Mr. Wagner’s experiences living abroad in Korea

Mr. Wagners experiences living abroad in Korea

Kaylan Wallen , writer


What was it like in South Korea?

We interviewed Mr. Wagner, a new member of our English department here at Tuscarora. He remarked to his classes that he spent time living in South Korea and we found this interesting enough to corner him for an interview. In this article we will explore three main topics:  1)Was it hard to adjust to a new living situation?  2) Was it hard leaving the life you knew behind? 3) Was it hard to returning home after having spent a significant amount of time immersed in another culture?

Q: Was it hard to adjust to a new living situation?

At first yes, my wife and I lived in an apartment above the school. So our work place and home were virtually the same thing. So it was kind of weird. We were lucky enough to get two apartments and convert one in to a bed and bath and the other in to a kitchen and living area. The living areas were very small.

Q: What was the culture like?

There were a lot of similarities, and you see the western influence heavily in the younger generation both good and for bad. For Korea a they’re very isolated, they aren’t exactly in touch with everything going on worldwide. One obvious influence would be our fast food, and junk food which is becoming more common in places like Korea.

Q: Was it hard to fit in?

Some people were surprised by us and people would stare at us on the train, but then you also have the people who will talk to you. For example we were at the gym and a man came up to us and introduced himself to me, spoke no English but he invited my wife and I to his home. In Korean culture that’s a very respectful thing to do, and it’s almost an honor when someone does that. So we accepted, which is a little strange because we don’t know this man. So we went to his home and we brought a coworker with us to translate. Then we had dinner at this stranger’s house; it was a homemade meal and we had a pleasant conversation. You definitely get an interesting mix there but it’s the same here some are welcoming and some not so much. My wife and I were fortunate to have each other to lean on when we got homesick and we both embraced the experience of the culture completely which is what I think you kind of have to do in a situation like that.

Q: What was different there?

Everything! Seriously, it is very different. But, for my wife and I, one of the strangest differences was living in an entire city that was controlled by the Honda motor company, everywhere you went there was Honda this Honda that. Also being in a place where people spoke very little English, in Korea they’re taught to read it but very few can speak it. It’s interesting to be in a country where you can’t really use your native language so you’re forced to find other ways to communicate but it was all a part of the adventure. It was frustrating at times when you’re trying to get express yourself but you don’t have the words to do so. But it encouraged us to learn the language.

Q: Was it hard leaving the life you knew behind?

I think at first it wasn’t, it took a lot of planning. There was a lot of political stuff we had to go through like paperwork, FBI background check, so by the time we finished we just wanted to get there. After a couple of months around the holiday (august –December) we started feeling it a little bit, we started missing friends and family it was very challenging and frustrating. We were kind of sensitive, things about the culture that usually didn’t bother us started to. There were days when I was angry about scooters because the city was flooded with scooters and I just wanted to go back home and be away from the scooter and everything else. We missed family, friends, and our dog it was sad that we couldn’t bring our dog, but my dad took care of our dog.

Q: You said the people were welcoming, in what way do you mean, beyond inviting you into their home of course?

Well our coworkers for example they were our life line. We didn’t have a car, so if we had to do things that were further away they would drive us or we had to walk or take the bus. One coworker in particular, she took us to the bank and got our bank accounts set up, went to the gym and got our memberships there, went to the grocery store area, and gave us a tour of the city. She became a very good friend to us. A lot of our coworkers wanted to help and were fascinated by us. Most of them wanted to come to America and visit. We`d walk down the street and lots of people would say “hello”. But around the middle age group their very distant, and unfriendly they didn’t want to talk to us and we got the distinct impression that they found us annoying.

Q: Was it hard to learn the language?

Mr.Wagner: I studied Korean in college so for me it was a little easier but it’s still a really hard language to learn. Your speaking sentence structure for example, in Korea the verbs are always at the end of a sentence and there are different sentence structures for different age groups. The language is challenging, my wife who unlike me had no background in the language became a very good listener  and would hear and point out certain things that even I didn’t hear.

Q: I know you’re an English teacher at Tuscarora so you taught English over there right?

Yes, and I got a lot of questions that you don’t normally get in America like sentence structures with verbs and nouns. Just things we normally don’t think about. I also gained a new respect for the English language because from an outside perspective its hard to learn English.

Q: Was it hard to return to the “American” way once you got back?

A little bit yes, after we had been back for 6 weeks we realized that every single weekend we were going out and catching up with people. We didn’t realize how many people we would have to catch up with and how many peopel are such a big part of our lives. On our second day back we were at Walmart looking a some cereals we had been shopping for a little while and I said “we need to finish up soon.” because I was a little tired of al the choices in south Korea they have a very small selection. We were happy to be back but it felt a bit odd. It was nice to be able to drive again, I hadn`t driven in a year nor had I rode my motorcycle.

Q: Would you ever travel to another country to teach again?

We’ve actually talked about going to Europe but depends on future things here.