Solid advice from a trustworthy writer

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Solid advice from a trustworthy writer

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To my surprise, when I did a Google search for “living abroad in South Korea,” the book of the same name was only three items from the top. I expected it to be a lot lower, assuming that some of the better-known Web sites and message boards would be the first links I saw.

But there it was: “Helpful advice on Living Abroad in South Korea with Moon author Jonathan Hopfner.” Click on the link and the Q&A with the Seoul-based Reuters editor appears, followed by a plug to buy his book (you know the title by now).

The reason for my surprise was simple. While reading through the guide, I kept asking myself, “What is in here that I couldn’t easily find online?” Online information would have a wider variety of sourcing, be more up to date, and more directly link me to whatever I needed to go about my day-to-day life.

Don’t mistake the book for a travel guide. You can’t just pull it out to get a quick restaurant or hotel recommendation or consult a map. It’s designed for somebody who has not yet moved to Korea, or hasn’t even decided if they want to move here. When you read the chapter called “Planning Your Fact-Finding Trip,” it’s helping you dip your toes into the water. It’s like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”: Nothing will really prepare you for it, but it’s comforting to have some idea of what’s ahead.

That being said, the author seems to have solid Korean credentials, and for novices to the Land of the Morning Calm, the book is filled with useful information.

It follows a typical guidebook layout, starting with a 50-page crash course on history, politics and culture and what this means for how Koreans act and how they’ll treat you, the foreigner. It also gives you the lowdown on some of the intricacies of settling in here: what kinds of jobs are available and how you can find them; tips on getting your kids ready for school; what kind of housing is available, and notably, explanations of the sometimes-confusing jeonse and weolse rent and deposit systems.

Also distinguishing it from typical travel guides are more detailed accounts of what it will be like to do banking, get a cell phone or send a letter. But lots of these things aren’t all that different from Western countries.

The book somewhat broadly divides the country into geographical areas: Seoul, Gyeonggi, “The West,” “The East” and Jeju Island, with chapters for each giving you details about the regional differences. You’ll come away with the impression that there are three ways to live in Korea: as a Seoulite, as a smaller-city dweller, or as small-town folk. Still, if you haven’t set foot here, you get about as good a feel as you can for Korea’s regional variations.

Sometimes, the book seems to want to hold your hand a little too tightly. A section labeled “Arriving in South Korea” contains information about filling out your customs arrival card (no, there’s no trick to it) and the fact that “There are usually separate immigration queues for locals and foreigners” (“usually” begging the question, “But what if there aren’t?”). Did we really need to kill trees for this?

The advice about moving with children mentions that kids can correspond with Korean pen pals before your arrival, and that “there are multiple agencies and Web sites devoted to this purpose.” So why is this not revisited in the glossary, with other Web site listings?

A Net query will remedy this - but that’s what you start thinking about a lot of things you’ll read here. And it’s all on the Web.

I’m aware of the irony of writing that in a newspaper, so I’ll end by saying that you might buy this book because, in the end, you’ll trust that this author knows what he’s talking about. And for those of you properly skeptical of what you read on the Internet, who like holding print in your hands, it could be worth picking up.

“Moon’s Living Abroad in South Korea”
Author: Jonathan Hopfner
Genre: Travel


By Andrew Siddons [asiddons@gmail.com]
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