The 10 Stupidest Things I Did While Living in Korea

When someone mentions they are an expat or living abroad, you might feel like they’re being a little pretentious. Some blogs (cough cough Thought Catalog) like to romanticize the experience, talk about why home will never be the same and generally just drone on and on about what an original experience everything is when you’re abroad.

Yeah, I’m sorry, but I need to tell you the truth. Being an expat is just a series of stupid moments and mistakes that never end. Yes, it’s like no other experience, yes, you’re better for it, yes, you’re automatically a little misunderstood when you go home because no one was there with you. But let’s cut the shit: being an expat isn’t glorious. You go somewhere, act like an idiot and learn enough about patience to accept that sometimes you’re stupid. And it’s okay.

Being an expat is asking yourself this question: how many times in one day can I embarrass myself before I just die?

As I’ve learned from living in South Korea, the answer is, well, a lot. In fact, after all of these stupid moments, I’m still living! I think that’s the big lesson here when you move abroad; it doesn’t even matter. Life goes on. Embarrassment isn’t actually a cause of death and most of the time, except in extraordinary circumstances, you will get out of stupidity alive.

What did I do that was stupid? Oh this will be fun. Take a seat, I’m an idiot, so prop your feet up and settle in for some belly laughter.

I said the word “bitch” to my bosses.

In my defense, they knew I meant the word “year” and just kind of blinked and let me finish talking. But the fact that the word for “bitch” and “year” are the same, but the meaning changes depending on sentence context is just lunacy. Someone change the Korean language.

I gave myself food poisoning.

I was too lazy to go to the grocery store, so I walked half the distance to the convenience store and bought what turned out the be the most disgusting meal I’ve ever had the displeasure of putting in my mouth. I couldn’t eat solids for a week after that and I’ll spare you the details of my bowel movements. See the full story here, if you actually want more information than that, ew.

NEVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.
NAVER AGAIN.

I withdrew $200 from the ATM when I only wanted $20.

In Korea, they count their money in 10,000s, because 1,000 won = ~$1 and it would be difficult to keep track of, otherwise. They even have a special word that means 10,000, “man”. So while I typed in 20 into the screen, which I assumed would mean 20,000, what I was actually typing was 20 ten-thousands. Or 200,000 won. I immediately ran into the bank, shame-faced, with my hands overflowing with bills and somehow communicated to the banker that all this money I’d just withdrawn should go back into my bank account. Never made that mistake again.

I walked into places with my shoes on, multiple times.

In South Korea, shoes do not come inside, only socks or slippers are allowed. I forgot this a couple times, at first, but within five steps there were screams and arm grabs and generally, just a tragic scene of horrified Korean faces around me. This happens to me even now, because some places are a little unclear about what is a “socks only” area. Just two weeks ago, on a ferry boat, I got the death state when I unknowingly stepped one foot into the shoe-free zone.

I agreed to adopt someone’s dog and then gave it back, all before 8am.

I can’t explain this story in only a few sentences, so just head over to the post I wrote about it to see the full story. *face palm*

There she is. Parry.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.
My short term adopted dog that shit on my floor as a welcome gift.

I fell on my ass in public.

Sidewalks during the wintertime in South Korea should be renamed “ice walks”. Need I explain more? People laughed. My butt was sore.

I wore Hanbok to work.

This wasn’t really my own stupidity, but simply one of the most embarrassing moments of my teaching career. My boss told me we were going to the city right that moment, took me to a Hanbok shop (traditional Korean costume), made me choose my favorite and then wear it for the rest of the morning. To work. And show the students during their English class. And show my bosses. And he stopped at the local gas station on the way back so my neighbors could see me, too. (The picture can be found, here.)

I asked where to find the salt in the grocery store.

Who can’t find salt? This girl. It was in clear view, but apparently my eyes just weren’t working that day. I also remember using Google images to show a shop owner a picture of an onion, so she could help me locate them.

Luckily, the tuna wasn't as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.
Luckily, the tuna wasn’t as hard to find.

I ordered food that I couldn’t stand to eat.

Never, ever point to something random on a menu and order it. What comes out might be cold noodles drenched in gochujang, red pepper sauce, and literally nothing else. Within three bites, my gag reflex started up and the cause was lost. Consulting my phone for pictures of what the menu said, I successfully ordered hot food for round two. The giant plate of disgusting noodles sat wayside for the rest of the meal. Yuck.

I went on dates I didn’t know were dates.

Actually, I’m not even sure that they were dates, to this day. I’m still confused about some. But there were several times I went to a dinner or two with my “guy friend” and later found out that his intentions were more romantic than platonic. I usually found this out when he had some alcohol in his system and felt he should confess his love. Even though we might have had frank conversations about how we were just friends. Anyways, I don’t have any “guy friends” that are Korean, anymore. That didn’t work out very well.

G-Dragon_2012_4
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.
My accidental dates would have been much better if they were with G-Dragon.

Those are just ten instances that I remember, but there are probably a few repressed memories hiding in the dark corners of my brain. Even after all of this, though, my self confidence is still intact and I still wake up breathing, every single day. I also still do stupid things. That never ended, unfortunately.

