Beginning and Endings – Part 2

In Part 2 of this blog post, four more expat girlfriends share their insights, experiences and favourite memories of their time on Geoje Island, South Korea.

CLAIR ARMSTRONG

Clair Armstrong, (42) married to Adam Armstrong (42), 2 boys Kai (12) and Taylor (11). Moved to Geoje, South Korea for Adams job with INPEX from Perth, Western Australia with Adam, Kai and Taylor in February 2014 and leaving Geoje permanently back to our home in Duncraig on 15 December 2016.  We will have been living here for just under three years.  

armstrong-family

What are the three things you’ve enjoyed most about living here?

  1. The change in seasons; I’ve loved experiencing snow and freezing cold wind, torrential rain, heat/humidity and the colours that arrive and cover the mountains in autumn and spring.  Every season is so beautiful in its own way here. I’ve never enjoyed or appreciated colour as much as I have since living here.  The green that comes with springtime on the mountains and the rice paddies, the cherry blossoms; it’s just breathtaking.
  2. The people I’ve met, both expats and Koreans.  People who have become our ‘family’ while living here and the countless memorable experiences we’ve had together.  For Kai and Taylor, the children, teachers and Rising Star soccer coaches they have met.  The friends they have made from all over the world, the travel they have done and the impact that has made on them growing up and understanding different cultures.
  3. Safety: The kids having so much freedom here to roam and play and be ‘free-range’ kids. Being able to go out at night and not be worried about violence.

What are the three things you’ve least liked about living here? Or found most frustrating/challenging?

  1. Pollution; the dust that comes from China is horrific. The grey smog that blocks the blue sky can be so depressing especially when it is so consistent. I love the days after it has rained as the sky seems to always be blue. The rubbish on the beaches and in the ocean; I have struggled to swim in the ocean because of the rubbish and pollution around the island.  It is sad that there is so much rubbish and pollution in the water and I only hope that actions are being taken to reduce this as the island is so beautiful, it would be so sad to see it get any worse.
  2. Driving – the complete lack of patience, safety and lack of respect for the road rules; everyone being a race car driver, kids with no seatbelt on, babies in baby seats that are in the front of the car and kids hanging out of the sunroof while car being driven on major roads, I’ve seen it all!  Buses and Trucks ruling the road, I’ve never been so afraid of trucks and buses on the road as they speed, drive through red lights, honk their horn if you are ‘in their way’ and think they have complete priority over anyone else on the road, it’s scary!!
  3. Pushing, lack of personal space and trolley wars at Costco. There’s nothing quite like lining up at Homeplus waiting to pay for your shopping, having to throw all your items into bags or your trolley as fast as you can because the person behind you is pretty much standing on top of you and pushing you and your trolley out of the way with no reason at all. Lining up to pay for your account at the hospital and finally it’s your turn when Ajumma literally pushes you out of the way by your arm and goes ahead of you with no eye contact whatsoever, purely because they believe it’s their right to go before you. Being on an aeroplane as it lands on Korean ground and everyone turns their mobile phones on (sometimes before the plane has landed); everyone taking their seatbelt off before they are supposed to and pushing as far forward as they can to get off the plane without any regard for anyone in front of them… because that’s going to make a difference in how quickly we all get off??  A trip to Costco is by far something I will not miss; the trolley wars pushing and shoving to get past and everyone blatantly staring at all the items in your trolley like you have some kind of alien secretly hidden in there.  I can’t wait to shop at Woolworths or Coles!!
  4. The rules around swimming at the beach, not being able to swim out passed the designated ‘line’, not being able to swim when the waves are too ‘big’ and the constant whistle blowing by ‘life-guards’ and announcements. Being made to wear a swim cap and life-jacket at water parks… bring on Adventure World!!

What will you miss most?

Without a doubt, the amazing friends I have made here and the incredible memorable experiences we have had together.

The kids ‘Xii wolf pack’ – they are going to be lost when we get home without having their ‘friends on tap’ at any time day or night! Love that they know they are welcome at any of our apartments at any time – they have one big extended family.

DROPTOP and my daily Café Latte (HOT) and ham sandwich (no sauce) and always seeing the girls there.

The WIFI.

Being able to put my hazard lights on and park ANYWHERE.

Being able to buy chicken and beer pretty much anywhere, anytime… even on the beach!!

