CNNGO recently published Kyle Burton’s 12 rules for expat life in Korea. I’m a little behind on the ripples through the Korean blogosphere. If you haven’t seen the reaction then you can check out what Roboseyo, Chris in South Korea, Paul Ajosshi, and Dave Willis each had to say.
The general consensus is that Mr. Burton should have taken a keener eye to the life of Expats in Korea. I’ve listed Burton’s 12 rules below for you to take a gander at complete with my own commentary about his rules.
1. Learn to drink like a fish.
Sure, in certain situations you may be a hit if you can keep up with the boys, but in reality you don’t have to drink if you don’t feel inclined to. If you’re not a drinker then don’t drink.
2. Try not to get celebrified.
You’re not a celebrity (unless of course you actually are one). You’re probably just doing something silly so people are staring at you. For instance, I had one coworker, another black guy,who used to wear blue contacts and women’s blouses and became frustrated and bewildered when Koreans always stared at him. Well, actually, I could’ve told him why and it didn’t have much to do with his, um, foreignness.
3. Bring your own clothing.
This I don’t have a problem with. I’m a big guy. Clothes are tough to find especially when you take into account broad shoulders. Sure there are places in Itaewon where I can find stuff but I don’t really want to walk around in a LA Lakers Jersey all the time. Suffice it to say variety is limited. Take, for instance, shoes. I wear size 16. Itaewon is the only place I can find them in my size. I then have a choice between three high top sneakers.
I say bring your favorite clothes and if you’re over size ten bring a variety of shoes. You could also of course have things made. I do that too.
4. Learn to dance K-pop.
Um, unless you have a choreographer on hand this probably won’t be happening and it’s not even necessary. Do you on the dance floor as always.
5. Put the gay away.
Put it away where? In your back pocket? Funny enough, just like with dancing do you when it comes to your sexuality. It’s just like back home. Some people will react postively and some won’t. Use your own judgement and decide whether the situation or relationship warrants you coming out or not. Maybe the guy sitting next to you on the subway doesn’t need to know how gay happy you are and if coming out will adversely affect your work environment then maybe you shouldn’t wave those pride flags.
On the other hand if you have a frienship you value then it is worth it to let them know all of you. Of course the risk of losing that friend is always there, but I hope you would surround yourself with open minded supportive people and not homophobes. If you don’t then maybe you should find a different circle.
6. Buy good face cream.
There’s something to this one. When I first arrived I became sick as a dog. It’s happened to a lot of others too. Maybe it’s the pollution or the yellow dust or smog, but whatever it is I really don’t think a face cream is going to resolve that issue.
7. Embrace your inner diva.
Singing is good for the Soul!
8. Don’t tip.
This is easy. Just don’t do it unless you’re at a Western place where they will most likely include the gratuity in the bill.
9. Don’t have a coffee addiction.
Coffee is plentiful here and you can find a great number of places to grab a cup. I say avoid most of the chains and check out the mom and pop shops. You can find deals. There’s a spot near my work that brews a great americano for 1,000 KRW in the morning. Perfecto!
10. Take pictures of your food.
I do because I blog about it. Otherwise snap or don’t snap. It’s your food. Slap it, flip it, rub it down for all most people care. Did anyone actually catch my poorly placed reference?
11. Adjust your diet.
Actually, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. There are tons of foreign markets and shops that sell practically the same things as back home. Still, you’re in Korea so why not sample the local food? You never know till you try it.
12. Strike an Asian pose.
Well, maybe once for giggles but in every photo? Also is flashing the peace sign really considered a Korean thing?
So there you have Kyle Burton’s 12 and now I’ll follow in the steps of my blogger brethren and deliver my own oh so humble version of the 12 rules for Expat Life in Korea!.
Please feel free to shred them apart or glowingly praise them.
KMK’s 12 Rules for Expat Life in Korea
1 Be as Gay as You wanna Be!
Seriously. Like I mentioned above. It’s at your own discretion. There are intolerant people everywhere and its up to you to judge if you can safely come out with minimal to no repercussions and if they’re are if you can manage them.
