4 Expectations to Let Go When Moving to South Korea

Making any international trip requires one to make some adjustments. These adjustments become even more crucial when you actually live in the country for any length of time. When moving to Korea I read every blog  and watched every vlog, but no matter how much you read, it's difficult to know what exactly you're getting yourself into. Expectations lay at the heart of disappointment - so this post is really geared towards anyone who is thinking of moving to South Kroea in the near future.

If you would like to avoid extreme frustration and hopefully lead a happier life while living here, there are certain expectations you really just need to let go - this includes, your expectation for...

1. Personal Space - Korea is a small country with a lot of people! Buildings go up, not out, and everything is probably more crowded than you are used to, especially if (like me) you are hailing from suburbia. The crowd factor is dependent on where you live, but unless you are in the straight-up countryside, you need to let go of the idea that you will have your one foot radius at all times. Buses... elevators... the grocery store... All crowded! (Especially during rush hour.) So suck it up and suck it in because you will be sharing your personal space.

The bus during rush hour.. Kind of kidding, kind of not.

The bus during rush hour.. Kind of kidding, kind of not.

2. Personal Space... Part 2 - As effect of the aforementioned crowding, Koreans are not nearly as weird about their own personal space as people in America, and therefore engage in a lot more physical contact with one and other. Holding hands with members of the same gender is very commonplace, bumping into someone and not apologizing is not rude, and standing surprisingly close to someone when you are speaking is to be expected. Koreans tend to have much more limited expectation for personal space, so that is just something you'll have to get used to.

This diagram really doesn't exist for most Korean I have met.

This diagram really doesn't exist for most Korean I have met.

3.Clearly Expressed Expectations - Western style communication is very different from how Koreans tend to express themselves. In America, when you start a job you are usually given a very straightforward set of expectations: this is what you'll do, this is how you'll do it, this is what will happen if you fail. In Korea, expectations are given more as light suggestions... if they are given at all.  This can be kind of disconcerting especially for a recent college grad - I'm all: Where is the freaking rubric?? I can't perform without it!!! However, this is something you have to let go. Break free of the rubric and embrace the ambiguity! Just ask a lot of questions and do your best.

4. Concrete Schedules - As I can't speak for life in universities or in the Korean business world, for me this one applies mostly to school. My class schedule changes with relative frequency and very little warning. Things happening at the last minute is just a facet of EPIK school life you'll have to get used to. Classes will get cancelled, added, or switched around on a pretty regular basis. Now, it's not the Wild West - there is relative consistency - but most weeks I will have at least one class cancellation. This bothers some people, but I'm not really sure why. You're still getting paid and it's one less hour a day that you have to wrangle unruly Korean school children.

To be clear, I am not saying that any of this is bad. Nor am I saying that every single Korean person acts in the exact same way. These are simply trends I've noticed in my own life and from the anecdotes and experiences of my friends. Though some of the differences can take some getting used to when you first arrive in Korea, managing your expectations and letting go of a few choice ones will make your experience here easier and much more pleasant. 

Enjoy the beautiful view!



Photo Credits: Minions | Personal Space | Expectations | Class