The stunning scenery, mountains and running tracks I have found running around the island. Chilcheondo by far being my favourite, I will miss running there a lot, except the hills, I hate the hills…

Trust – things you misplace or lose but always seem to be returned, leaving phones/wallets in taxis after nights out or in coffee shops/restaurants only to be returned by the taxi driver; Example: I have left a brand new expensive camera in a taxi in Seoul, got on a bus to Geoje and the taxi driver running onto the bus about 15 minutes later trying to find me so he could return it to me.  Where else in the world would this happen?

Accessibility to local services from where we live; Being able to buy wine, beer and ice-cream (along with many other things) from the CU 24 hours a day/7 days a week. Friday nights at the Chicken shop with our Xii family; Jumping Star and Lolly Polly for the kids – I hate to think how much money we have put into Jumping Star; the kids have spent countless hours there.

Freedom and accessibly to international travel, we have been able to travel to at least eight different countries (some twice/three times) while living here in less than three years (not including the travel within South Korea).

Having access to snowfields only two hour’s drive away!

What scares or worries you most about returning home?

The transition back to ’normal’ life and not ‘fitting’ in.

The lifestyle change; back to the ‘busy/crazy’ lifestyle I had before we moved here.

Change of friendships/friendship dynamics that may have occurred while we have been away.

What are you most looking forward to when thinking about home?

  • Easy access to good food.
  • Beautiful clean beaches!!
  • People understanding me.
  • Seeing my family and friends and not missing any more of their life milestones.
  • Our house, having a back-yard, a pool and space… lots of space for the boys to be outside – REAL GREEN GRASS!!!
  • Boys playing lots of sport again and not having to travel a four hour round-trip to and from school.
  • Getting in a taxi knowing that I have a very good chance of getting where I’m going ALIVE.

TERRYN WILSON

My name is Terryn, I am a wife and mother of two children, aged 7 and 9. Before coming to South Korea, my family lived in Mandurah, Western Australia. My husband worked FIFO in Papua New Guinea and by choice, I was a stay-at-home mum. We have been away from home for two years on the 1st October 2016. We have made some amazing new friends, explored new places and cultures and have learnt to adjust and adapt to different environments. This adventure has been a great experience for the whole family and one we will remember.

wilson-family

What are the three things you’ve enjoyed most about living here?

Due to the support of a close knit community, we have met and made some amazing new lifelong friends.

The luxury of freedom our children have due to little crime and a safe environment.

Watching the four seasons – each with beauty of its own. From the wet, hot and humid Summer with its lush green rice fields, hills and mountains, to the cold and icy winds and snow during Winter, to the beautiful cherry blossoms in Spring, and the magnificent every changing colours during Autumn.

What are the three things you’ve least liked about living here? Or found most frustrating/challenging?

Living by the ocean with a huge back yard that had a trampoline, a cubby and enough room to skate, bike ride and play basketball to living on the 24th floor in a three-bedroom apartment has been a real challenge for our family.

Personal space is almost non-existent in Korea. Whether you are standing in a line at the CU, a grocery store, or the wet markets, on a bus or in an elevator – be prepared to surrender any of your personal bubble.

As a family, we have found the lack of sporting options available for ourselves and our children frustrating, such as surfing, skateboarding, Aussie Rules football, basketball, netball and dancing.

What will you miss most?

Meeting the women I now call my family at DropTop for a café latte and boneless ham sandwich.

What scares or worries you most about returning home?

As our expat life draws to a close my biggest fear is returning to “normal life”. Paying bills, buying a car, buying a house and re-connecting with our friends are on top of that list. We have also been lucky enough to be able to travel to destinations such as China, Philippines, Japan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and parts of Europe just to name a few, that we may never have been able to do from Australia.

What are you most looking forward to when thinking about home?

Seeing my family and friends and enjoying our beautiful clear, blue skies and water.

EMMA KEILOR

I moved to Korea with my partner Matt in June 2015, and we will be leaving Korea in November 2016. Matt works for Inpex at SHI Shipyard, and I started working at View High English Academy in March this year. I’m 25 and I think I am the youngest ‘expat wife’ here! We both lived in Perth before we came here but we are from the south-west of WA originally. When we move home we will be in Perth for a month or two and then we will be moving to Dunsborough where we are building a house. This is our first expat assignment but we hope for many more!

emma-and-mat

What are the three things you’ve enjoyed most about living here?

