My first introduction to Korean culture was literally when I arrived at Incheon airport (on my way to my first teaching position in Ulsan). I’m always slightly embarrassed to admit but I knew very little about Korea or Korean culture before I arrived. Thankfully, the warm and friendly people I met during my year in Ulsan (and my two years in Seoul) soon changed that. I grew to love Korea and Korean culture – the food, the people, K-pop, film and dramas… the list goes on of all the wonderful things Korea has to offer Canada and the world.
But I’m not alone. I’m not sure of the exact statistics but it’s safe to say that thousands of Canadians move to Korea every year to teach English as I did. Now that I’m back in Canada, it seems like everyone I meet knows someone – or they taught in Korea themselves – who taught English in Korea. Many of those Canadians fall in love with Korea and its culture – as I, myself did – and end up staying for more than their initial one-year contract (I stayed for three years). One of the main reasons – the friendly people I met. The relationships I made will forever be a part of me.
It’s not just a one-way street of Canadians moving to Korea to teach English. Thousands of Koreans come to Canada every year to learn English or to attend post-secondary school. On this, I can speak with authority as I run a Korean-English language exchange group in Toronto and I receive daily requests from new Koreans who would like to join our group.
One of the aspects of Korean Canadian relations that fascinates me – and which I plan to explore over the next year – is the people – both Korean and Canadian – who moved because of education and how that shaped them. I look forward to interviewing Koreans who have come to Canada and Canadians who lived in Korea about their experiences and sharing them with you. I know my three years in Korea shaped me in many ways – some easily apparent such as my fashion or love of K-pop (I recently journeyed to New Jersey for Big Bang) and some less apparent such as the gochujang in my fridge – so I look forward to seeing how the two countries have influenced others.
It’s impossible to live in another country without learning about it, without being influenced by it. During my three years in Korea, I had many new and exciting experiences during which I learned about Korea and Korean culture. Even though I’ve been back in Canada for almost four years, I can still remember the moment I knew I would love living in Korea – the moment I first felt like I was a member of the community – and it was such a simple moment. I was in a market and a grandmother handed me a half of a persimmon to try. That was the moment I felt comfortable there. I ended up buying some persimmons from her and she remembered me each time I returned to the market. And that’s just one of many stories I could tell.
I want to share the simple – yet impactful – stories like that one with you. Relations between Canada and Korea aren’t just in the realm of politics and business. They are everywhere. They are in the everyday Canadians and Koreans that visit as tourists, that live in the other country as teachers or students, or who immigrate.