7Q: Lauren from Chicago


I’m an American expat currently living in Seoul, South Korea by way of Chicago. I’m a collector of maps, passport stamps and freckles but my official job title is ESL teacher. I also freelance write and blog for a number of outlets, including the blog of the official website of Korea.

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

I’m not sure it was any one thing, but the motivation came from a number of desires. I think the strongest of which was wanting to really do something exceptional after graduating college. I wanted to travel and experience new cultures on the deepest level. For me, the most appropriate and genuine way to accomplish that (while paying off student loans) was to move to overseas full time and work.


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?


Before I moved overseas, I think I really expected to have a moment like that, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ve been living in Korea for nearly two years now and my views on things have most definitely changed and developed in a number of ways, but I think it’s been more gradual.

Working as a teacher, something I thought I’d never do, has really changed some of my views on the educational system in the United States or just education in general. I know if I ever go back to school, I will certainly approach being a student completely different.

Also, coming from a country with a large number of immigrants and now living overseas as a legal alien has been a very interesting experience. Having to deal with some of the issues, both bureaucratic and cultural, that come with living overseas and being a minority in a place has helped shape and strengthen already existing opinions about the way the United States handles and treats its immigrants.


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


The language barrier actually didn’t scare me too much. I had lived overseas before and traveled in countries where I didn’t know the language. I played grocery shopping charades, as I like to call it, while living Prague and learned the power of non-verbal communication. I at least hoped it would get me by in Korea until I learned more of the language.

What I really feared was missing out on important moments back home, mainly with my family. I also found the doubt in the weeks leading up to my departure quite scary. I worried about whether or not I’d made the right choice, if I’d be happy and if I would succeed at a life as an expat. There are, of course, sacrifices to be made when uprooting your life and moving it very far from family and friends. I think as long as you’re content with your choice to live overseas and happy in doing so, those missed moments can be coped with.


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


I tend to get asked the same few questions: do you get homesick (not terribly), can you drink the tap water (not really), and are you scared of living so close to North Korea (not in the slightest). I don’t really have a stock story or memory on file for when I’m ask about my experience. Generally, people just seem interested in the day to day differences, adventures and misadventures of my life in Korea. I talk about the food a lot, like the first time I tried live octopus (and loved it) or the time I got horribly sick from eating oysters at Seoul’s biggest fish market (and didn’t love it).


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 definitely find it difficult to connect with the locals, at least on any substantial level. I think the main reason is the language barrier. I speak some Korean and many Koreans speak some English, but the conversations required for really connecting with people don’t come comfortably or easily. I also think it results from a difference in lifestyle. My Korean friends are living very different lives than me, despite being of a similar age and currently living in the same country. Many still live at home with their families and are focused on work or school. I’m very far from my family and I’m focused on really getting the most out of my experience as an expat. I guess it also depends on your definition of connection, as well. I interact and have relationships with many Koreans, from my co-workers to my students and friends. I truly value those interactions and relationships but I wouldn’t define them as deep connections.


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


When I first moved overseas, the list of things I couldn’t get here and didn’t want to try and live without was constantly growing. The most obvious of which is my family and friends. Some of those things were tangible, like sourdough bread and turkey deli meat while others were sensory, like the smells and experiences of autumn in the Midwest. Then one day, I realized that list had changed from things I couldn’t get here, to things I loved about here and didn’t want to think about not having when I eventually leave Korea. The one exception being steak tacos from Chipotle, a Mexican chain-restaurant popular in the United States. Before I moved here, friends and family of mine liked to remind me that there would be no Chipotle in Korea. There are plenty of Mexican restaurants in Seoul and trust me I’ve made it a part-time job trying them all, but if there was some way to have Chipotle teleported to me, I’d probably never leave Korea.


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


There have been so many benefits of becoming an expat. There’s no way to answer this question without sounding like a cliche. Moving overseas means uprooting yourself from everything and everyone you know and then planting yourself in an experience where things as simple as buying shampoo or answering your apartment door become a challenge and an adventure. There has been so much change and personal growth that has come from this experience. I graduated college and truly continued my education. I am overwhelmed with the amount of things I’ve learned in my time here, things about this country specifically and otherwise. I think the greatest benefit has just been the doors this experience has opened, on a personal level, in what I’ve learned, and the opportunities to see and experience a world outside of the one I spent the fist quarter of my life living in.

You can check out more from Lauren on Twitter, @laurenkilberg, her blog, http://www.doubletakesblog.com, and her pictures at http://laurenkilberg.tumblr.com.

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