Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

As hard as it can get: Living and working in the ROK

I have lived in Korea since 1990 and for the most part I think I have gotten on okay here. Sure, I have had my share of ups and downs when I’ve had a run-in with cultural differences or language obstacles, but my overall experience has been a pleasant one.

Yeah, it sucks that I had to have a Korean friend sign for me to get a cell phone and that I can’t use my ATM card from the Korean Exchange Bank overseas, but that is not like it is going to make my experience living here any more unpleasant. If it’s any consolation, I have been able to get two Korean credit cards which has made life here a little sweeter.

I am always interested in what other foreigners have to say about living and working in Korea, especially some of the problems which they might encounter here. Not some of the whiners and disillusioned types who spend most of their time venting on message boards and forums, but those interviewed for articles in one of the English dailies like this one that appeared online in the Digital Chosun.

“According to a study on the daily lives of foreign consumers from the Korea Consumer Protection Board, 41.7 percent of 545 respondents said that they’re “dissatisfied” with their life as consumers in Korea. When asked what the biggest problem is, 35.9 percent pointed to communication difficulties. Other reasons for unhappiness include a lack of consideration for foreigners on the part of Koreans, financial difficulties, a lack of public information, and cultural differences.”

I’ll be the first to admit that it is often not easy living and working in Korea; however, I’ve tried not to complain too much about it. I have always tried to make the most out of living here. Besides, it is not like I am forced to stay here. I made a decision to come here, for better or worse, and dammit, I am going to try and enjoy myself here. If I see something that I find strange or peculiar, I am going to write about it and share it with people; not complain about it.

One thing is for certain, if you are a foreigner living in Korea now, it is much easier than it was when I first came here in 1990. Some expats just may not realize how good life is here now compared to what it was like when I first came here. Try to imagine life here if you can without Costco, Outback, Starbucks or Hooters.

Sure it’s hard and quite stressful at times especially dealing with cultural differences, but that is the price you pay for being an expat in Korea.

What’s most interesting about this article is what is lacking: I am sure if the reporter had interviewed some industrial trainees from Pakistan or Bangladesh or maybe even some Filipino whose Korean husband brought her here under false pretenses you would have an entirely different story about how hard and rough it is living and working in Korea.


  1. “When asked what the biggest problem is, 35.9 percent pointed to communication difficulties”

    That says a lot, Jeff. The thing I’ve always noticed is that a lot of the factory-bound Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis, or the Pakistanis selling jewellery on the street, speak far better Korean than the supposedly highly-educated westerners.

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