Friday, January 22, 2010

Expat Community Survey

Shannon from the Seoul Global Center sent out an email to several bloggers about forming an expat community here in Korea. The email came in last week and I finally got back to her today, which I hope isn't too late. Her questions are really important, I feel, because many of us have considered the status of the expat community here in Korea. This issue creates a range of opinions, but generally should be scrutinized carefully. I for one am all about pushing the expat community to become more of a real physical entity than just the satellite groups that thrive here and there.

And so here for you are the answers I gave to her survey. I would encourage you to think about your own responses and if possible post them here as a reply or on your blog.

1. How long have you been here and how long have you been blogging? I have been here since May 2008. I have been bloggin since March 2008.

2. Current state of the K-blogosphere: The Korean blogosphere is varied with different types of people writing on different subjects about living in Korea. Certainly you can find anything that will cater to what you are looking for. I think for a long time mostly people wrote about how much they hated living here and complained a lot. But lately a lot more thoughtful and considerate writing has taken shape. Also many bloggers have met each other and so formed sort of like alliances with one another. This building up of friendship bounces off onto the blogs and people can see that we are able to get along with each other. I think though that the current state is not entirely connected. PErhaps it is impossible for everyone to know every K blogger but I feel that people mostly tend to read a few blogs they like and leave it at that. In addition, though the current state is also evolving to a community like setting.

Current state of the expat community:
I think it is better off than it has been for a long time. Mostly people didn't really know about each other. But thanks to Facebook and other websites getting together and connecting as a community is possible. However I would say that the status of expats as a unified "community" is still in an infantile stage. There are different degrees to which expats create their lives here. Some have been here a long time, some just got off the airplane and some don't really bother with getting to know others outside their workplace. Also the expat community, in my experience, does not truly live up to what is thought of as a true community setting. Nationals who are non-native in my home country, for example, tend to have a very close-nit community. Examples of China-town, Japan-town or any part of a city where non-natives of that country thrive show what a "real" community should be like. They help each other with legal and adapting issues. As for the expat community here in Korea it feels there is no one center or place where I feel I can connect with my peers and receive help. Perhaps, the Seoul Global Center is one place that would be an example of this. But I  believe it was not set up by expats for expats. If I am wrong...well sorry. As you know not every expat lives in Seoul, which includes myself.

There is no place I can go to in my city to get help with my needs or to meet other expats and grow the community. If there were a center where I could meet other expats and share with them my knowledge of living in Korea than to me that would mean that the expat community is well established. In my opinion we are all here but don't know how to connect as one....i.e. a community.

Perhaps this is Facebook's role, since most of us are on it. On there are many groups and a marketplace. If someone needs a toaster oven it can be attainable. Same thing for blogging. If I want to find out what dentist is good to go to in my area I can ask friends on facebook or google it. But this is a virtual community and doesn't put people face to face with one another. It also doesn't help with showing our presence as a "community" amongst the Korean people.

Again if there were a true community of expats established than I would know where to go in my area to meet other expats, receive information or help and volunteer if needed. Therefore the state of the expat community is still developing and should really head towards such goals.

3.  Why did you become interested in organizing the K-bloggers into a community? What responsibility do you believe K-bloggers have to the expat community? First this was not my idea and instead was the brain child of Roboseyo and his minions. So I merely just jumped on the bandwagon. I think kbloggers have a desire to share their experiences and knowledge of living in Korea and so want that to manifest into daily life. Also I think there came a need to go beyond just the sporadic linkage of bloggers and make the connections become real-life. To take people off the virtual community and into reality was why we wanted to make a community.

Kbloggers responsibilites to the expat community are such that we need to be accountable for our beliefs and interpretations of our experiences. By making ourselves available in real person people can meet and greet us and see who we are behind our writing. It is important for us to show that we care about the community and not just our own personal fame.

4.  What outcome or effect do you hope the mobilization of a K-blogger community will have on the expat community as a whole?
The outcome I hope for is that people who blog or don't blog will be able to know of a place to meet in real life to get to know one another and create a true community. I think that the effect will be that new people coming to Korea for whatever reason will know that they are coming to a place where there is already a set up network for their needs. As a whole I feel the effect will make the expat community more fluid and able bodied to work with one another. I also feel it will help put more realism and warm-heartedness back into the community that has been plagued by the chat forums on Dave's ESL cafe. As of now that site seems to be the only place where expats deal out their issues. Therefore if the kbloggers create more of a community than others will see that they can share their ideas in an open-minded place.

5.  What responsibility do you think people in the expat community have to each other and/or to Korean society?
Our responsibility, I feel, is to help one another and not berate each other. It is the responsibility of those who have lived here over a year to help the newcomers and make sure they understand what is happening to them when they experience troubles. Also it is our responsibility to create an expat environment that shows to the Korean public that we are responsible and adult individuals. For example, I am sure it is okay to go out on a night drinking with your pals and walk home stumbling all over the place. But the ahjumma who sees you pass by will perhaps only get this impression of foreigners. I am not saying quit drinking or clean up your act. I am saying that perhaps the expat's role as a community is to also show us doing things besides drinking or appearing drunk. In other words our responsibility should be to represent ourselves as wholesome and good people.

As for towards each other I think we need to create more of a neighborhood feeling. We need to go beyond the comfortable boundaries of our work buddies and get to know other expats in our area. This is because we are all in the same boat, of having to deal with living here and so should create comfort as neighbors. I think it is time to make a way for us to connect locally. Finally we should try to give back to the Korean people and our neighborhoods. To do so we should find ways to volunteer for local functions or tutor children who are too poor to go to private schools. In this sense it will show to Korean people that we are kind and didn't just come to Korea to take advantage of the free housing and high salary. (Our salaries are often higher than theirs). In other words, we should try to get involved more with the Korean community around us, instead of just walking by as we go to the supermarket.

6.  Have you been a part of an expat community in another country?  How was it different or similar to the expat community in Korea?

7.  In your ideal form, what would the expat community look like to you?
As stated above I pretty much wrote a lot about this. An expat community that is accessible and well known is best. Ideally of course it would be a community that would expand and contract with consideration to the needs and desires of those in the community. It would be one where people would share their experiences and help each other understand life here. It would be a place where people can go to connect on terms where they don't have to drink or sit in a bar. In addition, the expat community should be available to Korean citizens. Not just because they want to practice English but to get to know foreigners. A community that thrives on creativity and compassion, would be best.

8.  Other thoughts and/or opinions not covered in the questions above that you'd like to add?
  • How would it form? Who would lead it?
  • What do Koreans expect from an Expat Community? Do they want us to form one or remain the way it is? Do they care?
  • What creative things will we do? (Community garden, community library....) etc?
  • How can we help new folks?
  • How will we help those individuals who are bitter and frustrated with Korea to the point they even hate their own peers?
  • Are there any pitfalls to forming an expat community?
  • How can we make it non-elitist?

I know I tend to sound very idealist on issues such as these. But I really do imagine with some work and getting together and having thoughtful discussions that we can transform and create a thriving expat community. 

What are your thoughts? 


  1. Interesting post! I think one of the major challenges in organizing an on-going expat community organization (for instance) is the highly transient nature of most expats in Korea. Basically you'd need dedicated lifers to keep things going on a continual basis, since finding keeners to regularly take over would be difficult.

  2. Good point and one of the hurdles we face. I think though if something is established by the lifers that newcomers will consider staying longer.


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