Moving to Korea: An Interview with Alexandria Taberski
Alexandria’s Journey: An International Move to South Korea
|Alexandria Taberski is an accomplished journalist that has been covering gaming news and reviewing games for nearly 4 years. She has a true passion for gaming culture and honest reporting that she attributes to her international journey to South Korea after graduating from college. She strives to make video game journalism more ethical, for underrepresented games to get more press, and for the culture to continue to prosper and grow. She has been published on many prominent websites including the Examiner and TechRaptor. She hopes to add streaming and video content to her collection of written media in the future. We encourage you to follow Alexandria and all of her adventures on Twitter @StrawbabyCupcke.|
After learning of Alexandria’s international travel we asked her if she would be willing to share her knowledge of international moving with our readers and she was kind enough to oblige.
Alexandria, give us a little backstory. Where did you grow up and what were interests as a young person?
“I grew up in Southern California. I was involved in dance since a young age and went on to join competitive teams. Athletics and academics took up most of my time but I was always intrigued by all things nerdy: comic books, video games, CCG’s, etc.”
How old were you when the travel bug bit you?
“I’ve been fascinated by other cultures for as long as I can remember. My family took a lot of road trips and visited Mexico quite a few times. So probably by the age of 7 or 9 I had an interest in travel.”
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What made you decide, for sure, that you were going to move overseas?
“My freshman year of college I told myself, “If I don’t have anything lined up after I graduate, I’m going abroad.” Senior year rolled around and I didn’t know what I was going to do so I started looking into programs and jobs overseas and found some good options.”
What was special about Korea? It’s a big world out there. Did you consider any other countries?
“The Koreas, and their history, are very interesting politically and culturally. I became intrigued by Korean culture and applied to study abroad there while in school. Unfortunately, the study abroad program in Korea was cancelled and no other programs seemed as interesting or worth the investment to me. I considered other countries but by the time I was graduating I was pretty set on going to South Korea.”
How long did you have to plan this international move?
“I planned my move in less than a month. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to get hired abroad or not so I didn’t want to plan too far ahead. I would recommend a time table more like three months to anyone else if they had more ideal conditions. You need time to put things in storage, prioritize what you’ll need, etc. My move was pretty hectic.”
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Did you move yourself or did you hire a moving company?
“I decided to move myself because I was a poor college graduate and it didn’t occur to me that a moving company could assist in an overseas move. I enlisted the help of my family and friends and while things got lost, broken, and forgotten I was able to make it work.”
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What did you pack?
“I decided to bring: a small but versatile selection of clothes, a handful of bargain books I wouldn’t mind leaving behind, my computer, a camera, mp3 player, some personal items, and my guitar. There were a lot of things I wanted to bring but couldn’t, like some of my favorite clothing items, books, and my gaming console. I probably shouldn’t have brought my guitar because it was a hassle to pack and I was only just learning to play it. But the truth is, I enjoyed having it with me and don’t regret it.”
Did you have any problems with Customs?
“I didn’t have any issues with Customs leaving the country but I ran into some small problems on my way back. Obviously food and liquids are too much of a hassle to bother with. Make sure you have any documents you need like passport, Visa, access to the address you’ll be staying at, contact numbers, etc.”
What are some “must have” items for anyone moving to Korea?
“A power outlet converter, probably a few of them. Everyone told me to just get one when you arrive at the airport but they turned out to be expensive and shopping in a foreign country while you’re jet-lagged can be exasperating. You don’t want to lose access to your electronics when staying in contact with people from home and new acquaintances is so important.
Also, medication. Obviously if you have any prescriptions you’ll need to take care of that. But just over the counter things. I stocked up on allergy pills, cold medicine, that kind of thing at my mother’s request and it was a great idea. In South Korea people tend to go to a pharmacist, tell them what’s wrong, and get what they recommend (sometimes traditional remedies like herbs etc.) more so than buying pills at the grocery store. So I was happy to not have to get a translator while I was sick, which I was on many occasions.”
How did you find a job in Korea?
“The internet. When looking up travelling to Korea I came across a lot of sites for teaching English there. It’s a fairly large industry and there are a lot of businesses for helping connect teachers with schools. Basically headhunters, I “hired” one and gave them my resume. They lined up some telephone interviews for me and I was eventually offered a position.”
Was it difficult to get the proper documentation to work in Korea?
“No, for me the process was easy but I know for others there are some issues. Most schools prefer you come without a Visa and then they procure it for you after the first few weeks you’re there. The timing can become an issue sometimes and people have to go on a quick trip to Japan to expedite the process. Luckily for me though it was as simple as waiting for my employers to apply for and then deliver the Visa to me.”
What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced when moving to Korea?
“The moving process was a big obstacle. Finding a job was another; Korean job interviews are a bit different than American interviews and I wasn’t sure what they were looking for in a teacher. Once I was there however, the biggest thing was settling into my job and making friends.”
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If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?
“I would pack smarter, lighter. I would be more discerning in choosing an employer. I would consider getting an international mobile phone plan or getting a mobile phone once I moved.”
What were some of the biggest cultural differences that you noticed?
“There are a lot of cultural differences but one of the biggest that affected me was that of respect for your elders and superiors. I didn’t have much recourse when it came to discussing things about my job, teaching philosophy, curriculum, salary, etc. If I tried to discuss things like that, my superiors were clearly displeased with me and would respond with something that amounted to “No, this is the way it is. Do what you’re told.”
