Outside looking in

Half of the time I don’t know what they’re talking about; their jokes seem to relate to a past that everyone but me has shared. I’m a foreigner in the world and I don’t understand the language.

Jean Webster

It’s been roughly two weeks since I moved to South Korea.

In that short time I’ve tried many different Korean dishes, from 김밥 (kimbap) to 떡볶이 (tteok-bokki) and of course Korean fried chicken (the only KFC I will recognize from now on), earned 100/100 on a grammar test despite the fact that I cannot describe a single grammar rule to anyone, worn traditional 한복 (hanbok) clothing inspired by the Joseon dynasty while touring the beautiful Gyeongbokgung palace, presented two different lesson plans that I pulled together overnight, and so much more.

Here are a few snapshots of my first week in Korea…

I’m in Korea to teach English as a second language, so my natural first step is to learn more about teaching ESL learners. For the next few weeks, I’ll be gaining practical experience to use in my classroom this year. After the course, I will be a certified TESOL instructor, qualified to teach second-language speakers around the world. So far, the course is very reminiscent of a mini-mester, where a lot of information is crammed into a very short period. It’s stressful, but I am enjoying soaking in all the information and advice I can before I embark as a first-time teacher abroad.

Studying in Starbucks

Looking ahead at the two weeks left in this course, I hope to continue learning, whether that’s during actual class time or just through daily interactions as I navigate life here. Though it’s only been a few weeks, I am continually impressed and grateful for the open and accommodating attitude that most Koreans exude as I stumble through ordering a coffee or trying to find a bathroom. Being a foreigner in a homogeneous country is intimidating because it’s easy to stick out and feel self-conscious. But the people of South Korea have been nothing short of lovely and welcoming. Sometimes shop owners or cashiers even switch to speaking English, which is incredibly nice and not necessary at all. I can’t wait to learn more Korean so I can communicate better with the people around me!

Still, being a Westerner in SK, it isn’t hard to remember that I am a visitor in this country and I don’t know all the norms and customs. I’m doing my best to keep that in mind as I walk the streets of Yeongjong Island. A few weeks before I left for South Korea, my dad sent me an article by Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. In the article, aptly titled Foreign and Belonging, Carattini writes: “But even when communicated playfully, it can be both humbling and humiliating to always carry with you the sober thought: I am out of place.” That exact thought has crossed my mind at least once or twice in my time here, and I sincerely feel on the outside looking in every so often.

Though I’m currently very much an outsider in South Korea, I look forward to getting out of ‘tourist mode’ and living less like a stranger in a strange land as the months pass.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. It’s tough to keep a regular writing schedule when I don’t have a set routine, so I hope that once mid-August rolls around I’ll be able to start sharing more posts/get back to my regularly scheduled content (rip, #Popgirl). In the meantime, does a monthly newsletter recap of my life in Korea sound like something you’d be interested in? Drop a comment and let me know!

Thanks for reading 🙂

By Kathryn

KATIE is a twenty-something held together with iced coffee and her wits. She writes personal confessions and pop culture chronicles.

2 replies on “Outside looking in”

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