Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Meet Loren - Korea Girl

The 'Korean' pose

Loren is a 23 year old English Graduate from South Wales.I met her through a mutual friend earlier this year, and she really encouraged me to give blogging a whirl.

A very early interest in clothes led Loren to pursue a career in the cut-throat world of fashion journalism. Good internships, let alone jobs were in scarce supply, so she decided to take on an adventurous role - teaching English in South Korea.

It's one thing to go travelling with a friend to experience different cultures, but I believe you don't get the full experience unless you fully immerse yourself.

Here Loren answers some prying questions for me ( I really am that nosey).

What made you choose Korea?

Money was my main motivation in choosing Korea.  I'd heard that you could save quite a lot working here, something that is unfortunately necessary to get my future off the ground in this time when graduates are expected to work for little or no money.  I was also intrigued by the country.  There's a lot of negative stuff posted about it on the internet, particularly about being an English teacher here.  This contrasted deeply with the glimmers of interesting stuff I read about the zany fashions, kitsch culture and the up-and-coming music scene.  I decided to contact bloggers to see what they thought and the response was overwhelmingly positive, urging me to go for it.

What does a typical working day entail?

School is a 10 minute walk away for me so I leave the house at 8:20 and head there.  Typically I teach about 3 or 4 lessons a day in classes of 40 high-school boys (15 year olds).  Luckily I have a coteacher who handles discipline so I can teach without worrying about that, plus most of the kids are very focused and determined so I barely ever have a problem.  They can be a little loud or grumpy, depending on the weather and what they’ve eaten: they get very agitated just before lunchtime on a humid day, for example.  I stay at school until 4:30, preparing lesson plans, helping out with any grammar/ linguistic queries the other teachers have and proofreading any work that needs looking over.

What do you do in your spare time?

In the evenings I’ll grab dinner with someone or eat alone at home. Eating out is incredibly cheap here, you can get a decent meal for 3 quid and the portions are enormous.  It’s actually cheaper to eat out as a single person than it is to eat at home alone.  Korea also has burgeoning obsession with coffee so since I live in a bustling University area there are tons of coffee shops around.  I like to sit and read or write in them since they all have WIFI.  In fact, Korea has the fastest internet speed in the world and there are plans to blanket Seoul in free WIFI in the near future.

On weekends I generally visit Seoul.  As the second largest city in the world, there’s always something going on here.  A typical weekend would be to have dinner with friends on the Friday evening, normally something more expensive than usual such as galbi (Korean Barbecue) or maybe something western.  On a Saturday I do some exploring and in the evening I’ll go out to Hongdae where all my favourite bars are.  There’s always some kind of party organized by someone on the expat scene so you always see the same faces out, which is fun.  The Sunday will be spent hungover, shopping and/ or eating.

What is the food/drink like?

I’ve already mentioned food twice so you can assume that I love it! Korean food is cheaper than western food so I try to eat that as much as possible.  At the moment I’m obsessed with mandu, which is the Korean version of chinese steamed dumplings.  I also love galbi because it’s such a sociable idea to sit in a restaurant with your friends, cooking your own meat.  Korean food comes with tons of side dishes so even if you feel like you’ve ordered a small meal it often turns into a big one.  I’m not always a fan of the side dishes though, they’re often very strange foods such as jellified roots and fermented vegetables.  Koreans eat kimchi with everything and I mean EVERYTHING.  Kimchi is fermented cabbage, salty and spicy with an odd slimey texture.  I can’t stand it but it’s meant to be some kind of superfood so I try to eat a little of it now and again.

I can’t mention drink without mentioning soju.  You can get a bottle of this Korean vodka for 75p.  The drinking culture in Korea is pretty crazy.  The country is meant to be so conservative but then you regularly find yourself sitting next to an inebriated passed out middle-aged man on the subway.

What is the weather like?

The weather isn’t great. When I came it was cold but within a month it started getting considerably warmer.  We had six weeks of gorgeous sunshine but then rainy season started.  Rainy season is meant to last for a month but this year it was more like three.  It’s hot, grey and humid and everyone gets very irate.  Koreans told me that this is the worst rainy season they’ve ever seen.  Clearly I brought the weather with me from Wales!  It’s autumn now and the cool, dry weather is a bit of a relief.  I’m worried about the sub-zero temperatures that winter is going to bring but on the bright side that means I get to go skiing for the first time.


The scenery isn't the best.  I miss looking at the valleys.  Korea has dry looking mountains, surrounded by apartment blocks.  The cities are packed with people and the architecture is functional as opposed to beautiful.  I have been to some gorgeous places in Korea though, but you do have to seek them out.  I've also been to some places that would have been more gorgeous had there not been a random ugly building plonked obscurely in the midst of a scene.

Best thing about Korea?

Most people say the public transport.  I have to admit, that is a huge draw for me.  I live in a city 30k away from Seoul but I can get there in 40 minutes for less than a pound.  A few weekends ago I visited the east coast of Korea for a few days, taking 3 hours on a bus to get there, at peak time during a public holiday.  The bus took exactly the time it was scheduled to take and cost me 14 quid return.  It’s so cheap and convenient.  It seems like a boring answer but what it means is that the best thing about living here is the freedom to visit anywhere else in the country at the drop of a hat.

