[Seoul Lounge] Home is where the heart is

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[Seoul Lounge] Home is where the heart is

Little did I know when I first arrived in Korea in 1997 that, almost 15 years later, I would still be here - with no plans to leave.

People often ask me why I’ve stayed so long. In many ways, my life in Canada was easier. Despite being a minority, I didn’t feel like an outsider nor did I have any communication problems. In Korea, I’m a foreigner, clearly an outsider and frequently subject to instances of systemic discrimination. Communication is also definitely an issue. So why do I stay?

The short answer is that I am never bored in Korea. Good or bad, there is always something happening here. Change is rapid and often drastic, but at the same time, there is a continuance in norms and traditions that is very impressive to someone from Canada’s young culture. Strange as it may seem to some, I feel at home in Korea and my reasons for staying are basically emotional rather than rational.

While my life in Canada may have been easier, I’m very much enjoying life in Korea. By coming to Korea, I set new challenges for myself, was forced to look at the world from a different perspective and ended up acquiring new skills I would never have predicted, not to mention a brand new career.

Had I stayed in Canada, it is unlikely that I would have ended up creating an information Web site that in less than five years has managed to attract almost 3,000 visitors a day. And that leads to another question I’m frequently asked: Why did I start Korea4Expats.com? The answer to this question is a lot easier than the earlier one, but the two are linked.

One of the challenges for foreign nationals, both before coming and while living here, is getting information about just about everything. I had tried to find information about life in Korea, about how it might differ from my home country and what I might expect. All that was available online was government information that was not only not written from a foreign point of view, but was often seriously out of date. While the number of relocation and orientation services available for expats has increased in the intervening years in terms of number, they have also risen in cost, thus making them accessible to only a limited number of new arrivals.

About three years after I arrived, I accepted a new position with a Korean bank that, for a brief time, reached out to the foreign communities - the precursor to the targeted banking services offered by a number of local banks today. Along with banking assistance, I found myself answering questions related to living and working in Korea and/or directing foreign residents and visitors to where they could get the information they needed.

Back in the late 1990s, it was also often difficult for non-Koreans to access entertainment information. We would often learn about a particular concert or event from a write-up in the English newspapers either on the day of the performance or, even more likely, the day after. Even if one tried to search on one’s own, staff in the art centers usually only spoke Korean, and the written or online information was in Korean only.

With the help of some friends, I started sending out announcements (in English) about upcoming events and activities that I thought would be of interest to members of the foreign community. The first mailings went to about 35 people once a month or so. Over time, more information has become available online in English (as well as Chinese and Japanese), although generally very close to the event date even when targeting inbound tourists. Today, Anne’s Events e-newsletter reaches more than 8,000 people. Many of those same people would also write to me with questions about living and working in Korea.

By living in Korea with its excellent and advanced IT culture, it eventually became obvious that I could create a Web site to address the needs of the foreign community and answer questions at the same time. Fortunately, I was able to find a local company (Asiance) that understood what I was trying to do and was willing to take on the challenge.

The result was Korea4Expats.com - a site that, with its over 1,000 pages of information, is rapidly becoming the go-to place for foreign nationals from over 200 countries. The site provides information to foreigners who want to know more about living and working in Korea, and visitors who want to know what they can do during their stay here.

Due to its high visibility on search engines such as Google, people access Korea4Expats.com even before they arrive.

I doubt that I would have become so involved in technology or have found a project quite so challenging and satisfying had I remained in Canada or returned after my one-year adventure as planned.

I arrived in Korea in the year of the ox, my birth year animal, and was still here 12 years on for the next one. I’m hoping to still be involved with Korea when one more year of the ox rolls around.

* The author is the CEO of K4E (Korea4Expats) Consulting and the creator of www.korea4expats.com.

by Anne Ladouceur

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