Young Koreans look to Ireland, U.K. for school

DUBLIN, Ireland – “As a little girl, I always had an image of England as a place where people wear top hats and dandy suits, and walk around umbrella in hand,” said Kim Do-young.

“I always believed there was something out there in a foreign country, just waiting for me.”

At 26 years old, Kim lives by the motto “seize the day,” and has only returned to her native Korea twice in over ten years. She’s one of an increasing number of young Koreans looking to expand their horizons on foreign shores, seeking a different type of education and a slower-paced lifestyle.

Kim chose the United Kingdom – and the industrial town of Coventry – as her new home.

As the geographical center of England, Coventry is mockingly nicknamed “the car park of Great Britain,” and Kim admits she sees it a little like a “black hole.”

“For the locals, it’s the center of the earth,” she adds. “But you can get almost anywhere in a day, and the Cotswolds and other scenic farming areas are within easy reach.”

After going through school, university and now entering employment in the United Kingdom, Kim concedes “the longer I stay, the less likely it is I’ll ever go back to my homeland.”

But even after 10 years there are still things she misses. “I’m surprised how little fish English people eat, considering all four corners of the country are surrounded by the sea. I miss my family of course, and I’ve had to tone down my spice-loving palette. At the end of the day, though, people are the same in terms of living.

“They eat, they work, they watch TV, they laugh, they cry, they go to the toilet and they sleep. The difference is that in Korea everything happens faster with ten times the intensity. In Coventry you get to do everything slow.”

Of course most expats do intend to return home.

Ham Ryul-suk – a former Gwangju resident – chose Dublin, Ireland as his destination, and sees himself as a more short term resident. “I expect to stay two or three years,” he says. “Until I’m satisfied with my English level, I probably won’t leave. English is more important now than other things.”

There are other benefits too, though: “In Korea I earned about 1 million won a month. For that I’d have to work 40-45 hours a week, minimum. Here I can make double that, and I only have to work 20-30 hours a week. Of course, the price of living in Ireland is higher, but whether I spend the money or not – at least to some extent – is up to me.”

Having lived with his parents right up until his move to Ireland, Ham met a host of domestic challenges head on. “I have to make meals, wash dishes, wash clothes, clean my room … in Korea, my mom did all of that. I miss my family. Things are not easy at home, and I miss Korean food and friends too.”

Overall, however, Ham seems to enjoy his new life.

“Dublin’s very cosmopolitan. I speak to people from many countries every day, and I have to speak to them in English. Sometimes I don’t want to, but in the long term it’s always an opportunity and a great benefit. At first I used to freeze when I tried to talk to people in the street. In my first week I walked into someone, and I couldn’t think what to say.

“He said sorry even though I knew it was my fault. I think the people here are very kind, gentle and polite. I’m no longer afraid to talk to foreigners. I have changed my life, and my personality. Now I feel brave, I believe I can do anything.”

The cosmopolitan streets of English-speaking Western Europe, it seems, are a new refuge for Korea’s enthusiastic youngsters to seek out an education in languages and culture, with many looking increasingly likely to stay put.

As Kim puts it, “I could write a book about it. Every day’s an experience. I still have problems sometimes. Like at university, when a friend told me a professor was going on sabbatical.

I confused the word with ‘Sabbath,’ and said I didn’t know the professor was Jewish. But we all laughed about it. I still think the biggest challenges are yet to come, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

As published in the Korea Herald, August 25th 2009.

link: this article on the Korea Herald website

Musical Tourism: The UK, past and present.

Past: Camden Town

In Camden town, you can do anything you want to (Suggs – Camden Town)

Quirky, colorful Camden Town is still Britain’s most well known alternative centre. A bustling market district, Camden revolves around a new style of down and out grunge – one that appears in a range of vivid Technicolor. You can still visit the infamous old venues, buy dubious substances on nearly every street corner and wear tie dye and facial piercings in public without being considered an outcast. ‘Koko’ is still one of London’s most fashionable venues: even on an average night, expect serious difficulties getting in. The Underworld and Camden Palace are also amongst the most well known mid-sized venues the UK has to offer: the kind of place where if you pick the right night that Superstar just might make an unannounced appearance.

It all started in the late 60s. In the early days Camden Roundhouse was the place to be: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors all put in early appearances. More recently Camden became the self proclaimed home of Britpop, as the home of star artists from bands including Oasis, Blur and Pulp. The fame resulted in MTV music and major record label Creation taking up residence in Camden Lock, where they remain to this day. Musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, REM, The Ramones and Blondie also all claim some connection to Camden in their past.

It’s the old school ‘scene’ feel of Camden which is the real draw though. It’s a place where ‘alternative’ is normal: you’ll never feel so out of place walking around in jeans and a t-shirt. The market stalls sell everything you’ve never seen before and the venues all cater to the organic, the vegan and the international. Buildings are cartoon like, plastered in bright oversized signs and painted up like a large scale jester convention.

A world of oddities to be discovered then, and that’s without even touching on the extensive art and photography scene, propensity for oddly flavored lolly pops and numerous great drinking establishments. Is Camden the ultimate rock and roll tourist destination? It just might be.

Present: The Yorkshire Scene – Sheffield and Leeds.

Yeah, I’d love to tell you all my problem, You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham, So get off the bandwagon… (The Arctic Monkeys making Yorkshire cool in ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’).

If red is the new black, and miniskirts are the new winter range then Yorkshire is definitely the new Manchester. The regional accent ‘thing’ is back, and this time it’s the dour realism of the Yorkshire man that’s all the rage. Much to Londoner’s dismay, Sheffield is dead centre of the UK Indie scene now. The home of Pulp has recently spawned a huge range of chart bothering acts, most notably the Artic Monkeys. The heavily-hyped, accent-based act’s music is heavily Sheffield influenced, with multiple references to the city falling into almost every one of the teenager’s songs. Venues such as the Leadmill and Mojo Club have acquired a big national reputation.

Much of the rest of the Yorkshire scene is based around Leeds – a city with a growing reputation as the UK’s party- hard student capital. With bands as prominent as the Kaiser Chiefs, Pigeon Detectives and Corinne Bailey Rae leading the charge, and their very own rock festival, perhaps the scale of the Leeds scene is less shocking then the level to which the rest of the UK have taken it to heart: a night out in Leeds has become something of a musical pilgrimage.

This looks like a scene set to last: in 04/05 simply having guitars and a Yorkshire accent was enough to provoke a gamble from most record labels, but the scene seems to have leveled off instead of peaked. Of course, most of the bands are still shrouded in a fog of obscurity, but despite the commercial scramble the scene lives on. Sheffield and Leeds are still the places to be for music.  Quite a change from the days of the infamous Monty Python sketch that depicts ‘the third world: Yorkshire’, then.

As published in Rokon Magazine, February 2008.