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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Beyond Surviving South Korea: Top 5 Tips for an Awesome Life

How to Thrive in Korea

I’ve been living in Korea for almost 10 years and I’ve met plenty of people who were thriving, but I’ve also seen people who were just surviving, and just barely in some cases. Some of these people who were only surviving had been living here for years. Don’t let it happen to you! Create a happy life for yourself in your adopted home. Here are my top 5 tips to help you have an awesome life in South Korea.

Build a Large Network ASAP

In any country in the world, it’s all about who you know. In Korea, it’s even more important because people are always coming and going and you’re constantly having to make new friends. Having a large network can be extremely beneficial for the following reasons:

-to get information that you need (Which doctor speaks English in Ulsan?)

-help, when you don’t have your family close by (car accident, job loss, etc.)

-job opportunities (many university jobs are filled this way)

-fun! A bigger network means more social opportunities

My top tip for building a large network is to accept as many non-sketchy invitations as possible when you move to a new place, even for activities that wouldn’t normally be your thing. Be friendly, go with the flow and you’ll meet plenty of people in no time.

Find the Group for You

In most bigger cities in Korea, including Ulsan there are many groups that you can join. Get involved and meet some people doing something that you enjoy. If there isn’t a group for whatever you love-make one! I lived in Cheonan for many years and I discovered that there were very few groups that didn’t revolve around drinking. So I started “Eating out in Cheonan” where we’d go to a restaurant every couple of weeks for a meal and conversation. I met almost all my best friends in Cheonan through this group and many people mentioned it as one of the most positive things about their time in Korea.

Work Towards a Goal

Koreans generally have pretty low expectations for their foreign English teachers—usually it doesn’t involve a whole lot more than showing up on time each day and looking like a teacher. So if you put a lot of stock into teaching giving you some sort of meaning in your life, well, you’re probably going to feel pretty disappointed. While you can make a difference in your student’s lives and you should do your best to help them learn English, it seems like the happiest people here have something going on in their lives besides work. It can be almost anything—a hobby, writing a book, further education, building a side business, volunteering, or a social club. The key is to have a goal that you’re working towards that doesn’t involve teaching English and that can take up a lot of your mental energy.

Practice Thankfulness

When you’re in a new place that is very different from what you’re used to, it can be easy to slip into negative thinking, which won’t make your life in Korea as awesome as it could be. In order to maintain positive thinking, I find it really helpful to consciously practice thankfulness. This can be a more formal thing such as writing down three things that you’re thankful for each day in your journal before you go to bed. Or perhaps, it could be something as simple as thinking about one thing in your head at a certain point in the day. Some things that I’m particularly thankful for about living in Korea are:

It’s a safe place to live. I make enough money to live comfortably. Koreans are generally kind. Recreation opportunities abound. I can help people in my job. I have a nice group of friends. My cats actually seem like they like me! Living in a nice apartment. Seeing beautiful sunsets from my balcony. Family and friends back home. Quiet mornings.

Chill Out!

This tip is most applicable to work situations, but it can also extend to other areas of your life. For example, if you get involved in a club run mostly by Koreans. Everything here happens last minute—I call this the “bbali-bbali” syndrome (bbali = “fast” in Korean) and what it means is that you need to be flexible and roll with the punches.

Here are some examples of things that have happened to me in my various workplaces:
– getting a new class to teach less than five minutes before it was set to start
– being told about a school dinner as people were walking out the door
– finding out about some urgent paperwork that needed to be submitted less than 24 hours before the deadline

If you’re the type of person who needs to plan everything far in advance and can’t handle last minute changes, then you’ll have a really tough time in Korea. I struggled at first until I learned to adapt. What I find really helpful is to repeat this mantra in my head when the bbali-bbali things happen, “Serenity now!” In the end, the Koreans around you will always pull through with what needs to get done, even if they go about it in a different manner than you would.

Just chill out! You’ll have a much happier life in Korea.

Jackie works at a private university and when she’s not in the classroom, you can most often find her chilling out by hiking, biking or surfing. She’s written a few books for English teachers and expats in Korea, including How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips for Expats. You can find all her projects at

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