  1. Living in a culture totally different to my own. It’s definitely been challenging but I think overall it has been a good experience. It’s really made me appreciate Australia and the way we do things! Korea is not somewhere I would ever think to move to or even visit if it wasn’t for work, so it’s been great to experience somewhere I would never have gone otherwise.
  1. I’ve got to travel so much since we have lived here, definitely more than I ever would have done living in Australia. It’ll be hard going back to only travelling once or twice a year but I’m glad I’ve got to experience so much while we’ve been here.
  1. Working in a totally new job! I’ve been teaching English (to Korean students aged 8-15) for about eight months now and I’m so glad I got to do it. It was very daunting at first but I’m happy I got out of my comfort zone and tried something new. It’s so good to have something to keep me busy every day and keep my mind occupied with more than just “what’s for dinner?!” (haha).

What are the three things you’ve least liked about living here? Or found most frustrating/challenging?

  1. While I love the different culture it can also be so frustrating. The way Korean’s do things is so different to home, and with our own culture so ingrained in us it is very hard to adapt sometimes.
  1. Homeplus – our local supermarket – and just generally buying food here. It’s always so busy, it’s so expensive, and it’s generally a frustrating experience. I think I went to four shops in one day trying to find cheddar cheese once! That sucked.
  1. For obvious reasons driving can be very frustrating here! We’ve had so many close calls driving here so I can’t wait to go home and drive on a quiet road where everyone follows the road rules!

What will you miss most?

  1. COENS (our local agency)
  2. Getting my car serviced and cleaned every month
  3. Not having to fill my car with fuel myself
  4. Not having to pay any bills

But seriously…

I will really miss all the friends we have made in Geoje, but hopefully we will see most of them back home! I’ll miss the easy lifestyle that we have as expats and the fact I only work four hours a day.

But most of all I will miss my eyebrow lady. Never will I find someone to sculpt my eye brows as well as she can!*

(*Editor’s note:  Emma is absolutely correct – our eyebrow lady is the bomb!).

What scares or worries you most about returning home?

I think I am most worried about getting a job when I get home. I feel like I never really started a career before I left Australia to come here, and I’m worried when I get home I’ll be so behind other job hunters my age I might struggle to get a ‘real’ job. Also we don’t have anywhere to live when we move home… So that’s a worry.

What are you most looking forward to when thinking about home?

FOOD! I have already planned out so many meals I am going to eat when I get home. I can’t wait to go to Woolworths!

Also being close to friends and family again and starting another new adventure in Dunsborough!

SANDY FURTADO

My name is Sandy Furtado and I came to Geoje, South Korea with my husband, Lindslay (aka Biz) on Jan 25th 2014, leaving three adult children at home. We had discussed moving for work for many years but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until around September 2014.

 It was a very reluctant move on my part.

 “You said you would go anywhere!”. 

 “But South Korea”????? Are you kidding?  Im not going there!!!

 During the hugely emotional next few months we packed our home up in Broome WA, moved to Perth, helped nurse my suddenly terminally ill mum, spent December catching up with friends before farewelling mum a month before we flew out. I doubt, had the rollercoaster not been so hectic I would have found myself here, in the most amazing country I think I have ever been to.

furtados

What are the three things you’ve enjoyed most about living here?

The instant beauty of this place cannot be questioned. I remember the day we arrived after almost 24 hours of travel.  Being so tired I just wanted to sleep but the sheer beauty on the drive from Busan to Geoje just didn’t permit it. Three years on, I am still in awe of the vision on that drive and everywhere I have been to. Mountains, water, bays, amazing bridges and islands, hundreds of islands.

Having all the time in the world (at times too much) leads either to a very boring life or a chance to try new experiences. I have tried new hobbies – ukulele, mah-jong, canasta, stitch n bitch (as if a group of women would entertain bitching!!), aquarobics, – and ventured to places I would never have dreamed of while I’ve been on the island. I even finished an online TAFE course!!! I love the fact that all the wives are in exactly the same position and are always up for a new adventure. The safety of South Korea has enabled me to feel able to travel the country, at times by myself, without an ounce of concern for my wellbeing. I’m not sure Lindslay thinks I need to develop any more independence! J

I think a mention here on the generosity of the expat community has been nothing short of amazing. A charity close to my heart, Newhope India, was able to receive a much needed boost of $5000 AUD thanks to the unrelenting giving of the expat community.

