Transitioning into Life as an Expat

I’d never thought I’d be an “expat” even if I have siblings living abroad. I’d always heard that immigration is difficult especially in a country with a culture that is so much different from ours. Not only that, life in another country would mean doing the household chores by yourself since hiring a maid is very expensive.
Before I married my husband, we had to negotiate on a lot of things. I was enjoying my life as a single woman earning some moolah and with plans to boot (CPA, MBA and law school). I thought that watching TV programs, reading and listening to people’s stories, and even attending seminars would be enough for me to easily adapt in my new country’s cultures. Boy was I wrong!
Immigration doesn’t just mean getting a visa to a country of your choice. It means so much more like learning how things are done in your new country, adapting to those ways and even forgetting what you’ve been used to. Here in South Korea, the most difficult factor in the first few months of my “expat life” is the language. I couldn’t function without my husband interpreting for me. I also had to adjust to eating three rice meals a day with almost the same side dishes each time. And of course, there are customs that are new to me.
I’ve been an expat for six years and every day is an opportunity to learn something. Even those who came before me and had lived here for more than a decade are still learning. When you are an expat, do you really need to adapt to your new country? Of course! No one should expect the people of a country (especially one that boasts of its 5,000 year history) to totally accomodate an immigrant. Immigration can be daunting at first but it’s also a life rewarding and life changing event.


  1. Hi Ms. betchay.
    My brother is currently working in Korea for almost 2 years now ( under EPS). He will be having his first vacation back here in the Phils( with the approval of his boss.
    Questions:I was just wondering if he still needs to get his korean visa re-approved.Ang alam ko his visa when he went in Korea is already expired- but meron siyang alien permit/card ngayon.
    Ang sabi nya kasi sa akin accdg to his boss and friends na kahit na expired na ang visa basta may alien card/permit ok na. Confused lang kasi ako, ano ang titignan sa immigration pag bumalik siya dito sa Phils? I believe visa is an approval that you are allowed to enter a country. Paano kung expired na ang visa nya baka ma question siya ng immigtration sa korea and Phils.
    I hope you could help me.

  2. Language barrier is also the biggest obstacle for me. It’s frustrating to be reduced to simple phrases like yes, no and a few handful phrases and not be able to converse with other people other than your husband, your boss and a few workmates.
    .-= giselle´s last blog ..Chuseok 2009 =-.

  3. @simon
    basta may alien’s card siya na valid bago sya magbakasyon, pwede po yon.kc like in my case nung pumunta ako dito 90days lng valid visa ko so kelangan ko kumuha ng aliens card before mag-expire visa ko para legal ako d2. usually binigay nila extension is 1 year.valid aliens card ang importante kc youn nmn ang hinahanp lgi sa immig>>>aliens card/.
    sana makatulong ito

  4. @ SIMON
    ARC holder yung brother mo so definitely may naka-note naman sa passport nya or in front or at the back of his ARC (siguro) kung hanggang kailan extended yung stay nya dito. as for my case when i visited the Philippines, i had to get a “RE-ENTRY” permit from the immigration office. if di nya makukuha yon sa nearest immigration office sa kanya, pwede daw sa immigration sa airport na mismo. if wala syang re-entry permit, kahit di pa expired visa or contract nya, don sya magkaka problema. (but i’m an F-21 visa holder/ARC holder. I hope it’s the same simple procedure with those under EPS)
    .-= jehan´s last blog ..How Was Your Chuseok? =-.

  5. @ simon
    oops i forgot to include in my earlier comment na hahanapin yung ARC sa immigration ng incheon airport. pagbalik nya dito, wala naman na problema basta may re-entry sya…

  6. For Anne and Jehan
    Thanks so much for your help. I will communicate with my brother regarding sa mga comments nyo. I will update you guys and if I have some /additional questions I hope you could help pa din.
    Again, maraming salamat

  7. I’m surprised you still identify yourself as an expat. Thinking of one’s self as an expat will make it more difficult to assimilate into your husband culture. As you are living in Korea, your children cannot be 50% Korean and 50% Filipino. They will always be more Korean than Filipino. An expat is always an outsider in the country, whether he is staying temporarily or permanently. Many countries do offer tax deductions for expats. I guess that’s not true for foreigners married to Koreans?