Worst thing?

The worst thing is that because Korea is so homogeneous there is a lack of multi-culturalism and a high proportion of casual racism.  I get stared at constantly, especially when I'm not in Seoul.  Also the language barrier can cause problems but you just have to adapt to that.  You get really good at impromptu charades.

Have you made any good friends?

I’ve made some great friends, more than I thought I would.  Initially I planned that if I failed to make any friends I would just acquire a cat and go on adventures with it in tow.  Luckily I’ve made a great group of friends and I meet new ones every week.  There’s a feeling amongst the foreigners that everyone is in the same boat so most people are very friendly when you meet them out and about.  I’ve made some great Korean friends too, although this is usually harder than making friends with non-Koreans because Koreans can often be shy and are very nervous about using English in front of a native speaker.

How long do you think you'll stay?

Possibly a couple of years, maybe more.  I will eventually be coming home to start a career but at the moment it’s a relief not to be living in depressing recession-era Britain.  I'm also looking into moving to some other countries to teach since I'm feeling the wanderlust.  I'm thinking Taipei in Taiwan, Buenos Aires in Argentina or Prague in the Czech Republic

Smiling, at a sporting event? Unheard of

What is your dream job?

My dream job is to be a fashion or features editor on a national magazine.  Failing this, I’d just like to be paid to write. 

Any funny tales?

Far too many.  Mostly funny weird though. The strangest thing that happened to me is probably when I was at the Buddhist Lantern Festival in April. I was minding my own business, checking out the art stalls, when a shaven-headed female monk in robes came up to me, around 10 more monks in tow.  She presented me with some art made from a rubbing that she had just done and then all of the monks encircled me.  They took a picture with me and left me flabbergasted, as fleetingly as they had appeared.

Currently listening to? 

K-pop! Nah, not really.  It’s a bit too bubblegum for my liking.  Although I do love Big Bang and 2NE1.

Currently reading? 

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk.  He’s one of my favourite authors and luckily I managed to find this in the foreign book shop in Seoul.

Loren, and some other creative pals in Korea have set up Chincha?! a great website offering a snapshot of the best things Seoul has to offer.  She'd be delighted if you'd have a look and let her know what you think.

Follow Loren's blog where you won't find lengthy self-absorbed rants, just cool stuff like this which only take a moment to enjoy, but leave you inspired:

The Thorium dream  



Naughty Barbie (as a former Barbie addict, I LOVED this [yes, me - a Barbie fan as a kid])

Thanks Loren for letting me grill you. I think your ambition is admirable - you deserve the success which will inevitably come your way.


  1. Hello:
    Loren is certainly a girl for adventure. We do admire her pioneering spirit and her ability to see the positive in a country of many challenges. We are sure that her experience of other cultures, particularly those so different from her own will definitely stand her in good stead for her future as the ability to look at things from a variety of perspectives is what is generally lacking in many cases.

    We wish her every success. This interview was most interesting, thank you.

  2. Thank you for posting this Lucy! And thanks for your lovely comment Jane and Lance Hattatt.

  3. Thank you for such an interesting guest blog Lucy! Loren is stunningly beautiful!

  4. Loved reading this! I read Loren's blog too (found through here, of course!), Korea looks like a different world!

  5. This is brilliant to read because my best friend is currently over in Korea teaching English! He went in April (had previously been in Japan and then Australia) and for some reason I was quite worried - the negative things you hear about the place. He always seems very upbeat and interested in everything in his emails but it's so nice to hear all this positive and really intriguing stuff from another source too! :-)

    Great interview!!

    Jem xXx

  6. What a great read! If I had my time again I'd have loved to have decamped to another continent and live life completely differently.
    The South Koreans I've met when travelling are such a fabulous people. x

  7. Good interview Ms Paxman. It's only loosely related, but Boy1 was OBSESSED with countries and flags when he was about 3 (he's an eccentric child) and made up a song called North Korea/South Korea which he used to happily sing at playgroup. He also had a tribe of imaginary friends who still make a very occasional appearance, one of whom "accidentally blew up North Korea".

    Life out there would be fascinating, I'd love to see it. There and Japan.

  8. Loren sounds like a sweetheart - what a great interview post. Scarlett x

  9. I'd love to go to Korea. And I love the idea of eating the amazing sounding food whilst in a city centre bar with the rain pouring down. Probably as near as real life gets to Bladerunner? Very interesting interview!

  10. Ben - thought of you when I linked up Loren's 'Anywhere' post.

  11. Just seen that, and loved it Lucy. I want to be in that pool watching the storm break.

  12. Fascinating, especially as I did my university dissertation on the south Korean economy. I hope Loren enjoys the rest of her stay, she'll surely never forget it anyway :)

  13. Anyongaseyo! Manasobangapsumnida. Have a great day! Loren yeppuda!

  14. This was ace! As a british girl living in the Czech Republic, I could relate to the impromptu charades. xxx

  15. Thanks for all the comments! This has been a great way to discover some excellent new blogs to read.


Sorry I am having to filter comments at the moment