Some friendly Web sites for expatsAre you new to Korea? Looking for information on taxes, visas, furniture stores, places to visit, restaurants to check out? Not fluent in Korean and completely, or even mildly, lost?
There are several expatriate-friendly Web sites that serve as a guide to Korea. Some of these sites focus on Seoul, but there are a few for expatriates in smaller cities. Some take a grass roots approach, eliciting blogs and responses from just about anyone.
One is run by an individual, choosing an entertaining approach with pictures of people. Some combine an online and offline presence, offering volunteering or fund-raising opportunities.
“A lot of people come to Korea not just to work and make money, but to try to experience the country and culture,” says Lee So-young of WorkNPlay, one such site. If that sounds like you, read on.
For the average expatriate, there can be more to life in Korea than making money, say the people behind www.worknplay.com. Lee So-young, the marketing manager, came on board to help propel the site with its vision of “creating a good impression of Korea and sharing information with foreigners so that when they leave, they feel good about Korea.”
Ms. Lee calls the site “the first gateway to Korea.” It has had hits from overseas, especially on its forum section and job listings. Under forums there is information on visas, taxes, legal issues, accommodations, and living in Korea. There are also sections on buying and selling items, leisure and entertainment, relationships, travel and transportation. The homepage includes a section on “hot” jobs, but for a more in-depth listing, click on the jobs banner, which is divided into jobs offered and jobs wanted.
Blogs, however, are the heart of the site. “People have a tendency to be receptive to blogs because they seem like true opinions,” Ms. Lee says. This section has also come in handy when the Korean government has blocked overseas sites. There are tales by a “chatting addict,” a farewell by the owner of Heaven bar in Itaewon, dating stories and party information.
As the name of the site suggests, there’s a section on entertainment. General nightlife listings are divided by location, such as Hongdae, Itaewon, Sinchon, Gangnam and Apgujeong, and again by bar, club or live music. This section also offers a map of the neighborhoods. Under restaurants, dining spots can be found by neighborhood and cuisine. There’s also a leisure and sports section.
The company also makes sure to have an offline presence, by setting up opportunities for expatriates to do volunteer work. “There are a lot of warm-hearted people out there who are thankful to Korea for some of the experiences they’ve had, be it making money or making new friends, and want to give back,” Ms. Lee says.
The site has joined with the WeStart Movement, a program in which the JoongAng Ilbo, this newspaper’s parent, is a partner, to aid poor children, and with Severance Hospital’s social welfare program. WorkNPlay has also hosted fund-raisers for local orphanages. More such events are planned.
“In a way, I’m helping others with my job by making this type of information available to expatriates, but I often end up feeling good about myself,” Ms. Lee says.
The site is currently undergoing a redesign, and will relaunch in March or April.
About three years ago, the East Marketing Group decided to launch an interactive site to bridge the cultural gap between East and West. The site was to be a service for the professional expatriate community, with daily community information on business, social events and leisure activities.
Casual perusal of the site is possible for anyone, but in-depth information is only accessible to registered users. Registration is free. Based on the information that Townmax has been able to track, the company estimates that users hail from 50 different countries, with a consistent turnover of new and departing members.
The site is able to draw an international audience by taking a subdued international approach. It offers a world clock and a link to the Korean stock market. Toward the bottom of the homepage is an Interview section, which features high- profile expatriates. The current interview is with Mary Louise Heseltine, wife of the Australian ambassador and the mayor of the Seoul English Village.
Two major sections for Townmax are Useful Resources and Community. The Useful Resources section has links to lists of embassies, chambers of commerce, cultural centers, banks, airlines, hotels, medical services, and clubs. The embassy list is nine pages long, with addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and, where applicable, links to e-mail addresses. There also are English-language maps of the subway system.
Under Community are announcements, a calendar of events and “Talk Here.” The events calendar is pretty extensive, with listings under conventions and exhibitions, business, art and culture, sightseeing and parties. Talk Here serves as a user board, with listings under dining, culture and entertainment. The Free Talk board in this section is open to just about any subject, from cooking to religion.
But there are other sections, including Entertainment, Hotel Bookings, Classifieds and About Korea. The Entertainment section offers restaurant reviews by location and cuisine, and brief wine reviews. Bars are also classified by type and location.
