Sunday, November 1, 2009

First Post!

I've finally submitted to the pressure and started blogging! If you are reading this, thank you and I hope you will enjoy my posts.

The purpose of this blog will be to detail my thoughts and impressions as I adjust to my new life here in Seoul. First, I should explain what I am doing here.

As you may know, I am an American and a long-time student of East Asian language. After studying Japanese for about 6 years, I moved to Sendai in 2003. Since then, I have worked in Japan by turns as a software engineer, graduate student, translator, interpreter, and part-time lecturer.

Meanwhile, I have been interested in Korean peninsula issues since high school, when I was assigned a certain fateful research paper (more on this later, maybe). Also, I have been studying Korean on-again, off-again since 2002.

At some point in the last 2 years, I decided that Japanese life was getting to be too easy; I was understanding too much of what people said to me, which is no fun at all. So last September I quit my job, sold off all my furniture, cancelled all my subscriptions, packed my bags, loaded my kitty into her crate, and flew off to Seoul.

This being my second international move, one would imagine that the process would be relatively painless and familiar, wouldn't one? However, I decided to do things differently this time. Instead of attempting to find a job, sponsor, etc. before moving, I decided it would be easier to start out as a student, study Korean language intensely for a period, and then worry about finding a job. This way, I reasoned, my school could help me with settling-in issues, and I could do my job search in person, which is highly recommended in East Asia, where personal connections are the only way to get in the door.

Things haven't been easy so far, but then I didn't really expect them to be. First of all, my school hasn't really been able to help me as much as I thought with basic issues (I've basically been on my own as far as banking, visa issues, insurance, househunting, etc.) Not yet speaking Korean at a comfortable level, each of these simple tasks has at times driven me to scream into my pillow. Second, though I've saved enough to be okay for at least a year, it's awkward being an unemployed student again after all this time. My classmates are mostly younger, some of them much younger, and I can't help occasionally wondering what I am doing with my life. Also, the world is not really set up for a 30-something student living abroad without any anchorage in a home country. It seems every form I fill out asks for my "address in Korea" and then my "home address."

I sometimes feel like a Japanese spy in a Westerner's body. When people ask where I'm from, I'm still tempted to say Kyoto; if I'm not constantly vigilant, I still tend to answer people in Japanese. Physically, however, I'm large, blue-eyed, brown-haired, big-nosed, and about as white as can be. When Korean people learn that I've lived in Japan, they are usually anxious to inform me about all that the Japanese have done to their country, as if concerned that I did not know this. People say things to me about Japan that they would never say to my Japanese classmates at the language institute. It gives me a unique perspective on how Koreans really feel about their neighbor after all these years of history.

So part of this blog will be a comparison of expat life in Japan with that in Korea; part of it will be an examination of Korean-Japanese relations and the similarities and differences between the two cultures. Part of it will probably be me griping about the latest bureaucratic hassle or awkward communication problem I've had to deal with. I'm not really limiting the topics at this point and we'll see what I come up with.

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