-Where were you born?
I was born in Manila, Philippines, but spent my childhood in Ilocos Norte (a province up North of Luzon), living with my aunt during school days and spending Christmas and summer breaks with my mom and siblings in Baliwag, Bulacan.
-In which country and city are you living now?
I am now based here in Gwangju, Republic of Korea since I work here as a migrant worker (OFW-Overseas Filipino Worker). I am presently connected with The May 18 Memorial Foundation. It is a non-profit organization that promotes and commemorates the people's victory during the May 18, 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. A very significant history in Korea wherein two of its former presidents where sent to jail because of their wrongdoing and brutal military regime. The uprising brought about democratization in Korea and the rest as they say is history. The subsequent result of democracy was Korea's rise to economic prosperity.
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with our Cambodian intern and we have a lady intern from Indonesia for our neighbor.
-How long have you been living in Korea?
I was an intern in 2005-2006 and stayed for 10 months and then I came back in April 2007 so it is over a year now.
-What is your age?
I'll be 38 this coming August.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Korea?
I never thought of it. I just made a wish to visit this country in the future. But I was given an opportunity to do internship and then I was offered to stay on but have to go back to my previous NGO (Non-government Organization). Then things turned out not favorable for my stay back home and with the need to support my sister in her nursing education I came back in 2007.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
It was not hard in my case since my papers were worked out by the foundation that I work with. Although it was memorable the first time I came here to Korea. Since a lot of migrant workers come here to work illegally, I was suspected as one coming from a third world country. I was held for an hour at the immigration office with other nationalities with questionable papers. But after an hour of waiting, when the assigned immigration officer came to check my papers and called the office where I was to do my internship he was so apologetic for keeping me waiting and politely showed me out of their office. The second time around was without hassles.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
It was not difficult since the foundation provides for a medical insurance as staff benefit.
-How do you make your living in Korea?
I work as an international staff member of the Culture and Solidarity Team of The May 18 Memorial Foundation. It is interesting to note that the foundation is one of the first NGOs that hired an international staff. Many foreigners come here to work in companies, factories and private education institutions but in my case I work with an NGO.
-Do you speak Korean and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I am very bad at learning Korean. I have been here for some time and still cannot speak the language. Although I am beginning to understand the nuances of the language (smile). I am beginning to believe I am a slow learner (lazy that is). Definitely it is a must to learn the language especially here that only few Koreans speaks English and the rest are very shy to communicate with it. I am so ashamed of myself because of this and for being a fodder of jokes at the office.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Since I am a vagabond I do not miss much my friends and family (sometimes on a few occasions like birthday and some holidays). Anyway internet and mobile phones are readily available to get in touch with them. Although I miss playing with my nieces and nephews whenever I see lots of children running around the park close by the office or coming to our complex to watch plays at our auditorium. Also, at a young age I learned to be detached from families and friends since I would be in one place at certain time of a year and move to another (school season, summer, and Christmas break).
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I am looking for scholarship opportunities here in Korea and hope to be in a graduate school by Spring of 2009. If I get the chance it will take me two years to finish it so I might be staying here for those periods. And hoping in between I could travel to other places close by like China, Japan and Taiwan. After studies I plan to go back to my country and work with NGOs.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
The foundation pays for the rent but we pay for the utilities, eletricity, gas and internet/telephone bills. Gas bills would peak during winter time so we would spend for a month more than US $100.00, but summer time it is lesser. The place where we reside was developed not more than a decade ago so it is quite expensive, but the price we were not told. It is a decent villa they call it here, a 4-floor building with 3 doors on each floor (varied room sizes), the ground floor serves as a commercial space and the fourth floor is solely occupied by the owner.
-What is the cost of living in Korea?
It is one of the costliest countries to live and ranked fourth in the world. This year because of the oil price increase and the weakening value of Korean won prices of commodities have increased. The kimbap (rolled rice in seaweed with vegetable, egg and other stuffing) that used to cost US$ 1.00 is now costing US$ 1.50. I am not living is Seoul the capital city but prices here in Gwangju are almost the same.
-What do you think about the Koreans?
I am a bit concerned about some reports where bloggers are picking them up portraying rude Koreans back home (the Philippines hosts thousands of Koreans studying English and travelers aside from several businessmen). My experience so far, I find most Koreans polite and courteous. On the streets if you ask for your way you can either get someone who would tell you sorry for not being able to speak in English or someone who had traveled and lived outside Korea and would return the favor (he/she had experience being on your same predicament) by showing you if not bringing you to the place you are looking for. It is normal to be asked your age and marital status since their language has a particular way to address different age levels. They are humorous and fun-loving people. They enjoy singing and dancing. And they are for real hardworking people.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Korea?
Positive: nature here in Gwangju is fantastic, so much green and very clean (minimal air pollution), very safe to walk anytime of the night, convenience stores abound, transport system is efficient, good internet access, the variety of the cuisine is something to enjoy if you are fond of chilli hot food. So many places to go and things to do for as long as you have a good sum of money (mountains, rivers, beach, island, natural parks and themed parks), although you can also travel on a shoe-string budget if that is the case and if you do your research well, so better be prepared. I like their saunas or jimjilbang (sleeping room), public bath house and a place to spend leisure time with friends or family where everyone could sleep and snore at the same hall/rooms together. These places have internet access, big TV screen, sporting facilities, massage, restaurant and other amenities to while away weekends. These places also get popular during winter time. People are highly educated and very well informed (politicized even), many are environment advocates and fond of hiking and other sporting activities.
Negative: few people speak English so automatically the labels of food and establishments names are mostly in Korean or Konglish (Korean-English), the wash room is for washing not bathing. Most Korean apartments do not provide for a shower space. So you get to wet the whole wash room floor when taking a bath. I think the design was meant to maximize space and to make use of public bath places or saunas, so it is normal to see people carrying their basket of toiletries on the street. Litters of variety ads and flyers on the street, on your mail box and posted on your doors, it becomes an eyesore and so much garbage. So much food wastage in restaurants. Koreans are not fond of doggy bags and perhaps they find it too cumbersome to put all those numerous side dishes in a doggy bag so leftovers are thrown into the garbage bin.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Korea?
The answer to the negative and positive can speak for the tips. Anyhow, try to learn the language when you come or decide to live here. Be aware of the immigration department's advisory and policy especially for those who want to teach English. Do make yourself available for volunteer work. If you decide to live in Gwangju don't fail to check the Gwangju International Center. It is a one of a kind resource center for expats. It is fueled by the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of its volunteers, thus an English newsletter has been sustained by the expat community through the years. Before it was "Dynamic Korea" today it is "Sparkling Korea", my ad pitch: "Just come 2 Korea!".
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Korea?
I do blog about my life here in Korea at http://peterahon.blogspot.com, aside from the blog about my work or our office blog. The Korean Culture and Information Service manages a site at http://korea.net, it is a must visit for all intending to visit Korea. Also, if you are interested to know more about expats life in Korea check out this Korean blog list at http://www.koreanbloglist.com.