It took me a bit to figure out where I stood in the social structure. There are certain hand gestures and titles that are polite or impolite to use depending on the position/age of the person you are communicating with. I had to learn those and how to use them.”
Was it difficult to fit in to the local community?
“Yes and no. I wouldn’t say I ever “fit in”. I clearly looked very different and never mastered the language and that made me stand out. People would be intrigued by a foreigner and ask to practice their English with me. A few would give me awkward glances or try and avoid me.
Overall, the local community where I lived was very friendly. Once, I lost the key to my apartment and the building guard on duty didn’t speak English, but he called a locksmith for me, let me sit in his office with the heater and watch T.V. while I waited, and went to get some students from a nearby restaurant who could translate for me when the locksmith came. I had quite a few similar experiences when Korean people were very kind to me and they made living there pleasant. I have some fond memories.”
How did you keep in touch with friends and family back home?
“My cell service provider said I wouldn’t have any service while in Korea so I planned on using Skype. I actually did have service so I text messaged a lot and had a few phone calls at first but it was incredibly expensive so I had to cut that out. I bought an international calling card and used the landline in my apartment when I couldn’t Skype. I had to arrange phone calls late at night to accommodate the time difference. I also emailed and Facebook messaged people often.”
How did living in Korea compare to growing up in the United States?
“I lived in an officetel, a very small apartment above restaurants and shops. The apartment was two rooms, a bathroom and everything else. My stove was across from my bed. The clothes washing machine was below the stove. Being raised in small towns in the U.S. I took space a bit for granted. Living in a suburb of Seoul, in a tiny apartment, it was very apparent that space was at a premium. Playgrounds are on rooftops and malls are in subway tunnels.”
What were some of the pro’s and con’s of life in Korea for you?
“Pro’s include getting to see, eat, and learn things I never would have back at home. The food there is amazing and the palaces are beautiful. I also love immersing myself in different cultures; I find it invigorating to always have to be figuring things out. Plus fast internet and eSports are on T.V..
Con’s include having no friends or family nearby, having to work with very little time off, and my family worrying whether North Korea was going to invade. The worst part was probably my employers and some issues I had there. Living abroad made me appreciate some of the freedoms and cultural acceptance and diversity we have in America.”
What was your most amazing experience in Korea?
“My most amazing experience was probably while teaching and not all that specific to my location. There was a student in my home-room class who had some learning obstacles and all the other teachers thought of him as a “problem child.” He was very sweet and bright and I wanted to see him succeed. When he made progress and when I saw him proud of his new skills and knowledge I was overjoyed.”
Why did you decide to move back to the United States?
“I had a one year contract with my school and as I wasn’t particularly happy with my employer I decided not to renew. I also had a boyfriend waiting for me back home and it was hard being away from him, so that cemented my decision to return.”
Was moving back to the United States from Korea difficult?
“Moving back was easier than moving away. I had less things to pack and the subway system in Seoul made travel simple. When I got back it took a while to get all my things back from storage but I was used to living with less so it wasn’t a problem. Socially, I think I adjusted well. I used to use Korean phrases and gestures out of habit for a while but that faded in a few months.
You may have culture shock returning home, not just when arriving abroad. Figuring out how to apply your job experience, do your taxes, etc. can be difficult when trying to settle back in. Give yourself time and get some help when needed to get everything in order. Also you’ll probably never find Korean food as good as what you had in Korea.”
Looking back on the entire experience; was there anything that you wish you would have done differently?
“The big thing for me is to do more research on my employer before taking a job abroad. I did do some research but if I’d dug a little deeper I would have found a lot of helpful things about the company and previous employee satisfaction. I would have made some different decisions in what I looked for in a job and probably would have kept looking for a better position before taking an offer and ending my current lease.”
What advice would you give to anyone preparing for an international move?
“Be open to the culture; embrace the food, fashion, and idiosyncrasies of where you are. If you don’t like it, go back to doing this your own way but at least give it a try. Living abroad can really change your perspective, or reaffirm beliefs you already held, so I’d recommend being open minded, introspective, and observant to learn as much about yourself as you will about others.
Don’t bother bringing non-essential things from home. If you find you can’t live without your favorite brand or products then someone from home can mail it to you later.
If you can afford it, get a storage unit for things you want to keep at home. Asking a friend or family member to keep all your stuff is a big favor and you don’t want to be bitter if they lost or broke something of yours while you were away.”
(Related: Storage Options when Moving Internationally)
What impact has this experience had on your life?
“Living in South Korea forever changed me. It instilled a love of Korean culture, food, and media in me. It also gave me time and space to spend on myself, do some soul searching. It also strengthened my relationship with my partner and now we are married. We didn’t let the space drive a wedge between us, took the time to write and call each other, and weren’t able to take each other for granted. It wasn’t easy but I definitely think the experience made us stronger as a couple.”
Editor’s Note: I would like to personally thank Alexandria for taking the time to sit with us and share her experience. I hope her journey helps some of our readers out there. Follow Alexandria on Twitter @StrawbabyCpcke.
Do you have any questions about Alexandria’s journey or moving internationally? Ask them in the comments section below!
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