My birth name would be Danielle, but I tend to respond to any variation of Dani, Schaeff, D, Jew… that is being shouted in my direction. I’m an angel from that city in Southern California, who now calls Seoul, South Korea my second home, and I love to document all the weird, the beautiful and the cute I witness along the way. I’m also a tap dancer, that’s where the tapper in seoultapper comes from!
1. Why did you move abroad?
Ever since my family took our first overseas trip to Paris when I was in 4th grade, I’ve always wanted to live in another country. I was in love with the massive statues that stood in the middle of major streets, and the culture that I was able to sink in through my young eyes.
For a while I was only interested in living abroad in Europe – I felt like it was the only other place in the world I’d feel “myself”. I was actually strongly opposed to moving to Asia. I just didn’t think I’d enjoy living in such a homogenous society. But, as my previous job working in the entertainment industry continued to wear me down, teaching jobs in Europe began to look bleak, and my researching got more rigorous, I kept circling back to countries in Asia, specifically South Korea, mostly because the pay was best for teaching English. Surprisingly, the more and more I explored the internet, the more excited I got for my potential new home. I figured I really wanted to travel Asia, and by travel Asia, I mean TRAVEL ASIA. Not just go to Thailand for a couple weeks and call it a day. And well, to TRAVEL ASIA you need time and money (well, it’s cheap there, but to get there and such). So, my heart became set on calling South Korea my second home, and voila, here I’ve been for 2.5 years! Pleasantly surprised and relishing in the best decision I ever made!
2. How do you make a living?
I work as a Native English Teacher (NET) in the public school system in Seoul, where I spend my days engaging ridiculously adorable students ranging from 2nd to 6th grade. I am absolutely in L-O-V-E with my students, and even though their levels are pretty low, I still come to school each day and no matter how tired or irritated I was when I woke up, they always manage to put a smile on my face. Of course there are the days when they absolutely drive me insane (hello prepubescent 6th graders), but for the most part, I really love what I’m doing, and it feels good to know that I’m helping to engage these students with the world outside of Korea, because it’s a big one, and many of them don’t realize that.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t talk to someone from home. Technology and the internet are spectacular things! I’ve got an iPhone, so between iMessage, KakaoTalk, Whatsapp, Facebook, Skype and I’m sure 50 other chat apps I’m forgetting, there is zero excuse to disconnect from life back home. It’s actually pretty fascinating to me that I can live thousands upon thousands of miles away from my family and best friends, and know that I’m still up to speed on the goings on in their lives, and them in mine. They know the latest in my love life, where I’m traveling next and about the man who smacked into my face while I was waiting on the subway platform. My sister is always sending me videos of her puppies (who I miss more than anyone stateside). I also make a point of having family Skype dates on all the big American holidays and all of our birthdays. I love seeing my dad talk to me through an up-the-nose shot on the computer, while my mom is running from the camera because she thinks the internet is watching her. ZERO EXCUSE! To top it off, I’ve also had an astronomical amount of visitors to Korea – somewhere upwards of 15.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Seoul?
I have a lot of favorite things, so here goes my spiel…. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my first favorite thing is that life is easy here. It’s SO easy. I don’t worry about money like I used to, and life is pretty carefree. I love the food. I had never had Korean food (aside from BBQ) before moving to Korea, and now I really can’t imagine life without it. There are certain foods which have become new comfort foods, and don’t even get me started on kimchi. I’m obsessed. OBSESSED to the point of crave. I love the café life here. If there’s one thing Seoul makes a slam dunk on, it’s the café culture. There’s a café for every theme, and one every 5 feet. I love being in a major hub for massive amounts of travel. I’ve traveled to 8 countries in Asia (including Korea), which is more than I literally had ever fathomed I would in 2.5 years. The friends I’ve made here have been different than any I ever made stateside. That’s not to say one is better than the other, because they’re not. They’re just different kinds of people that I’ve befriended during my time here. There’s something truly special about connecting with people who also picked their life up with the need and desire to explore somewhere outside their realm of comfort. The biggest thing perhaps for me is that I’ve truly 110% felt myself grow as a human being during my time here. I’ve participated in performances that before coming here I would have been super nervous to take part in, My mind has opened up, I feel more worldly and just have different priorities in life than I did 4 or 5 years ago.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Seoul?