I have absolutely embraced the Korean style of driving. Just ask my kids!!! I love it! After a lecture and 10-minute defensive driving lesson we were given the go ahead to drive. For us Aussies it’s on the wrong side of the road and you can stop and park anywhere with the use of hazard lights. Lindslay was seen double parked outside Broome post office doing just that! U turns are acceptable anywhere, but they don’t work so well on Stock Road, and as long as you get your nose in front, you’re merging.  While on the topic of cars……they still fill your tank for you. Wha’ts not to love. J

What are the three things you’ve least liked about living here? Or found most frustrating/challenging?

Possibly the habit of spitting in the streets. It’s something that really gets me going. I have been known to give the odd glare here and there where possible and heaven help it if it’s a kid practicing his skills!!! Yeah, definitely spitting is the worst thing.

I found the lack of English, or should I say my inability to speak Korean, very isolating. As they don’t have our alphabet I didn’t feel like there was anything familiar around. I taught myself their alphabet and although I can’t translate most of it, I can now tell if I’m on the correct bus. Thankfully for us lazy Aussies, English has become far more widespread over the three years and this challenge is diminishing.

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the Korean menu. Boiled silkworm pupae, penis fish, sea slugs, amongst-predominantly raw seafood from polluted waters leaves me with mainly Korean BBQ which thankfully I love……. Much to the horror of this blogger! Haha*

Yes, we eat at home a lot although that in itself is a challenge. I doubt you ever get through a shopping list without having to visit at least three different shops, usually at other sides of the island, but this too is becoming easier as the shops bring in more western style vegies.

(*Ed note: although she is coming around after nearly three years!)

What will you miss most?

Prior to my arrival, I had only met one lady on the island and had Facebook contact through a mutual friend with another. Thank goodness for those two lifesavers. Their advice on what to pack was invaluable and being picked up and introduced to the expat life by both of them made my start here stress free. They have both become lifelong friends along with many others. Yes, free accommodation right around Aus!!!

Friends on call will definitely be something I miss. I’m well aware we are living in a bubble here with friends and activities on call all day every day so that I will miss.

The freedom to do pretty much anything we want to do (now I sound like a spoilt brat). Lindslay obviously is restricted by work but that doesn’t mean if a friend calls and suggests a trip to Seoul for a couple of days I’m not up for it. (Ed note: or to Paris right?!) This is one of the reasons he says in his next life he is coming back as an expat wife!

I am fully aware this will all come to an abrupt halt but I will miss the “no ties or commitments” when I’m back home. The freedom to travel the world without a second thought is something we could have only dreamed of five years ago.

What scares or worries you most about returning home?

Loneliness!  We will be moving home to a new place. We have never lived in Darwin but it suits our present circumstances to move there for at least 12 months.

I’ve been warned that loneliness hits most expats as we are so used to constant socialising even if it is in an unrealistic world.

I’m hoping that by moving to a new environment I will be forced to go and find what’s out there. I should be a lot better at it than I was when I arrived in South Korea.

What are you most looking forward to when thinking about home?

Catching up with our kids, family and friends. Our family has grown by a new daughter-in-law and son-in-law while we have been away so there’s lots of family time to catch up on. Hopefully we will get lots of visitors being somewhere new, and it will no longer be a 24 hour trip for us to get to them.

Clean fresh air along with Australian seafood. I didn’t think I could go so long between seafood feeds but I guess I’ve made sure on my visits back to Australia that I did some catch-up.

Being able to shop for clothes or shoes in my size. South Korean shops stock nothing over a size 7.5 shoe and about a 12 in clothes. That puts me way out of the equation, but it does justify a big shop when I get home! It really is an ill wind that blows no good!

Having a clothes line! I loathe using an airer and for three years that’s what I’ve had to use. Geez, I can’t wait to peg my clothes out! Who would have thought? J

Needless to say our departure from Geoje Island South Korea on January 18th 2017 will be filled with mixed emotions. The joy of heading home after one week shy of three years, and the sadness of what I’m leaving behind. I am so grateful to have had this experience but at the end of the day I’m ready to go back to life in the land down under.

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