2 Try everything Once
Of course this is completely unrelated to number one unless your curiosity just has to be satisfied. Sure, that steamed silk worm may smell disgusting and look like a, well silk worm larvae, but it may just be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted. It might not, but you’ll never know unless you try it.
Never used chopsticks? Give it a whirl! You won’t starve. That live squid won’t actually crawl back up your throat! Trust me! I have proof!
3 Speak Korean
Even a little bit of Korean language ability helps. So imagine what a little bit of dedication would do? Still, I am really the last one to be bringing this up because my Korean is dismal. This was recently pointed out to me and I have no excuses. There are so many online resources and free classes to take advantage of.
4 Seoul and Beyond
I love Seoul. I do. I really don’t think I would be living here if I couldn’t be in Seoul. Now, having said that I recently got a chance to see more of Korea (Damyang Bamboo Forest and Boseong Green Tea Fields) and I am so glad I did! It’s worth it to leave the confines of the city for no other reason than to break the monotony of big city life. So, bottom line: Get out of Seoul. You’ll be glad you did.
5 Socialize, butterfly, Socialize!
Don’t just waste away in your tiny apartment! Get out there and meet people. There are a ton of opportunities to meet not just other foreigners but also locals. The best place by far to look for other folks to meet up with is Seoul’s Meet up group. There are tons of groups engaging in activities from drama to rock climbing! Join a language exchange or a sports club or a book club. It’s easier than you think.
Aretha had it right back in the sixties and it pretty much rings true now. Have it for yourself and others. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do back home and if you would do something silly, dangerous, or stupid back home then just stay there and save the rest of us from embarrassment. Pretty please?
7 Forget the Subway!
Actually don’t forget it, just don’t rely exclusively on it. The subway in Seoul is extensive but not exhaustive. You’ve barely scratched the surface of Korea’s intricate transportation grid. Learn the buses and trains and you’ll find yourself in every nook and cranny of the country that you never knew existed. Plus you can enjoy the scenery while you do it.
8 Do the Dance
By the dance I don’t mean the one on the disco floor, nope, I’m talking about the dance through Korean life. You can either meet the challenges of saving face head on by ranting, wailing, whining and crying to try to get your way or you can do the dance.
Finesse. Be a scalpel not a hacksaw. If you get what you want at work, but end up looking like a total jerk or moron to your coworkers then was it really worth it when you could have possibly achieved the same result by doing the dance? Save yourself the grief.
9 Free Your Mind, Your Body will Follow
Do something you would never do back home. You’re in a strange land with new experiences on every corner. Trying something that presents itself in your path is courageous, but seeking out something you would never do is daring. Are you a lousy cook? You can take Korean cooking classes! Did you know you can take flying lessons here? You can! Did you know about the white water rafting? It’s there waiting to be experienced. If you’re a city boy like me, then go camping. Don’t retreat to what you know, instead fling yourself into the unfamiliar and fly or plummet. Either way you did it and the experience is yours.
10 It’s a Small Country Get Used to it
Face it, Korea is small, so as far as it goes for personal space, well, there isn’t much. Those people pushing by in the subway station or stepping on your toes or barreling toward the counter in the convenience store aren’t trying to personally attack you. So in their mind an apology isn’t really called for or necessary. The sooner your realize and accept this the saner you will be.
11 Shut up, Smile, and say Thank You
If someone gives you something, whether it’s a trinket or a treat, just take it, smile, and say thank you. Even if you end up throwing it out at home or on the way home, it’s better to do that than try to explain how you’re allergic or don’t like the smell or that you don’t have any use for it. It doesn’t matter what the object is, it’s the act of giving that you would be refusing and thats a no no.
12 Stop, Take a Breath,
When you arrive in Korea everything is go, go, go. You’ll be navigating a new city and culture, making new friends, trying new foods, and it will all be a whirlwind. Before you know it months will have passed by.
So, it’s good to just take the time to stop, breathe and take stock of yourself and your new life in Korea. A little reflection is good for the soul. This is the time when you can determine if you need to make changes to how you’re doing things or to appreciate the fact that your new life is moving ahead swimmingly.