So next time your friend comes back from Paris and starts to drone on about the croissants, stop them. Say, “Tell me about the stupidest thing you did while you were in France.” You’ll be able to laugh instead of rolling your eyes, something both of you will appreciate, and no one will be under the illusion that expat-ing is glorious in any way, shape or form.

squiggle3

What are the stupidest things you’ve ever done while living abroad? Don’t you wish you were an expat, now? Do you agree that being an expat is more misadventure than adventure?

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38 thoughts on “The 10 Stupidest Things I Did While Living in Korea”

    1. Haha glad to hear it! They should make a TV show about stupid things people do abroad, not wedding dresses and teenage pregnancy. I’ll be the travel & expat community has some stories that are pure gold.

  1. Hi Sally, dropping by for the first time, i am from Malaysia:)

    I would not call that a stupid encounter but a good experience:)

    Catch up soon,
    Simon Lee

    1. Hehe indeed, they were all good experiences. Embarrassment never killed anyone, it’s just made me stronger… ie more and more difficult to embarrass. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by! Hello to Malaysia!

  2. So true! My stupidest thing was trying to turn on the heated toilet seat in the bathroom at my school. This was before I learned to read Hangul, and thus “bidet.”

    1. OH NO did you get squirted?! Hahaha! And bidets do have seat heating, but it’s a little hard to find. I had to send a picture of my bidet’s buttons to my friend and they told me what to press for seat heating.

  3. Ah, currency conversions will get you every time… no need to be an expat for that to happen! We just landed in Vietnam last night and were trying to figure out how much $200US would be in local currency… here 21,000 dong = $1, so with all those zeros, we got a bit confused and almost only took out $20. Given that we’ll be here for 3 months, that definitely wouldn’t suffice.

    We also chatted with a couple who said that when they stopped over in Malaysia they wanted to get something to eat and had no idea what the conversion rates were so they wound up only taking $2 out of the ATM!

    1. Haha oh man, $2? And probably at least twice that in ATM fees. Currency conversion is rough! If you don’t do the calculations while you still have WiFi, then it’s SO easy to mess it up.

      Especially in Korea where they have a counter word for 10,000… who has a special word for 10,000?!?! (Okay so it definitely makes sense and it’s smart, etc etc etc but WHYYYY)

  4. I really enjoyed this post — reminded me of my first time in a grocery store here in Korea, and I could not for the life of me find RICE!

    1. Hahaha! I know that feeling! And then there are all the other kinds of grain and you don’t know what’s brown rice or beans or something else weird. Grocery stores are a challenge of their own. 🙂

  5. Hahahahaaaa, oh my god, you’re so right. Expat life really IS a series of embarrassing moments blended into one. It’s that much more embarrassing because you stand out from the crowd anyway. Jesus, it’s all come screaming back to me. 😛

    1. Hahaha seriously. I don’t know why people make it sound so romantic, when it’s definitely the opposite. Unless you’re rich, not learning the language and have a posse of other expats doing the same… then maybe it could be all rainbows. And a tremendous waste of time haha!

  6. I always find it’s other people that romanticise expat life. Whenever i talk to friends/family back home and tell them about cultural differences, mispronunciations or anything remotely negative, the response i get is “Oh but it must be so wonderful!” I guess that’s why i’m glad for blogs, especially ones like this. We’re all united in stupidity!

    1. That’s very true! There’s no room for complaining, because our lives are the most amazing, ever. And they are, but they are also not. at. all.

  7. After living in South Korea for three years, I thought all the things you mentioned here were “normal” occurrences…loved the laugh. Great post!

    1. Haha thanks Corinne! Is it sad or awesome that we willingly do this to ourselves? Regardless some good comes out of it, I suppose. Nothing embarrasses me back home, anymore…

  8. The currency conversion and the hesitation at the ATM – getting money out always gives me a slight bit of anxiety. Always hoping I’m only withdrawing $100 and not $1000! Worse – spending $1000 when you think you are only spending $100 (thankfully, it hasn’t happened to me yet!).

    1. Haha exactly! The beginning is always rough. Thankfully I tend to stay in one place for a little longer than some and usually am able to get the hang of it after a time. And WOW yeah, that last one hasn’t happened to me before either, cross my fingers it never does!! 🙂

  9. Hi there!
    Wanted to let you know that I have nominated your blog for the Liebster Award. You can check out the details in my post here:
    Your choice if you’d like to accept or not, but I hope you do! 🙂

    1. Wow, I’m so honored! I plan on participating, although it may take me some time and I should probably put a real post in between one “glorified chain letter” and the other, less glorified chain letter I just did, haha. Thanks so much!! 🙂

    1. LOL thank you! Though I hope you didn’t relate tooooo much. 🙂

      The Leibster Award just showed me a bunch of cool blogs, yours included, so thanks for nominating someone who nominated me so I could find your awesome blog, too!

    1. Hahaha fingers crossed those last two don’t happen this time around! I agree, the dumb moments make the experience all the more memorable.

  10. I can’t even count the number of stupid things I’ve done in the 3 years I’ve been in Korea. My most embarrassing moment was probably my first day of school when I didn’t have a chance to run out to get slippers for school. I knew they were really important and the only thing I had on hand were shower shoes!! All of the teachers pointed and laughed. Talk about mortified! At least it wasn’t a teaching day.

    1. Hahaha oh noooo! NOT THE SHOWER SHOES! Better than wearing your school slippers into the shower, though, right?! 😀

      If it’s never going to end, at least we’re not alone haha.

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