Monday, December 14, 2009

Expatriate bloggers in Korea.

No, I'm not talking about people who were once proud defenders of their country but have since disregarded their loyalty (ex-patriots) nor am I talking about former professional athletes for a certain Eastern division NFL team (ex-Pats). No, I'm talking about people who are currently living in a foreign country while still holding allegiance and identity to their home country (expats).

There's a large foreign population in Korea. There are approximately one million foreigners living in Korea (an estimated 2% of the total population). Most English speaking foreigners work as English teachers at various levels and positions in and around the Korean education system. Some love it, some don't. See below.
Not all foreigners are English teachers, however. In fact, most are migrant workers filling positions that no one wants and getting paid dangerously low wages. In terms of percentages, an estimated 44% of all foreigners residing in Korea are Chinese. Americans trail behind at 12%, but of course, that's not counting other English-speaking countries. Still, I wonder how many Chinese-language blogs are out there about Korea? In any case, for only being less than three twentieths of the foreign population, we sure do like to blog a lot, don't we?

UPDATE: Here are some recent (Oct) numbers of E-2 visa holders - courtesy of the Marmot's Hole:
15,238 Americans
10,111 Canadians
3,021 Britons
1,412 South Africans
1,162 New Zealanders
1,158 Australians
1,051 Chinese
978 Japanese
626 Irish
56 French

Yet many of the English language blogs written primarily by English teachers are so negative that it almost paints a dangerously inaccurate picture of the country. Korea can be like a Cohen brothers movie: not everything is what it seems - there is a lot under the surface for those who are so inclined to notice. Come on, you didn't really think The Big Lebowski was all about that rug, did you? You know, the one that really tied the room together?

It's a hot topic for sure (life in Korea - not the rug). There's plenty to say on the subject, but a lot of it is coming from people who are either not happy or who are grossly misinterpreting things. But let me backtrack a little.

I'm an outsider for sure. I presently don't live in Korea so I don't know first-hand the daily life. Bringing up the fact that I've visited the country twice doesn't give me a grain of salt's bit of creditability, so it's not appropriate for me to criticize those who actually do live the life. Perhaps if I move there one day I'll have some street cred but for the time being, I'm green.

But let's be fair on the subject - there are plenty of good, hard-working foreigners who absolutely love their life in Korea. However, many of these silent majority don't blog and thus we have no online proof of their happiness. Maybe no news is good news?

However, I will say that there are reoccurring subjects frequently covered by less-than-happy bloggers. They include, but certainly aren't limited to:
  • Sexism
  • Staring
  • Social inequality
  • Incompetency
  • Shady bosses
  • Excessive corporal punishment
This just a slice of the spoiled pie that so many foreigners seem to be eating from. Yet, they keep coming back for seconds. If things are so bad, why do foreigners stay in Korea? Are things that bad in their home country?

In a way, yes. Korea has a low cost of living when compared to the States. The common job (English teacher) requires less formal education than in the States and pays just as well, comparatively. It's seriously not that bad of a gig all things considered. Well, other than being completely removed from your friends, family, and life as you have come to realize it. Yeah, not bad at all.

But in another way, sometimes it's just a difference of culture. I'm not saying one is better than the other but it is fair to point out that swimming in the ocean doesn't make you a fish. Just because an expat observes something over an over does not make that person well-versed in that culture. This criticism works both ways. I've read viewpoints on American life that, in my opinion, are so far off from what is authentic that it almost is laughable, if not offensive. Of course, such criticism usually has a root cause or event that sparked such an emotion (baggage anyone?).

But still, sometimes the people who move to other counties aren't exactly a proper representation of their home country. Again, this goes both ways: not all Korean people own their business and are great at math and not all Americans drink too much and are young, white men. In fact, I would go as far to say that some American expats were misfits in their own country to start with. Yet, some are just the adventurous type that's what lead them to Korea. Some are just trying to hack away at their student debt. Some are in the midst of a career change. Some are looking to find themselves. Some are motivated by other reasons to relocate such as religious convictions, discovering their own culture and ethnic background, and/or because of their spouse's work.

Either way - if you live in Korea and you are not Korean - you are not alone. Take comfort knowing that there's countless of online resources for you. Some big names:
  • Korea Beat (Korean news articles translated into English)
  • The Marmot's Hole (10+ year veteran's delightfully entertaining views on Korean pop culture, responses to breaking news, and otherwise tabloid-related topics)
  • The Hub of Sparkle (a growing meta-blog about all things Korean with several big-name contributors)
  • Bomb English (one of several online projects run by blogging veteran Michael Hurt)
  • The Midnight Runner (nicely produced podcast dealing with popular social issues, headline news, and life in Korea)
  • Galbijim (general interest hub specializing in the 대구 area - forum, wiki, and blog all rolled into one)
  • Korea for Expats (for the young at heart but done with the bar scene - informative and helpful FAQ section)
  • Dave's ESL Cafe: Korean Job Forums (Humongous online forum. warning: be on troll alert)
Don't let the big dogs get you bogged down. There are plenty of other fun-to-read blogs on just about any subject you can think of:
With all these resources (and countless others) it's beginning to look like we need something to organize all this internet goodness. Enter: the RSS feed reader. If you are still living in web 1.0 and haven't discovered the beauty that is RSS, you are up a creek. Get on board already. I love my RSS feeder. Feedreader has replaced sliced bread for me.

The funny thing about expat bloggers is that they are connected to people that have never met them. Their experiences are sometimes vicariously felt through simple words on a screen. I won't lie - I actively follow a few. I've read about them moving jobs, changing apartments, trying new foods, going on vacation, etc. I know that I'm not alone. I mean, some are considered to be rockstars in their own right in terms of creditability, reader base, and name recognition. But when it's all said and done, these are normal people ranting and raving about their daily life. Take it for what it is. Some good people blog and some don't. Some jerkoholics blog and some don't.

What I feel bad is when I read about people who are blatantly rude or disrespectful to others - be it Korean or otherwise. It makes me cringe and forces me to seriously consider tattooing "외국인이어서 죄송합니다" on my forehead.

Now I'm not much of a poet but I prepared a little poem for such an occasion. Sorry it doesn't rhyme. This one is dedicated to the law-abiding expats in Korea.

You are not all scumbags. You are not all drug dealers. You are not all unsafe to be left alone with small children. You are not all carrying forged diplomas. You are not all alcoholics. You are not all breaking every ethical code imaginable. You are not all bad. But some of you are and it makes me sad. So stop it already would you? Stop giving the mass media something to write about. I'm tired of getting the evil eye.