking in?

At 6:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Or even 11/24/08 my time.

Your turn, JK!!!

At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Final comment:

Or perhaps I am living my past in the future by two months

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, you have exceeded your allotted comments-per-post and must now stop or face the consequences.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:16 AM, Blogger gordsellar said...


Yeah, the link on the original post on that phrase about scholarly pursuits and idyllic family life led directly to think blog. I linked to Charles with something else. :)

At 9:16 AM, Blogger gordsellar said...

Think blog? I meant to write "this blog." Flattering typo, I guess. :)

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Charles said...

Dr. Doom,

Yeah, I was always under the impression that the "idyllic family life" phrase was a reference to you. I believe the phrase that linked to me was something along the lines of "insane hermit who drinks himself into a stupor every night."


At 12:53 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...

Don't think this fits quite in with the discussion here, but I thought I'd make a comment anyway...I think sometimes being a Korean-American and living in Korea is really difficult (I hate the term Korean-American, by the way, but that is a different discussion)...I guess I do have an advantage when it comes to language..but when it comes to culture and society...there are some things...a lot of things, actually...that I just can't understand.

In any case, my wife and I had one of those "I just don't get it" incidents recently. My wife, a Korean, now feels like her country has abandoned her because she fell in love with a non-Korean. Some may say that she is being too sensitive, but if you knew how much of a nationalist she used to be, you'd understand... anyway, I have really digressed here... so, without going on and on, and making this post any more not understandable, you can read about the recent incident that my wife and I experienced here.

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gord, I figured out the "think blog" typo before I saw your correction, so it wasn't entirely mystifying . . . unlike some things that my students write.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Charles, yes, this does look very much like a reference to you -- an "insane hermit who drinks himself into a stupor every night."

As with Faulkner, that's when you do your best work.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saber Fencer, I'd actually seen that the other day when I checked out your blog. I can imagine your wife's frustration, too.

Korea isn't the only country that plays games of this sort. In Australia, I had to pay high taxes to support the state's medical care but didn't qualify to receive any of that care.

Of course, I wasn't an Aussie citizen.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:44 PM, Blogger Saber Fencer said...

I think that if the Korean government told me that I wouldn't qualify for anything, I would have taken that as "oh well, I am not a Korean citizen" and moved on with it...but since my wife is still a Korean citizen, for the Korean government to tell her that she doesn't qualify for benefits/services that are available for all Korean citizens simply because she is now married to a foreigner is nothing short of absurd.

p.s. did you get the paper I sent you?

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree on the absurdity.

Yes, I received your paper and started reading yesterday evening. I'll try to finish this weekend, beginning tonight.

It's quite interesting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:58 PM, Blogger Brian said...

LOL, you have a "Gord Sellar" category?

At 6:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Brian, I have a category for everything in the universe, for I've been there, done that . . . everywhere.

After all, I am Gypsy Scholar.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Cran:

I would love to respond to Gypsy Scholar, but I have been warned of the consequ........

At 12:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Got you just in time!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:35 PM, Blogger gordsellar said...

Hey, I'm the insane hermit. I think I linked Charles with something about academic study, since that dissertation guillotine thing was what jumped to mind when I was writing the original post the essay came from.

As for a category on me, that's funny. Critical readings of my fiction coming up any day now, right? Me and Milton, we're like *this*!

Saber Fencer -- oh, man, I hear you. In fact, I sort of think of that whole rigmarole as a punishment by older men against young women who dare miscegenate. As a classroom of high school kids very bluntly (and harshly) put it to a friend of mine, "It'll probably only get better when the old conservatives all die out." But I think the commenter on your site was right, things are improving slowly, even without the dieout.

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Gord, to be honest, I've only recently realized that the function is for "categories."

However, you will surely deserve a category soon as your fiction continues to be published and the critical reviews pop up.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:42 AM, Blogger gordsellar said...

Ha, well, we'll see. I'm in the middle of a production slowdown, at least for the next couple of months, unless a new job falls into my lap or somehow I get renewed here (unlike most unis, the one I'm at seems bent on following the three-year rule). :)

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

If they really want to follow that rule, then they should make you permanent . . . but like most universities, they'd just find a loophole anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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