YouTubing and Assimilating into Korean Culture
American expat and Youtuber, April Tandy shares with us her story of living in Songdo, Korea. You may be surprised to learn about workplace culture, safety, and typical spa experiences!
Hi April! How are you doing? Thanks for meeting with me today.
Hi Michelle! I’m tired from a busy week, but I’m excited to chat!
Aw, I hear ya! We can start with the questions now. First one: Where in the US are you originally from?
I was born and raised in a small town in Texas. But as soon as I was 18, I moved to Oregon and spent about 10 years there, then California and Alaska. The west coast is more home than Texas.
Cool. And what brought you to Songdo, Korea?
My husband and I were just kind of tired of living the 9-5 life in the states. My husband was managing a tourism company in California and was offered a very good position within the company. But we knew that if we stayed it would be require 3-5 years of commitment. We knew we didn’t want to do that, but we didn’t know what else to do. We both had a mountain of student loans that we needed to pay and we felt like America was just so expensive.
I had brought up the idea of moving overseas to teach English and one thing after another…. here we are. Korea was really the best financial option at the time. They paid the best at the time and my brother had lived here teaching English previously as well.
After a year of living in Incheon, Korea we fell in love with Songdo and this has been our home ever since!
Wonderful! So what were some of the major cultural differences or culture shocks you encountered as an American abroad?
Let me see… I think the harshest cultural differences for me came in the work place.
Korean culture is very different from American culture. (And this still remains my most challenging cultural difference). In Korean culture it is not normal to stand up for yourself or speak out against your boss.
So if an employee is being taken advantage of, MOST OFTEN no one speaks out against it. For Americans, we tend to speak up against these things. It’s just in our nature.
When you do speak up in Korea, issues are usually scapegoated or the employee is usually guilted into going along with it. This is the most challenging issue that we constantly face living and working here.
And the idea of personal space is quite shocking. I think as an American I never realized how fortunate I was to grow up with space everywhere. Here, we all live on top of each other and share our personal space with each other. I’ve had completely strangers wack me on the ass (a woman who owned a restaurant I went to, but still) and I constantly have students that practically stand on top of me. We lack elbow room here.
On a lighter note, Korea is a very late culture. And by that I mean they start the days late and end them late. For early risers in America it’s a constant struggle to find a coffee shop open early in the morning.
So does that mean there are not many breakfast places open too?
Oh my gosh, breakfast… To get breakfast we have three options: Burger King, McDonalds and Starbucks.
Korean breakfast usually consists of rice and kimchi, so if that isn’t your style it’s pretty hard to find anything else.
What have been some of the benefits/cool things about Korea you like?
Luckily the pros far outweigh the cons! As a woman, what I LOVE the most about living here is my safety.
I’ve never felt anywhere else in the world as I do here. Of course you should always be aware of your surroundings, and if you’re in the middle of Seoul on a party night, things always happen. But if you’re just living your life, you don’t have to worry about getting mugged, or worse.
And as an American, you don’t have to think about gun violence.
I would walk home under the subway bridge at night, which in most countries is already shady, with a back full of groceries and my purse beside me. It would be 10pm at night and pitch black and never did I feel uneasy or see any weirdos.
Even kids roam the streets at midnight alone.
Fascinating…. and how is the food in Songdo, Korea?
I love the food here, and eat as much as I can!
For anyone with dietary restrictions, living here can be quite challenging. For the most part, I love everything and wake up dreaming of kimchi. It is so good and so cheap!
Oh I love Kimchi!
What do you like most about living abroad?
You know, I haven’t thought about that, but I can say that my husband and I think that we never will return to the states! There are so many elements of it that I love. I love that it’s not as expensive as living in America, I love extremely cheap healthcare, I love that feeling of being alone in a foreign land (which also comes back to bite you in the ass sometimes), I love that the more I live abroad the more I can move away from the ideas and beliefs I was born into in America and that my husband and I can redefine how we live and what we believe.
What would you say are the top things to do specifically in your city of Songdo? Can be restaurants, activities, sights to see, etc.
Songdo is a unique city in Korea because of it’s green spaces. We have 4 large parks within this area and bike trails that connect the whole area. So, definitely biking and/or walking through the parks.
The most popular park is Central Park, but our favorites are Haedoji and Michuhol Park.
The Jimjilbang is another favorite. We have one here called Blue Ocean. It’s a korean sauna and it’s pretty much the best thing in the world. Plan to spend an entire day there. Get scrubbed down by a naked lady, sit in the steam room, eat, drink, get a massage, relax with a sheet mask. All for $7.
Then for a classier experience, I love the bar at the top of NEAT Tower. It’s called Panorama 65. It offers views of Incheon and the Yellow Sea. It comes with a price tag, but it’s pretty spectacular. We’re also the closest neighborhood to the airport (between Seoul and Incheon), so it’s a great spot to stop in!
Very cool! My last question is… what piece of advice would you like to give to expats?
If you’re an expat, you have a clean slate. Don’t be afraid to leave what you don’t like about your old life behind. You have a chance to restructure your life in a way most never will. Dream big and create a life for yourself that YOU want. Once you move overseas you meet other expats who are living lives you never thought possible, you realize you can do the impossible too. So go for it!
Awesome! I see you also have a YouTube channel, could you share a little more about that?
Sure! When we first moved overseas there were very few resources available for learning about what life is like for expats in Korea. And the ones that were available set some unrealistic expectations of what our life would be like. I wanted to have a space online where I could share those experiences with other people. But not like the typical travel vlog, highlight reel. I try to keep the videos as simple and honest as possible. I want people to watch it and feel like they have a better understanding of what real life is like, even if they’re hearing some truths that may not be super glamourous.
Wow, awesome! I will certaintly take a look at your vids!
Thanks again for meeting with me today, and sharing about your expat experience with MyExpatCommunity!
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About the Interviewer
Michelle Hrvat is the director of MyExpatCommunity’s Expat Interviews, and a fellow expat herself. Originally from the US, she has been living and blogging about Vienna, Austria since 2014. In her free time, she likes to do yoga, bake, and get involved in her local community.