Expat Series: Living In South Korea – Interview from a True Expat

This month’s #ExpatSeries takes us to South Korea with a California native bridging cultural gaps through language. Teaching english aboard is one of the many ways expats choose to dive in to the authentic lives of the locals. Charlene “Charly” Abdullah, like many expats, understands that using language as a means of cultural exchange presents an opportunity to meet new people, earn a living and of course gain a better experience while aboard.

Meet Charly.  

English Teacher, Youtube Vlogger, Motivator, Entrepreneur, Lover of life. 

Cat cafe

Getting Started

As a traveler, Charly knows how important it is to capture the moments along her adventures and the pleasure it is to share those moments with others. Charly is known within the land of Youtube for her witty, interesting and honest vlogging that shows all of her anecdotes of her time in South Korea and beyond. From how to get a teaching job to how South Korea deals with real life issues can be found on her channel, CharlyCheer!

Travel vlogging

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah

Preparing for Your Trip:

A few months prior to her departure, Charly begin practicing the basics of the language. Although, she was planning on teaching english, it was very important that Charly learned the local language since this would be her first time in South Korea. Charly spent 3.5 years living and working in South Korea but her story did not initiate with a simple decision to move out of the U.S. Charly tells us of her bumpy start to becoming an expat:

I lived in Korea for 3.5 years with the initial intention of teaching English in China. An old roommate called me one day saying she was teaching english in China. She knew I was interested in Asia so she offered to help me find a teaching job. She said I could stay with her until I was rooted. I was all in! I notified my boss that I would be leaving in a month. I booked my flight. I was ready!

2 weeks before my flight my friend informed me that she was unable to help me on this mission so I had to think fast!  I had to decide if I wanted to continue this journey to China alone with no knowledge of the language or how to get around. I had to ask myself what did I really want? 

Brave woman! Charly is definitely an example of a true expat as there can be many hiccups when traveling.

Securing the Job: 

Charly tells us that securing the teaching job abroad isn’t too hard. If you have the qualifications and follow the basic steps it takes, the frustrations of the process is rewarding when you look back. “The work ethic in Korea is so different than anything I’ve ever experienced. “Saving face” is really important in Korea and it’s important to present a good image and work ethic.”

working in Korea

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah


Staying in another country more than 30, typically requires you to get a travel visa. For South Korea, Charly had an E2 visa. U.S. passport holders can visit Korea for 3 months visa free but I fyou want to teach in Korea you need to have an employer interested to sponsor your E2 visa.

Housing & Transportation

Arriving in South Korea requires some major to dos and Charly was able to get a head start on one of the most important things when traveling…where to live! 

The way that I got to Korea was a bit different. Because I went as an English teacher I had a few advantages and perks. I got free housing and my school provided the housing for me so I didn’t have to bother with it. The teaching program I went through also helped me sign up for my bank account, getting a phone and health insurance. You can also ask your co-teacher or other teachers for help and they are more than willing to help you feel comfortable in Korea.



Having a plan is key and the advantage of help on the other side can make the move that much easier. Once Charly was settled with housing, deciding how she will get around time was important since getting back and forth to work would be important. There are a few transportation choices in South Korea and options are good when each one varies in price. The subway is the most common way to get around and it’s inexpensive and clean. Taxi’s and buses are inexpensive as well. Charly mentioned that she was “very happy to be able to take a 5-10 minute taxi ride without the fear of breaking the bank.”

What I Love About South Korea

Before deciding on where in the world you want to live and work, there have to be some things about the location that attracts you to it. Charly loved the language and the spirit of the people shown through their kindness and welcoming personalities. Charly tells us that the Korean dishes made the decision easy! There’s always a new Korean dish to discover no matter how long you’ve lived there. There are even dishes Koreans themselves have never heard of!

Korean cuisine

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah

Often times, the decision of “where to travel” can be tainted by the perception you may have from your environment (family, friends and home country). “In the media South Korea is frequently popping up on the news for fear of North Korea. The interesting thing about living there is experiencing friends from back home freaking out over the news and hype on television while everyone in Korea is chowing down on a delicious kimchi fried rice dish.” Sometimes being amongst the people can allow you to decipher the fears that the media natural project. 

