You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…

As an expat, Korea is a great country to live in. As an ESL teacher, it’s even better. Free housing, excellent pay, a low cost of living, a job that isn’t completely time consuming, other foreigners that you can relate to. The list could go on for ages. But it’s also a country that vastly different than the West, and if you don’t go home frequently enough, then it becomes easy to lose track of social norms and the correct spellings of complicated words. The slope gets even more slippery when you notice how easy it is to sign for a second year, or skip that visit home in exchange for a cheaper, more adventurous and booze-filled vacation in SE Asia.

So yeah, a lot of us (myself included) find ourselves in Korea maybe just a tad bit too long. Here are some tell-tale signs that you need to fly home and reacquaint yourself with Western culture, before it’s too late.


You give your expat friends money with both hands.

Once you get into this habit, it’s hard to get out. I guess it can’t hurt to be extra respectful to your friends, even though you just look weird. Thank goodness your friends are expats and understand your struggles; you won’t find the same understanding at home.

You take “selcas” in public and send them to your Western friends. (And you call them “selcas”, not “selfies”.)

Everybody and their grandmother takes selfies in Korea, sometimes people take selfies with their grandmother. After a while you stop watching marathon selca sessions and start to just accept it. Then you try it out yourself. Then you like it. Then it becomes a problem because you don’t have anyone around you who’ll give you weird looks or just tell you to stop being so obsessed with yourself and put your damn phone away, you’re at the gym.

I can't be entirely sure, but I think that selfies with your dog are still culturally acceptable, though.
I can’t be entirely sure, but I think that selfies with your dog are still culturally acceptable. Right?

Excluding sleep, you haven’t spent more than an hour of the last day not looking at some kind of screen.

Good morning, check your phone. Open the computer with breakfast. Walk to work, or commute to work with your phone. Get to work, use the computer for things. Take a break and read a little on your Kindle. Remember that you haven’t played that cell phone dragon game in two days. Answer messages from a friend. Write a blog post. Go home and edit some photographs. Relax before bed with a Kindle. Oh my gosh, I need to get out of Korea before my brain turns to mush and my eyeballs stop working!

You become passionate about Dokdo.

I’ve read about the historical nuances of the territory dispute, and I get that it’s just a giant rock but in a strategic location. And I agree that based on the history, Dokdo should probably belong to Korea. But if you are not from Korea and feel really passionate about this subject, then you probably need to take a breather from propaganda and read about mass murders by drones or something. It’s still just a rock. And if you’re a foreigner, it’s not even yours.

You use the world “delicious” (or, worse, “deliciously”) without irony.

The word “delicious” used to sound kind of creepy, when not used in the correct context. Now I don’t even know what that context would be. I can’t even think of an alternate way to describe food, except for “good”. Last week, I wrote the word “deliciously” in one of my updates and I’m wondering if I should be ashamed about that, too.

Also unacceptable, the word "yammy".
Also unacceptable, the word “yammy”.

You not only drink the instant coffee, you like it.

If you were trained as a barista at some point, then this one applies doubly to you. There should be no circumstances in which sugary, milky, chemically not-coffee is drinkable. Unfortunately, us expats in Korea know that indeed, such circumstances exist and they no longer feel shameful.

You’re no longer upset that beef at the grocery store costs $10-15.

It’s outrageous. And if you’re not upset about it anymore, then you need a vacation. It’s outrageous, I say!

You group text your friends about grammar, because you can’t tell if a sentence is wrong or just awkward sounding.

You know it’s bad when you’ve been out of an English-speaking environment so long that your internal mother-tongue radar needs a recharge.

You stop giving warning to friends about upcoming events.

Everyone knows about Korean propensity to tell you ten minutes in advance about extra classes, cancelled classes or huge life changing events that are about to take place. When it’s rubbed off on you, that’s when you know you have a problem. Your friends back home will not appreciate this new trait if you don’t get it together and fight your urge to notify people of things at the last second.

"Hey guys, I'm going to Germany tomorrow, so can someone take care of Mary for the next two weeks?"
“Hey guys, I’m going to Germany tomorrow, so can someone take care of Mary for the next two weeks?”

You never type “haha”, only ㅋㅋㅋ.

Especially if you’re typing in English… you have to actually switch keyboards on your phone to do this. If this is you, please schedule your visit immediately.

When you want to search for something, you use Naver.

I rest my case.


By virtue of even being able to make this list, I think I qualify as having been in Korea too long. Time to go home.

[In July 2014, did. It’s been hard.]

What kinds of weird quirks have you picked up that make you realize it may be time to get out of Korea? Do you disagree with any of these? Let me know in the comments!

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17 thoughts on “You Know You’ve Been in Korea Too Long When…”

  1. Come home to meee but please keep and do not feel ashamed of your new-found quirks and weirdnesses. I can accept them.

    1. Haha and I will accept your belly shirt and long skirt, though it’ll be winter so maybe it’ll be better to keep skin covered… cause, ya know, frostbite. 🙂

  2. Waving good-bye with both hands! Like how Lotte World employees do. I still do that here in my hometown. TT

  3. Hey.
    Great post, and I totally relate to it.
    Korea changes people, no doubt. My biggest indicator was after my first year (I did 3 somehow??)…I visited my brother in Australia (we’re English, by the way) and he asked me:
    “Why you speakin’ so posh?”
    “I’m not speaking posh,” I answered, to which he laughed, and replied, “You are, you added an ing to the end of a word.” Hmm?
    Now, I know that doesn’t make me posh, simply speaking correctly, but I guess I was really doing it for the first time after Korea.
    “Well, we gotta teach them kids right, innit?”


    1. Hahaha! There might need to be another post or a post update to this once I get home, because there are definitely things I haven’t noticed yet. Maybe I’m speaking with -ing too, who knows!

  4. You start listing your hobbies as sleeping, shopping, and eating delicious food. You cross your forearms to make an ‘X’ when telling someone no. You wear mini-skirts to work. You wave with both hands and say “Bye-bye!” You start making wild gestures with your hands to explain everything you say, even to fellow foreigners. Oh, I’ve been there. Get out while you still can! 🙂

    1. These are all so good, especially the one about crossing your arms to say “no”! Hahaha. I have a rough re-repatriation ahead of me, don’t I… 0.0

  5. Hahaha, I love this list.

    “You know it’s bad when you’ve been out of an English-speaking environment so long that your internal mother-tongue radar needs a recharge.” – OMG, this! When I was in Mexico, I couldn’t believe that English words were just falling out of my mind. I was a freakin’ English teacher! Sad, sad times. Haha.

    1. Haha it’s both sad and true. My mother-tongue radar would be completely dead-battery-ed if it weren’t for the internet!

      The irony of teaching English in a foreign country, ya? Hahaha.

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