Photo Credit: Jash
Traveler Story: How Living Abroad In South Korea Changed My Worldview
Janelle (Jash) Cooper is a full time digital nomad from Hamden, Connecticut with a degree in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University. Since finishing undergrad, traveling and teaching have become her life. These experiences have opened her eyes to a lifestyle she didn’t even know was possible. She’s worked in five countries on four continents, and is currently living in the USA, preparing her next move. She has lived and taught in Italy, Senegal, South Korea and the tropical island of Haiti.
In 2020, she launched her platform, Joyriding With Jash, where she showcases the real parts of life abroad: the good, bad and ugly. She also helps others move abroad by providing resources, offering advice, and a guide to teaching abroad.
In February 2020, she moved to Gunsan, South Korea to work as an international English teacher and the opportunities for native English speakers there are seemingly endless. At first, she was not interested in moving to Korea, but there was something in the back of her mind telling her it would be her next location.
“Everywhere I looked there was something related to South Korea whether it was on my social media or random ads,” she said. “At the time, Korea was #2 in the world with COVID-19 cases, but it was actually the best time to come with the current circumstances. I did extensive research into how Korea was handling the virus and was able to go early enough to avoid all the testing and quarantine requirements that soon went into place after my arrival.””
Before going to Korea, she was interviewing with schools and companies in Thailand, Indonesia, the Maldives, Japan, Taiwan, and other places from all over the world. She ended up having to choose between Korea and Taiwan. She believes that going to South Korea was one of the best decisions she ever made, despite the challenges that came with her transition.
“The most challenging adjustment in living abroad in Asia was the language barrier. This was the first time I moved to a country that had a different alphabet and wasn’t a Latin based language. In the beginning, I told myself I wasn’t even going to try to learn Hangul, the Korean Alphabet, because it was just impossible. You really don’t even realize how much you are reading on a daily basis until it’s no longer possible. I spent weeks not even attempting to read or write anything, and the struggle was real. From menus to street signs, I understood absolutely nothing. Google Translate was trying its best to help me, but it just wasn’t cutting it and some translations were clearly incorrect. Then, a friend told me how simple learning the alphabet was and to at least try. I didn’t believe him at first, but I still decided to give it a try. A week later, my entire experience had changed for the better.”
She spent a week using YouTube videos to understand Hangul and learn the different characters and their respective sounds. She describes it as getting glasses for the first time. Also, there were a bunch of words that were the same in English and the only difference was the way they were written.
Her memories from her trip are endless, but one of her favorite memories was a trip she took to the capital, Seoul.
“I lived in a smaller city, so it was always fun to travel around the country and see the different cities, especially because international travel wasn’t an option due to the ‘pandemonium.’ First, I found a cute Airbnb in a great location. There are a lot of options for accommodations in Korea, but Airbnb was what I used the most because of the affordability and fewer people.”
Whenever she goes to a new country or city, one of the first things she does is hop on dating apps.
“I am a huge fan of BumbleBFF and used it to make friends all around Korea. On this trip, I matched with another expat from Mongolia, and we decided to link for Chimek, beer and fried chicken (yes, they have a word for this combination in Korea). This was the beginning of a great day. We met in Hongdae and got our Chimek. After talking, we realized we had literally lived the same life, just in different countries. It was crazy. We then decided to go drinking around Hongdae at different bars. Next thing you know, we had spent the whole day together. I also had a coworker that was in Seoul who had met a friend on BumbleBFF and was out in Hongdae. We decided to join forces and continue the night together. This trip gave me a bit of all the things I love about travel, living abroad, and South Korea in general. From meeting new people to experiencing the culture through the lens of food to visiting a new city. There are so many benefits of slow travel, and being able to take your time and really immerse yourself into the lifestyle of another country is one of the best parts.”
Here’s some advice she has for those interested in moving abroad: “If living abroad is something you’re interested in, you should definitely make it a priority. With more and more people making the switch to the expat life, there are communities forming around the world. There are people from all around the world, all around the world. Literally. There are so many opportunities to see the world, and you don’t have to have $100,000 in the bank. It’s no secret that travel is becoming more and more affordable for EVERYONE. Budget airlines, Airbnb, WorkAway, Couchsurfing, and numerous other companies/programs are making it possible to just go. In the past, you may have needed to save for months or years, but things have changed. Furthermore, more people (like me) are finding jobs abroad and working remotely. Getting paid in another country is not as hard as it might seem, so like Nike, JUST DO IT.”