Top Three Lies They Told Me Before Moving to South Korea
I’ve been in Korea for about a year and eight months, living and working as an English teacher at a public after-school program. In that time, I’ve taught many classes and students, made lots of friends, eaten lots of food, and have attempted to learn the Korean language. It seems like forever ago when I was boarding that plane to fly here, full of nerves, and wondering what the heck I was getting myself into.
I don’t often think about what my expectations of Korea were before I got here because my life in Korea is no longer filled with new, daily cultural revelations, but rather the normal hum of everyday Korean life. The other day, as I was Skyping with my mother and grandmother though, I was reminded of some of the things I heard from other people before I got here.
In the time leading up to my move, everyone wanted to put in his or her two cents about my decision. It was pretty much all positive and empowering, but people told me a lot of things that were, at best, misguided, and at worst, flat-out lies. Here are the three biggest lies I heard over and over again before I moved.
1. “You’re going to be so tall over there!”
This is based on the stereotype that Asians are short, which is certainly not always the case. I am a young Caucasian woman, and I’m 5’1” or about 155 centimeters. Basically, I’m short, and many American people told me that once I moved to Korea, my short days would be over. I didn’t really believe it, and as it turns out, they were wrong.
Koreans are pretty tall, so I’m really just as short here as I was in America. I have elementary school students who are taller than me, and middle school students who tower over me. Nothing makes me feel more foolish than scolding a 15-year-old Korean boy who’s a foot taller than I am. I look ridiculous because these kids have to look down on me. So, no friends, I’m not a giant here. I’m still the same short Kylie.
2. “You’ll be fluent in Korean after you live there for a year.”
Ha! No. No, I will not be. This isn’t like moving to a Spanish- or French-speaking country where I could pick up the language in a few months. Korean is hard. I spend a good amount of time studying, and I know I’m not even close to fluent. Korean and English are so different and I’m also not particularly good at learning languages.
3. “Your students will think you’re cool because you’re American.”
I knew this one was a lie right from the get go. My students don’t care where I’m from. All they care about is whether or not I’m going to let them play games. Being American doesn’t make me cool; it just means I have an American accent and an American passport. My kids like me because I take the time to get to know all of them and I try to make class fun. They don’t like me when I make them do workbook activities or worksheets. It’s as simple as that.
Should you ever move abroad for an extended period of time, you’re going to hear a lot of opinions about what your life will be like. Don’t take too many of them to heart because people can be way off, and you might also have a completely different experience from someone else. Just go in with an open mind and an open heart and see what your new home has to teach. There’s my two cents.