Thursday, 6 September 2012

Interview With An Expat: Whit B Nimble in South Korea

Whit B Nimble herself!

I'm so excited to bring you this week's expat interview with Whit B Nimble! Whit is an American expat who's currently spending her second year living and teaching in South Korea after taking an awe-inspiring travel break between contracts.
Just over a month ago, she founded her blog, which regularly features delightful DIY's, rich photography, and thoughtful insights into her experiences in Korea. In that short month, she's already seen an impressive number of visitors stop in to see what beautiful thing she's going to post about next. Here, I pick her brain about expat life, her feelings about Korea, her travel dreams, and how she started blogging.

So what prompted the move to Korea?

A tall, dark, handsome guy who swooped in from India and stole my heart. Seriously. We had known each other for many years, after being introduced by a mutual friend. We met for drinks when he returned from teaching in Korea/ traveling India. A few months after reuniting, he suggested I come to Korea. At the time, I was managing a coffee shop in Nashville, and had grown complacent after years of working retail. I was itching for something new, and I couldn't let the opportunity pass me by. I got a job offer one Monday morning, and immediately started unraveling my life in Nashville. I quit my job, broke my lease, put a 'for sale' sign in my car window, sold or gave away most of my belongings, and packed a suitcase of clothes. I flew to Korea the following Sunday.

Love birds at the ghats - Varanasi, India

That's a pretty good reason to head to Korea! What did you think of your first year of living as an expat?

I think there are a thousand things I could have done differently, or better. I couldn't get over the fact that I got mixed up with a less-than-reputable private school (hagwon). I had an attitude towards Korea that went something like, "How dare you try to take advantage of me when I left everything I owned and knew to fly 6,000 miles to work here?!" As if Korea, or anyone in it, owed me anything. Because of my bad attitude, I shut out everything around me. I didn't attempt to learn the language. I didn't even try to learn how to read, and I know now, just how simple it is to learn. I spent a lot of my time feeling sorry for myself. I'm sure people thought I was crazy for returning this year, but this time around, I made a lot of promises to myself. Promises to take better care of myself physically and emotionally. Promises to make an honest effort at being present in my community. Promises to do my best at work no matter the kind of environment I was dealt. Because I've kept these promises, this year has been so different. I came back with high expectations both for, how I handled myself, and of what Korea truly has to offer. So far, I'm having a fantastic year.

Do you have any advice for others going to live in Korea?

Outside of using a reputable recruiter to secure a job, my advice would be to stop taking other people's advice. Memorizing every custom/cultural norm and learning to read Hangul before you come, are not necessary. It takes two days to learn how to read, and you'd never believe that Koreans do everything last minute, until you have to do everything last minute. The only thing worth focusing on is how you allow yourself to see and react to situations. Let things happen and be surprised. When you need to, let things go. You'll have such a rich experience if you soak in all the newness of this country with as few expectations as possible. (That was older, wiser Whitney preaching to the younger, stubborn first-year-in-Korea Whitney, by the way.)

Cambodia smile- Battambang, Cambodia

During the first year you worked in Korea, you lived in Seoul, but now you're living in a city outside of Seoul. Which do you prefer?

I prefer a mix of the two. Living in Seoul was fast paced and fun, but it could be exhausting at times. Most people won't try to connect because they're busy rushing from one place to the next. My boyfriend lived two hours outside of Seoul last year, so I was able to escape the chaos of Seoul and relax in the quiet, slower paced place on the weekends. People were warm and friendly there. They smiled a lot. They tried to connect with me even though there was a language barrier, but I can admit that I'd sometimes miss the music, shopping, and bar/cafe scene in Hongdae and Gangnam. This year we are equidistant from Hongdae and the town I enjoyed visiting last year. I'm very happy here, stuck in the middle.

I just so happen to know that you're quite accomplished at making cards and have turned that talent into a small business in the past. Are you considering reviving your business in Seoul?

"Quite accomplished" is certainly a compliment! I had a go at it when I was back in the States for a few months this year. I imagined it would be easy to bring my stock of hand made cards to Korea, and get them into outdoor markets quite easily. I found, after a few botched attempts and disregarded market applications, that it's not so easy for a foreigner. That hasn't made me give up on them completely though. I just think I need to find my community in Korea first. I need to find my niche and how to market my product in the best possible way.

Evening beach- Koh Chang, Thailand

Can you make us all envious with mention of some places you've gone traveling through?

I am so happy to answer this question because it's been on my mind a lot lately. This week is an anniversary of sorts. This time last year, my boyfriend and I left Korea, and flew to Thailand. We had only our backpacks and a small pocket of savings, but we had as much time as we wanted. We stayed in shabby guesthouses, shared meals, didn't buy expensive souvenirs, and were able to stretch our money for four months of travel. We spent time on the beaches in Thailand and by the rivers in Laos. We loved Cambodia so much we stayed for a month. I'm not sure what I loved more about Cambodia, the infectious smiles on the locals faces, boat trips through the floating villages, or sunset in Battambang. That is one special country! However, it was India that stole my heart, particularly Darjeeling and Varanasi. India is just an indescribable gem that everyone must experience for themselves. We hope to return there soon for an extended stay, maybe even a year. Six weeks just wasn't enough.

Where do you dream of finding yourself next year? In a few years?

I like that you used "dream". I day dream a lot, and I make few solid plans. As far as daydreaming about next year, I imagine myself living and teaching in a new country. I'm not sure where, but I'm ready for a change. Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong are all places I'd consider living and teaching. Resumes will be applied to many places, and then I'll wait to see what opportunities present themselves. I'm even ready to be uncomfortable again. (I really never thought I'd say that!) Navigating new neighborhoods, attempting to learn a new language, and getting acquainted with new customs are all really exciting challenges. Over the next few years I hope to travel a lot, and only work as much as I need to. In addition to India, I'd like to visit Morocco, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Japan.

Sunbathing at The Ganges- Varanasi, India

It's no secret around here that I'm a massive fan of your blog! How did you get started blogging?

You are too kind! I've been following blogs for some time now, but I always made excuses for the fact that I wasn't writing one. (Can I commit the time a good blog requires? What if no one reads it?) Two of the goals I had set for myself upon my return to Korea were, connecting with new friends who had similar interests, and staying in touch with my family back home (I was especially bad at this during my first year in Korea.). During the first few months, to keep my family updated, I started making Power Point presentations (I know, how "teacherly" of me, right?) of my daily life in Korea. Those were a bit cumbersome, had a limited audience, and didn't help me with my goal of connecting with new people. I realized that, in order to accomplish what I'd set out to do, my communication would have to be more open. A blog was the best way, and I have absolutely loved working on it, and meeting new people because of it (like you!)

Hooray for blog friends! Okay, final question: cowboy boots or couple's t-shirts?!

Ha! I'll never be able to hide my southern accent, but you'll never catch me in a pair of cowboy boots! I'd go with couple's shirts, if and only if, they were adorned with the most hilariously translated English phrases. You know the ones. Earlier this year we were accused of couple's hair cuts, does that count?


I think couple's hair cuts definitely count!
Thanks so much to Whit for all of her thoughtful answers! <3

Be sure to catch up with her gorgeous blog, Whit B Nimble! Bonus points if you tweet a hello to her on twitter and make friends on facebook!

xx Lady Expatriate