The Hotel Booking list includes everything from upscale hotels to less expensive ones and serviced apartments, throughout the country. Accommodations can be found based on class and price.
The Classifieds section includes a flea market, jobs, housing and personals. The flea market has offerings ranging from piano-tuning services to digital cameras, used cars and washing machines.
If an individual can drive a Web site, this one demonstrates that clearly. Liza Lebeda came to Korea four years ago and found a lack of access to information for those who don’t speak Korean. She missed fun TV programs like “Wild On” or “Entertainment Tonight,” and tossed around the idea of a TV program focusing on lifestyles in Korea.
“Arirang programming is not that exciting and I wanted something more fun, less serious, and visually stimulating,” Ms. Lebeda says. But when she thought about the logistics of starting such a program and the connections it would require, Ms. Lebeda says, “I figured it would be difficult.”
In the meantime, she had a Cyworld blog about her life in Korea that kept growing and growing. Cyworld is a popular Korean site akin to Friendster or Xanga, where people can create their own sites and link to others. Ms. Lebeda began handing out namecards at parties, and found people logging on more often than she expected. “It seemed like there was a demand there,” she says.
She moved her Cyworld blog to an independent site named Seoulstyle, which she runs on her own, from designing the general layout to taking the photos of people that are scattered throughout the site and writing the content. “The Internet is a fantastic medium,” she says. “Anyone can publish their own magazine and it’s accessible all around the world to those who have an Internet connection.”
She differentiates her site from the others, saying, “I try to be entertaining and visually stimulating as opposed to just purely informative.” The fun section includes people photos from parties, bars and other events she attends.
She now updates major content twice a month, with weekly updates on upcoming events and her personal blog. She also offers a section for housewives, with comments on different supermarkets, suggestions for where to shop for housing and home decorations and a list of foreign schools, women’s support groups and hospitals.
She also has sections on food, fashion and fitness, in which she discusses and suggests different places or styles.
She has recently been meeting with a Web designer and plans to launch a new site, which she hopes to open sometime in February. Along with the new look, she’s planning to have an offline presence by hosting a series of parties around Seoul. She already has a mailing list, and interest, she says, is high.
For expatriates outside of Seoul, there’s a Web ring called Korea Bridge of sites for Daejeon, Busan and Daegu. About eight years ago, Jeff Lebow started the first one, Pusan Web, as a community-focused site. Dave Beattie knew him and had visited the Web site before. When Mr. Beattie moved to Daejeon, he decided to get a Daejeon site going.
“One of the best ways to get to know a new city is to start a project,” Mr. Beattie says. Daejeon is now strongly imprinted on his mind, from the grassroots perspective.
“You’ll find out more about the band playing down the street than the symphony orchestra. It ends up being more localized, more grassroots,” he says.
“When Pusan Web started in 1996, Jeff started putting up bus maps. Back in 1996, you just couldn’t get anywhere around Korea if you didn’t speak Korean,” Mr. Beattie says. “Maps were not specific, and if you didn’t know where the old galbi restaurant is ― you know, the one that serves delicious kimchi, the one next to the noodle shop that no longer exists, where you have to take a right turn ― it was hard to get around.”
A surprising result has been the community that’s developed around this site, and the others in the Web ring. “People had a place to tell other people what was going on. Little groups and communities started growing around that,” Mr. Beattie says. The site is an opportunity for volunteers to have a chance to “practice their skills, whether it be writing or designing or getting advertising.” The site also hosts an annual photo contest.
In order to create publicity, he and a crew went to bars and shot videos of people they met. Many of these people would log on to check out their pictures from the various events.
The site has gone through four redesigns. Most of the staff members are teachers, while a couple are students. “None of us are actually experts. We started by throwing something up, sometimes thinking, ‘Jeez that looks really ugly.’ It was trial and error, and now we’re developing Web sites for educational courses. It’s finally gotten to the point where we can design to international standards,” Mr. Beattie says.
The site now offers a calendar of events, classified ads, features, forums, guides and photos. Under guides is a section on transportation, medical guides and shopping. You can link to sites for Busan, Daegu and one for Seoul through the Daejeon homepage.
by Joe Yonghee
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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