In February, I had an interview with Debrief, a UK brand that aims to be more than ‘BuzzFeed for girls’, about living a few miles away from North Korea. The editor directed questions not only to me, but to several 20-somethings living in Korea, to feature various perspectives on the issue. When the article was released, I realized the editor even reached out to an UK girl living in Seoul and her answers somehow drew my attention. An idea came into my mind that it would be interesting if I interviewed her from a different angle. And that is how I contacted my third interviewee. As a K-beauty blogger, Katherine Spowart shares her experience in Korea, seeing Korea as a paradise of cosmetics.
- I have always loved travelling, and because I wanted to pursue teaching as a career, it made sense to try teaching and travelling. I searched online for places to teach abroad and Korea kept popping up. Online reviews and discussions suggested Seoul was a vibrant city, a good place to save money, a unique blend of old and new, and overall safe for females travelling alone. All of these aspects really appealed to me. I researched what I needed to get a teaching job here, and completed a TEFL certificate to give me a better chance. I then sent my CV to a number of recruiters I found online, who came back with job offers for me. I received a number of offers and then when I saw a job I liked the look of, I accepted an interview with them. The interviews are via Skype, and then they told my recruiter they wanted to hire me, and sent the contracts through.
- My teaching life has just recently changed pretty dramatically. I used to work at a hagwon (학원), where I started at 9am and finished at 7pm. These are particularly long hours – most hagwons have long teaching hours but usually less than 10 hours a day. I would teach kindergarten in the morning then elementary after 3pm. This is pretty typical. I really liked my classes, especially my kindergarten homeroom class. Teaching jobs here usually provide an apartment near the school, and I loved my apartment. I would walk to school each day and it was very close to a big subway station.
- I have recently changed to an after-school program, which typically only hire teachers already in Korea. I am now working in a public elementary school, and teach kids aged 7-13 English when they are done at elementary school. It is very different to a hagwon but I am enjoying it a lot. I travel more for this job, as they actually gave me a housing allowance and where I chose to live is about 45 minutes from my school. But the subway here is great so I do not mind the commute! And it means I get to live very centrally which is what I wanted.
One and Only in Korea
- K-Beauty: Innovative ingredients and formulas, a really wide range of products, lots of different stand alone stores, huge competition between the many stores, a very fast paced market, and the marketing techniques.
- For example, those who follow my Instagram will know about my snail ingredient obsession – this was something I had not heard much about before I came here, and definitely not an ingredient I imagined I would fall in love with. This past year has also seen the popularity of ingredients such as honey, horse oil, and specialized waters, among others. The ingredients really capture my interest. Another significant difference is where I buy my beauty products here. At home, I bought most of my cosmetics in drugstores, but here there are just so many stand alone stores everywhere. Every company is also constantly coming out with new products. Plus the marketing techniques are intense with cute packaging and samples.
- I try to keep up-to-date with cosmetics trends here as well as in the Western market. I read other blogs, customers reviews of products, as well as browsing Instagram frequently. And of course, I research and try out many different products and take photos of my K-Beauty collection. I also write monthly beauty columns for Econovill – Economic Review that is available online and in print. I decided to become a K-Beauty blogger because I just could not get away from my obsession.
- Everywhere I go in Seoul, I see beauty stores and I loved to go into them so much that I quickly began learning a lot about K-Beauty. Each store is individual, and all are in competition, so the pace of the market is exciting. I love following the changing trends. It is a great outlet for me outside of my daytime work, and a hobby accessible in Seoul. I feel K-Beauty is starting to take hold in the West. It is definitely grown significantly in the United States, and I am sure it will soon start to become more mainstream in the UK as well. This is something I want to be part of. Luckily, I am here in Seoul; the perfect place to blog about my passion.
- The work culture is very different and takes some getting used to. From what I have seen, it is not as common for workers to speak freely about their opinions on what is happening in the workplace, and it is not necessarily received well if they do. At home, if you are unhappy in your job or feel like you are being treated unfairly, you would probably talk honestly to your boss or representative about it. Here, people seem much more reluctant to do that. I am not certain as why – I think the power balance between employers, seniors and employees is different with more of an obvious hierarchy. These are just my observation and what I have heard from friends. Maybe I have not seen or heard the full picture.
- The food is obviously very different but I love it now! I had a hard time with kimchi and all of the rice when I first arrived. I still can’t eat rice every day, but I think I have a kimchi addiction now! I crave it with most meals. I also love the side dish culture here, and the fact that in any Korean restaurant you order your main meal and then get some surprise sides. I did not have a problem with spicy food when I arrived, as I have always loved spice. As a matter of fact, I am often in restaurants where Korean people have been shocked that I like the very spicy food – I think generally there is an idea that foreigners can’t eat spicy food, so maybe that is something some expats struggle with.
- I love how the entire city of Seoul goes all night, you can get a great meal at 4am and it is not a big deal.
- I also feel like Korea is so safe compared to the majority of other countries I have visited. Of course there is crime, but people do not really tend to steal things, there is never pick-pocketing, and I do not generally worry about being a female alone here.
- Myeongdong is my absolute favorite place to shop. For online, I only really shop on GMarket, as importing things can sometimes be a hassle, and I do not understand enough Korean to shop on Korean sites. GMarket is great for the electrics and beauty shopping I do, and the delivery is always within a couple of days if the product is coming from Korea.
- For 2016, I plan to develop my new blog and write regularly. I would like to do some videos, as well as taking some beautiful photos. I am really keen to do Seoul beauty shopping guides, which I think would be interesting for readers. I am also looking at taking some professional makeup classes to develop my knowledge, and I think it would be a great experience to learn about Korean makeup trends.
Just the facts: Social media edition
Check out Katherine Spowart’s social media and website.
If you want to check out her Economic Review Articles articles: