7 Questions: Kasia from London

@kasia81

Hi, my name is Kasia, a born and bred Londoner, now living in Suwon (just south of Seoul), South Korea. I teach English as a foreign language at a private language academy. I am a champion eater of biscuits (or cookies if you prefer), a sometime photographer and an occasional tweeter of things that I find interesting, amusing and/or outrageous.


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


 

I always knew I wanted two things – to teach and to live abroad. I wasn’t brave enough to do either for a long time, but after doing the same boring old office job for years, I finally decided that it was now or never. That was late 2009 and so in Spring 2010 I moved to South Korea, expecting to stay a year. Turns out a year wasn’t long enough, so after spending Summer at home, I came back to Suwon in August. I have a sneaking suspicion one more year won’t be long enough this time round either.

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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?


 

When I moved here, I assumed that I would meet a super interesting range of people straight away. I thought that most people I bumped into, was introduced to, worked with, or met would have at least a broadly similar outlook to mine. That is, one of being tolerant, wanting to explore, interested in meeting new people and up for a good time (whatever that entailed.) I realise that that was incredibly naive, as I kept meeting people who mostly had one thing in common with each other – they were all running away from something. I wanted to meet the people who were running towards something, towards new adventures and interesting times – like I was. It took a long time for me to find those people, but once I did, I realised just how lucky I was. I now have such incredible friends here, who, if I had never left the UK, I never would have met. I guess there were a few of these “single moments” – every time I met someone who was so unhappy with themselves they thought fleeing their country would make them happier, not realising they couldn’t (as the cliche has it) run away from themselves.

 


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


 

The prospect of not being able to speak Korean didn’t really scare me. I thought I’d take lessons, practise with my Korean co-workers and I’d have my basic Korean down within a few months. Ha! I still can’t read Hangeul, and as far as speaking Korean – well, if the menu doesn’t have pictures, I can’t eat at that restaurant! I guess the life of an expat can be pretty insular – but I am grateful for the friends I have, as the scariest aspect for me was not having a solid group of friends to go eating and drinking with and generally being able to just hang out and have a good time with.

 


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


 

My mum came to visit me last July for my summer holiday. We were at one of the palaces in Seoul, and suddenly four middle-aged Korean women got very excited and started chatting away to each other and pointing – at me. I had no idea what was going on, but without a single word of each other’s language being spoken, I managed to work out what they wanted and gave it to them. Four individual photos using four different cameras – each woman insisted on having her photo taken with me. If this had happened back home, I probably would have been really freaked out, but somehow it seemed an entirely normal request here. (Well, ok, not that normal, but it made me laugh so I obliged.) Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had short, bright red hair? Who knows? I do wonder what they did with those photos and how they explained them to their families once they got home! My mum managed to take a photo of them having their photos taken with me.

 


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?


 

I have found it difficult to varying degrees. My co-workers are lovely people who are always willing to help with the small things I can’t do as I don’t speak the language. Koreans are generally incredibly friendly, and meeting people at bars, clubs and restaurants is always fun – but the different levels of English they speak (as my Korean is pretty much non-existent) can make things more complicated, as sometimes the people I meet really want to chat, but just don’t have the vocabulary. When I am out with friends who speak more Korean than I do, it can be great when there is a real mix of English to Korean translation, and vice versa, and charades going on. I recently met a girl around my age who wants to improve her English, so I have struck a bargain with her – I will help her, if she helps me learn basic Korean. It’s about time, really!

 


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


 

Oh, how long have you got? It’s mainly the food, if I’m honest. Pesto, definitely. Galaxy chocolate, Frazzles, my mum’s roast chicken. Also, let’s not forget Chinese crispy duck and pancakes. The list is endless, and it’s making me hungry just thinking about it, so let’s stop now.

 


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


 

I have such incredible friends back home that I miss like crazy, but without the friends that I have made here, my life as an expat wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Meeting people from other English speaking countries (though you wouldn’t believe that we do actually speak the same language sometimes!) that I wouldn’t have met any other way has been a brilliant experience.

You can check out more from Kasia on Twitter, @kasia81 and her tumbler http://kasiainkorea.tumblr.com/.

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  • Hi Kasia, I love you account of your expatriation in Seoul. It’s funny how there are many similarities between expat stories even though we can be on the other side of the globe!