Being shuddered at by (mostly older) Koreans on the subway who are disgusted to be sitting beside a foreigner. Older Koreans thinking that they can exploit and take advantage of your foreigner status. This happened to me 3 months after moving out of my first apartment, where my landlord thought she could harass me for money I did not owe her. Not being able to effectively communicate because most people either don’t speak English, or are too scared to use the little that they do know to communicate with you. Oh, and the shoving. The shoving is HORRENDOUS. I’ve never felt more like an inanimate object, or circus freak in my life before moving here. That’s probably the most annoying. Everything else is pretty tolerable.
6. What do you miss most?
REAL cheese. Turkey. Unsweetened garlic bread and pasta (that just sounds wrong, right? Try eating it). My puppies. My sister. Being present at weddings, birthdays, births. That kind of stuff. And more cheese.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I came to Korea with EPIK / SMOE (English Program in Korea / Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education), which staffs native speaking English teachers for public schools throughout the entire country. Being in Seoul, which has the largest intake for the entire country (between 300-400 people), I met tons of people right off the bat. We had a week-long orientation where we got to meet and mingle and ease into Korea. I couldn’t have asked for a better transition when moving to a country so foreign from my own. Beyond that, I signed myself up for different Meetups pertaining to my interests, so I’ve also met people through the theater and dance circles as well.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There are more than I could even list, Korea is just that weird. But, 2.5 years after arriving, watching students and teachers brush their teeth in the school hallways is still weird to me. Yes, it’s great that they have good oral hygiene, but talking to kids through foamy toothpaste mouths is kind of gross. My school also installed rows of sinks in the hallway on each floor specifically for teeth brushing. SO WEIRD. Couple wear is also a bit ridiculous. Not a bit. IT IS ridiculous. Couples who dress the same. Same shirt, same jacket, same bunny ear hats, same shoes. There’s also the taboo of the clavicle and shoulders, while it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a skirt that is barely there. I will never understand how showing some shoulder is risqué. But it is.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
It’s not really a myth about Korea, but a myth believed in Korea. Many Koreans believe in a little thing called fan death. Yes, death by fan. One believes that if someone is to sleep in a closed room with a running electric fan, death will succumb. I know some people who’s schools even have signs under the fans warning them to turn the fan off when they leave so no fan death results. Many people also believe that all Koreans eat dog. It’s actually something that you really have to seek out, and a lot of people actually are extremely against it. Yes, it’s there, but no, it’s not a common thing to eat here. On a totally different note, when I first told people I was moving to Korea, they thought I was moving to North Korea. I think many people who aren’t familiar with Korea don’t really realize that there are two Koreas. One which is booming technologically, and another which is oppressed and suffering major atrocities against humanity. I am residing in the one that is booming and a leader in the advanced world. Some people should really consult a map!
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Cost of living is significantly lower in Korea than in America. I’ve been able to travel, pay off debts abroad, eat insane amounts of delicious food, shop, live comfortably AND have an iPhone plan that includes unlimited data and the cost of the phone for nearly half the price I’d pay back home for the plan alone. It’s glorious.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Korea is a really hard place to figure out basic things without the help of Koreans. Probably the most essential tool is to become close with at least one Korean. The ones I have become friends with are some of the most helpful, generous and wonderful people I’ve even met, and they will make your time in Korea that much more enjoyable. Remedial tasks become hugely difficult with a language barrier, so keep those gems close to you. And be sure to show them how grateful you are for their help. J
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in early 2011 as a way to document my journey to get to Korea, and then share my experiences and travels through Korea and beyond with my friends, family and anyone who is interested in what I’ve got to say. I love storytelling, so my blog isn’t as informative – go here, do this – as it is filled with stories and places I’ve experienced along the way. I wanted a blog for so long before moving to Korea, but never felt I was passionate enough about something to keep it continuous – until I moved here.
Danielle's blog, Seoul Tapper
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