KOREAN EXPERIENCE: 2 Years as an English Teacher

by Katlyn Wyllie, 14/01/2013

Life never goes according to plan. For me, packing my existence into two suitcases and moving to another country has transformed my soul. I moved to Seoul, Korea three months after stumbling upon an old friend’s status, “Anyone want to teach English in South Korea?” Here I am, almost two years later, entirely enlightened and grateful for everything that has happened to me. 

Before I try to explain the mystifying power of Seoul, let me share this one simple truth: you cannot live in Seoul for ONLY one year. Your first year should be summed up in one word: learning; learning the language, culture, bus routes, subway stops, food, where to buy common items, bank and wiring systems and, most importantly, discovering your niche.

I was lonely my first year as I spent my free time getting lost, experimenting with food, walking into every store to figure out what it was that business was selling. Life in Korea is extremely different from America, stores are small and usually focus on one type of product, service, or food; but similar to New York City, Seoul is unbelievably crowded (clocked in at over 10 million people in 2011) and you have to adjust to less personal space. Koreans have different social rules, like yielding to other pedestrians. Koreans may be distracted because of texting or just in a hurry, but they have no problems smashing into you. (Breathe) This won’t get better with time; but after a year, you’ll get used to it and learn to incorporate it into your life.

Meeting people in Seoul is so easy. If there is an activity with any type of web presence , it probably has a club in Seoul with many active English-speaking members. Remember, most of the 20-something-foreigners in Seoul are here for a similar or exactly the same reason as you. I joined a few clubs, the people were friendly and the activities were fun but even after a year I still was a newbie and felt like one.

At the end of a year, you should have the hang of working with Koreans, you can manage the way around town in Korean, you crave kimchi and your pension is slowly filling up with chons.


Originally, I wasn’t planning on staying in Korea another year and then life threw my plans out the window. I met a love interest at a festival and we started dating one week after I told my school I was leaving. After several tiring pros & cons list, I decided to give Seoul, and my new boyfriend, an extended chance. Besides coming to Korea, staying in Korea was one of the best decisions of my life.


Forget working out, healthy cooking, and a neat house; don’t worry about deadlines, keeping in touch, and schedules; focus on Korean BBQ’s, sojus and meakjus; think hiking trips,  beach trips, and pension trips; you’ll get to know Hongdae, Itaewon and Gangnam and even how to pronounce them all properly!; and just accept that you will lose your phone. Year two is all about the ‘Seoul Experience’ and doing it with your best friends.

I’ve met funny people at Seoul City Improv. I became obsessed with spinning fire with the Seoul Fire & Flow Group.  I traveled all over Korea. I ran through every back alley of Seoul with the Yongsan Kimchi Hash House Harriers.  I summited Korea’s tallest mountains, biked every meter of the Han River and ran a few marathons.  I teamed up with Korea’s most famous flow artist to pioneer Korea Burn, Korea’s first regional Burning Man festival that brought in 1,400 people.

As a foreigner, there is something to do every day in every part of the city at any cost. Your first year is spent understanding what, when, where and why while the next year is spent wearing the hat, pants and Ray-bands of the city. Seoul gives you the opportunity to run the show, you just have to put in the time and pick the collection of activities that fits you best.

For most expats living in Seoul, life finds a way to pull you out of Korea. Friends I met in Korea find themselves yearning for more Seoul adventures, secretly jealous of their friends they left behind. I know someday that will be me, reminiscing over my photos and video and feeling that bitter-sweet sting of nostalgia; but for the life of a traveler, it is difficult to ignore greener grass. I try to remember that these two years sculpted my outlook on life and pushed me to scan the horizons for my next big enlightenment. Alas, like the decision to move to and remain another year in Korea, I believe that leaving will be one of the best decisions of my life.


About the author: Katlyn moved to Seoul from her home in North Carolina, USA in the beginning of March 2011. She taught English for two years at a pre-school academy. Katlyn has created a video that reflects her two years in Korea. You can see it in the K4E video section. She has also created a blog where she shares her impressions and experiences during her time in Korea.  



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