Locals are very tolerant of foreigners especially if you show that you respect and appreciate the culture. Charly enjoys having the balance of hanging out with the locals and having other foreign friends. Hanging out with the locals allows you to exchange culture and language and learn to understand each other’s differences. Having foreign friends who understand your struggles and where you’re coming from keeps you balanced.

Expat Tip: Join a sport, a club, a meet up, go dancing. Just get out and be open to it and approachable. A lot of people say they want to make friends but never leave their house.

Charly’s growing love for Korean comes from make learning the language a priority.

Expat Tip: “I speak Korean and would encourage anyone who wants to visit a specific country to start learning the language. It’s an instant connection to the natives to make them open up when meeting you and it’s just respectful. We shouldn’t expect others to speak our language. We are going there, we should at least try to learn the language.”

Being stared at in Busan

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah

A Day in the Life

Charly says her typical day starts with a great healthy meal, teaching her classes and indulging in the nearby restaurants just like the locals:

“I wake up around 7:30-7:45am. I would usually make a smoothie to take to work and drink before mLunch break selfie in the school hallway
y first class.  Lunch break at 12pm where I had an hour lunch break and permission to leave the school grounds to either make and eat lunch at home or go to a nearby restaurant. I’d usually make another smoothie or rice and veggies or eat kimbap, bibimbap or ddeokbeoki at a nearby restaurant. Around 4:30, I  walk home from work. Make dinner and film and edit my Youtube videos. I enjoyed working out at the nearby park and even took up belly dancing a few years before that. There are lots of hagwons which are after school programs to learn a skill like piano lessons, taekwondo etc. I’ve signed up for hair bow making lessons. On weekends I spent a bit more time exploring and spending time making travel videos.”

These are a Few of my Favorite Things:

After 3.5 years of living and breathing the amazing culture of South Korea, Charly is the expert at all the great experiences to share with you all:

thing to do: Eat. A lot. I love Indian, Mexican…everything. I love exploring meat and dairy free cuisine from other cultures.

place to go out: Themed cafés. There are coffee shops with animal themes. If you go to a dog cafe, you will enter a coffee shop filled with dogs you can sit with and pet while sipping on your tea or coffee. You can also buy treats there to feed them too. There are all kinds of themed cafés from dog, cat to sheep!

place to eat: Buddhist temples are a fun and new way to learn how some people eat. If you do a temple stay where you spend the night at a temple, you can learn how Buddhist monks eat and pray.


neighborhood: Gangneung, Gangwon-do. I love nature and seeing the seasons change. It’s perfect in the Spring and Fall. Cherry blossoms in the Spring and wine colored leaves in the Fall.

memory made in the city/country: My belly dance instructor introduced me to one of her friends, Minji. My new friend Minji calls me a few days later and said she told her mom about me and her mom was sad she didn’t get to meet me. She invited me over the next day around lunchtime and when I arrived table of vegetarian Korean feast right before my eyes. Her mom heard I was vegetarian and she went out of her way to prepare a special meal for me.

My Korean friend Minji

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah


Travel Gems from Charly to You

Start learning the language now! It’s easy to learn how to read and write and not too difficult to learn basic words and phrases. It will make your time in Korea more enjoyable and Koreans are appreciative of your “attempts” at tackling the language.

Stay Connected on Charly’s Next Adventure

Want to learn more about South Korea or keep up with Charly’s next
adventure? Make sure to follow her across the internet (links below!) and don’t forget to comment, share, and like this piece to your friends, family and followers to help us educate the world about how “Culture Connects People.”

Strawberry picking

Photo Credit: Charlene Abdullah

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/charly.cheer

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charlycheer/

Blog: http://www.charlycheer.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/charlycheer

Tumblr: https://www.tumblr.com/blog/charly-cheer

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/charlycheer

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