Living & Working Abroad: Seoul, Korea
1 year ago
For young, college-educated Americans, the best opportunities are overseas
Living & Working Abroad is an ongoing The Loop 21 series spotlighting some of the best cities around the world to find employment.
Anthony Baber had been sleeping on a borrowed cot from his new job for several weeks. It was about time that he furnished his new apartment. Baber headed to Lotte Mart, a local department store.
"For some reason, the workers looked really happy to see me," recalls Baber, 23. As he waited for help, a group of older women kept smiling at him while whispering to each other in Korean. When he asked for bed sheets, one saleswoman took him by the arm and pulled him around the aisle. Baber says the experience was nothing like he had ever experienced coming from Michigan; when a black man is in a store, the faces that usually follow him don't have smiles on them. But this wasn't home. Baber was in South Korea, where black men are welcomed oddities. "Suddenly, we ran into another black man, carrying a mattress pad, being led by another giddy Korean woman. The women burst into a fit of the giggles and one of them even started clapping. I guess that was the first time those women had seen two black men in their store at the same time and found it greatly amusing. For me, it was just a coincidental meeting, but it really does show the lack of diversity in Korea."
Baber is one of thousands of Americans who head to South Korea for work; a small but growing percentage is African-American. Since Korean job opportunities in a number of sectors are limited due to strict visa codes, the majority of Americans in South Korea, who are not in the U.S. military, are teachers at either private or public schools.
Teachers normally sign a one-year contract, which may cover round-trip airfare, free housing and health insurance. Moreover, teaching jobs in South Korea offer individuals the chance to travel throughout Asia, save money and also learn about a new culture—all for working approximately 24 hours a week.
Unlike public school teachers, private instructors like Baber teach on a night schedule that starts at 4 p.m. and finishes between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Luckily, South Korea is a 24/7 culture—neon lights are ablaze as soon as the sun sets, and its capital city, Seoul, never stops.
Anthony Greene, 29, lives near Gangnam, a lively neighborhood district in Seoul where Korean soap stars can be seen sauntering down the streets.
"In terms of being a person of color, I am very comfortable living in Gangnam," says Greene. "There are not many people of color here, so I am often the only black person anywhere that I go, but it is not awkward or strange for me. I enjoy the experience of being completely immersed here, and am learning a lot about myself in the process."
Like Baber, Greene works for Chung Dahm Learning Institute. Baber recently finished his first contract and is on a term break—a three-month, unpaid vacation.
Many teachers use this time to explore other parts of Asia or visit family in the States before returning to resume another yearlong contract. Both Greene and Baber say they intend to stay longer.