    1. I enjoy the benefits of being a Korean citizen here, but I can never be Korean. Even years of living here won’t make me Korean since there is just so much to learn. The good news is that I’ve adjusted to life here just fine. Oh well, you’ll have to know me personally ;p

  8. I was born American, but I’m also Brazillian, half-Korean, and so much more! Every nation on Earth is a great place!
    Having traveled the world some, and met many new friends who call themselves Ex Pats I’ve learned that historically the official meaning for Ex Pat was somebody who had no hopes or desire of returning to their home country. Whether self-imposed, accidental (ship wrecked), or forced. But that was before the world became Global and technology made our world small, now everybody is everywhere!
    So most foreigners even if not exiled from their home country if living abroad for more than just a few years are now calling themselves Ex Pats which I think is just fine because it’s a fun term and as Mrs Betchay pointed out that even self-imposed possibly temporary exile is not much different than actual exile sometimes! And no matter who you are, what you’re doing, you never know when you’ll be returning home. Temporary could become forever, and visa verse.
    And once you’re married to another country it’s likely you’ll never return to your homeland. And a great experience I’ve seen many times is that a person sometimes even falls in love with their new home and becomes so immersed they eventual are considered natives by the natives and choose to never return to the place of their birth except maybe on visits and as a tourist!
    The reason I wanted to write all of this was to give some wisdom on the whole “what am I” dilemma that President Obama put best and most eloquently in his book he wrote when he was the Governor of Illinois of my home state of birth. It has been theorized by many that Obama was born in Africa, in a building on a street that was pointed out by his grandmother, on national TV during his visit to Africa, as the spot where he was born. Raised by non-Africans in Hawaii and living his whole life in America, Obama was torn between the distinct “white” and “black” cultures that’s more prevalent in some parts of and some periods in history of America.
    It seems to me he finally recieved his answer or peace and settled or figured it out some how. But the truth is, we’re all strangers on this planet because we don’t choose or decide where we’ll be born, and to who, and where we’ll end up. Who we start out as, often isn’t who we become, or how we end up. The best way to live on this planet is to assume that all nationalities, all people, regardless of location, race, religion, color, or customs are all humans. And it’s wise to say we are the nationality of where we were raised because that’s what comes out of us when we talk, act, how we behave, our beliefs, and so much more is all bred into us by our upbringing.
    Even in America we’re often called Southerners, West coast, East coast, Texans, and so on because those cultures are hard to hide and errase and are visible to those around us especially our friends and people who know us best. I had a girlfriend who I had no idea she was from New Jersey until one day I made her mad and her fiery “Jersey” accent was unleashed in a way I’ll never forget! We are who we are, there’s no point in hiding that. I admire your strong desire to “always be Filipino” and there’s nothing wrong with being who you are. That’s the best way!
    But also, take it from somebody who was raised in the Great Melting Pot, which describes most nations but none as greatly, I have many mothers from all around the world, I was bred on military bases all around the U.S. and world, so my culture and accent is well rounded and cannot be pinpointed but I claim that I’m Brazillian, half-Korean, a little Filipino, and born in America. My blood comes from England, Scotland, and a little German, but mostly I can say my bloodline is French by my father’s bloodline, with a lot of Native American Indian blood in me (why I can’t grow a beard very quickly).
    I’ve learned to say that my children: are who they are dependent on where they were “raised”. And by who. I’ve known friends who you’d never ever discover where their blood comes from because of who they are today, because it’s dependent not on where your blood comes from but who you were raised by.
    Many Americans living in Africa who could not be distinguished by photo as American or African, and I’m not talking about color, not all Africans are black or white! What I’m saying is that it’s by their distinct American behavior that the natives know these people are not African. It is our behavior, not our face, that distinguishes who we are.
    It is our acts, deeds, beliefs, and what we leave behind, that says who we are. And all nationalities are capable of great acts, deeds, beliefs, and legacies. Nationality in the grand scheme only means what the people say it does, and what it leaves behind. So basically nationality means nothing, it’s the “people” that means something. What they do and leave behind! And all nations have bred heroes, great treasures, and blessings.
    I thank God just as much for Koreans as I do Filipinos, and both those just as much as I do for Americans. And just as much for Brazillians. And all nationalities. I thank God for all the humans upon this Earth. And I don’t care where my children are raised, so long as they’re human and happy.
    For financial reasons I pray they speak Chinese, and for insanity’s sake I hope they have a little stupid American in them, but mostly I pray they have the strong traditional back ground and heated blood of the Filipino and Korean nations. Just so that they always fare well in a fierce fight, survive any hell, and when arguing prices at the market.
    When some of my babies were raised by a different father, I told those kids, “he’s your father” end of story. But I told them I am also. I taught them that the person who raises you, is your parent, end of story. Blood isn’t just skin deep.. it’s so deep that it’s “buried”! It affects you yes, but you’d almost never know how, unless somebody of that blood told you how.
    And so I’d suppose, the place that raises you, is where you came from, who you are. Not where your ancestors were raised. Where “you” were raised. Right now, you’re being raised in Korea. So like me, you’ll have a well rounded upbringing 🙂 There’s nothing wrong with being multi-national, even if it’s totally so!
    Take it from somebody who doesn’t even know what I started out as! Just like Obama, one day I just figured it out on my own. And he’s President! Who we are can hold us back, only if we let it. And who we are, really doesn’t matter. It’s what we do!
    It’s what we do….
    Your friend always,
    -Ben Arnold ã……ã……

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