Snapshots from Abroad: The Seoul of an Artist

At JMG Asia, we talk a lot about the opportunities, challenges and rewards of living abroad. But what’s it really like for the people who are “living the dream”? Snapshots from Abroad is a new column exploring the real stories behind the clichés of foreign travel. Here we’ll profile interesting ex-pat personalities in Q&A format, delving into the reasons they left home and the new perspectives they’ve gained from their experience.

Courtney Zach

Seoul, South Korea

Where are you originally from? Buffalo, New York.

How long have you been in South Korea? I have lived here for just over 10 years (mostly in Seoul).

What do you do in South Korea? I was a teacher, then I wrote children's books for a publishing company here in Seoul. Now I currently work for an import/export company from Hong Kong and write and illustrate children's books for my publisher in India.

Why did you leave home? I worked for a private investigator right out of university but the company went bust and I didn't want to stay in my home country at the time. It was either Korea or Japan and Korea won because I could leave sooner and start working.

Do you speak the local language or are you learning the local language? How is that going? If not, how are things for someone who doesn't speak the local tongue? I can get by with the little Korean I know. I studied for three years but after I started my masters in second language studies, I quit and my proficiency decreased. It's very difficult to learn but I always had trouble with languages. For someone who doesn't speak fluently, I can get by in most situations. I have to rely on other people for certain things such as getting a repair man but speaking to people without a common language has taught me patience and the ability to communicate in creative ways.

What is the best thing about living in Korea? Learning about a culture that is very different from the one I grew up in and being able to find a happy medium in between.

What is the worst thing? This is good and bad because I like to see both sides of everything: Racism. As a white female, this is my first experience. I was never racist but now I can understand it better and understand people better who have experienced it in my country. Also, the government has set up a call agency to translate 3-way phone calls.

Where is the coolest place you have traveled to there and why? There is an island in Korea with only one child living on it. Everyone else is an adult. There is a school with multiple teachers just for one student!

What do you think the future holds for South Korea and what are the biggest opportunities for American and other foreign students, professionals or expatriates? Korea is slowly becoming more globalized and because it is still in the new stages of development, there are more opportunities here than in a country such as the U.S.A., which is pretty much saturated and difficult to get your foot in the door. If you are willing to work hard and make your own opportunities, this is a good place to start or at least use your time to figure out what you really want to do.

What advice would you give people back home who are considering a move to Korea? The universities here are offering incentives to foreign students to try and become accredited. If you don't want to be in debt up to your ears, STUDY ABROAD!!!! It's cheaper and it will broaden your mind. If you come here to work, it can be difficult at first because of cultural differences but ultimately worth it (even for a year).

Has living in Korea given you a fresh perspective about your home country in regards to things that it does well (or things it can do better)? I now understand how other countries view my country (both good and bad) and why. For example, what they see on TV is what they think America is like. One co-worker asked me if all American women were like Sex in the City girls. Another older student didn't believe that I was American because I wasn't fat....hmmmm. I also realized American TV makes Americans a little paranoid/scared based on my own experiences and from my mother constantly worrying about my northern neighbors. I'm not saying America is bad. I just realized the world is small and there are too many places to explore.

What are your future plans? My future plans are to stay in Korea for at least two more years. I am working on a new book/blog series with a friend of mine about unusual animals. Each week, I post about a new animal to help people learn more about animals or become more interested in them. I also want to continue my art career and hopefully create designs for children's clothing or stationary (for fun). I also write a blog about the process of writing children's books. I think it's good to share the creative process with other people because it's probably not what they expect. I also have a secret blog that I can’t talk about. I want to visit cat Island in Japan and write about my experience there and also visit or work at the sloth sanctuary in South America and write about sloths—hugging a sloth would be a tick off the must-do list. Depending on my current job, after two years, I will move wherever my boss wants me to go (hopefully Hong Kong!). My research job is flexible and coming up with new ways to improve my boss's export/import business is hands down the best job I've had to date. It's a perpetual jigsaw puzzle! Overall, whether or not I stay here, it was definitely an experience I am glad I had. It changed me as a person and made me realize my own capabilities as a person.

Joey Campbell

As one hand of the co-founding tag team behind Internships In Asia, Joey is the resident talker, commentator and opinionator who gives voice to the site's perspective on all things international travel, education and...

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