7 Questions: Valerie from Great Britain

@farawayhammer

I’m British by birth and a global nomad by choice. Despite having lived in Asia for over ten years I still find this lifestyle exciting and full of surprises! By day I teach at a Korean university, and by night, aided by my coffee addiction, I write feverishly about words, travel, culture, Asia and the expat experience. I’m also currently finishing up a non fiction book which reveals the story of a Korean woman’s blind date experiences.


1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


 

Having worked like a demon to build a schedule of part time teaching work I gave it all up to work for a charity. When they lost their funding I had to take a temporary (non teaching) job at a lower salary. It seemed like everything was coming to an end. My car was dying, my long term relationship was over, and I had a few months to wait to get back into my previous work. Then one day I opened the newspaper and saw a big ad. inviting people to teach in Japan. I didn’t even have a passport and had no idea about the country in question, but it seemed like fate, I was gone about eight weeks later!

 


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


 

The first time I had to say goodbye to a good friend who I had met on the first day of my new life – that was probably a defining moment for me. I used to think that barring a disagreement my mates would be in my life forever. It never gets any easier to let someone go, but I have learned to enjoy spending time with people in the here and now. Considering that 90% of the expats I have met would never have crossed my path in any other life it makes sense to not automatically expect a relationship to last without context.

 


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


 

Not really knowing the cultural rules. It can be tough to figure them out, and being foreign can confuse things even more as not everything applies to you as it may to those born and raised in that society. If you feel disadvantaged or constrained by cultural expectations it can make your life tough in many ways.

 


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


 

I find people tend to ask me specific questions rather than about life in general. But funny stories about misadventures tend to go down well, and I have a ton of those! Perhaps the most popular involve my language learning experiences. I have a bad habit of confusing words which sound similar – leading on one case to me asking a Japanese shop owner if there was poop (unko) inside her cakes, instead of anko (red bean paste)!

 


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


 

When I lived in Japan it was much easier to make local friends. I had adult students, went to international parties, and always had a local bar I could go to alone. It’s much harder for me here in South Korea, partly because I worked with children at the start. I would say superficial connections are not so difficult to make here, whereas I still have close Japanese friends who I met eleven years ago. To be fair, it’s hard to know if the differences are more about who I am and what I want out of life than anything else.

 


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


 

Marmite and British tea bags. Oh and malt loaf. I used to miss a lot of grocery items but as time passes you get used to not having them. Shoes are hard to find here if you have big feet. I would love to get out of the men’s section one day!

 


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


 

Learning to live with and be happy with less. Not just in terms of possessions, although that is quite liberating. When you are unable to communicate fully, buy exactly what you want to eat or just do everything easily you yearn for less. My life is so much simpler now, and this creates space for people, creativity and self development.

You can check out more from Valerie on Twitter, @farawayhammer, Facebook http://www.facebook.com/FarawayHammer, and her website, http://www.farawayhammerwriting.com.

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  • Glad to learn more about you – great interview!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for featuring me. I enjoyed answering the questions and thinking about my experiences.