Road to Korea: Yvette Cruz

My shopping places
My shopping places

Here comes a new Road to Korea interview. I have operated this interview series for nearly 10 months because I like looking for people who have an interesting life journey. But, it is not easy to find expats to interview. This time, however, I was pretty lucky. I can’t remember how I found her Instagram account, but as soon as I read Yvette Cruz’s biography (Wardrobe Stylista; Fashion Journalist; City Life), I just had to interview her about her journey to Korea. I know some foodie bloggers and some travel bloggers, but finding a fashion blogger was definitely a first. How amazing is that? If you are looking for fashion tips, don’t miss her latest postings at www.districtgal.com.

Reason

I decided to move to South Korea in 2010 for a new working experience, culture, and adventure. I have always had an appreciation for languages as I’m bilingual in English and Spanish. I always felt it was a great value to be able to speak two languages fluently. This inspired me to try out a new career path in teaching English to children abroad.

At first, I was interested in moving to a Spanish speaking country. With my research skills, it didn’t take long to find tons of TEFL programs all over the world. When I got more specific with my search, I found a TEFL Institute in Chicago. It offered programs allowing you to teach anywhere worldwide with lifetime job placement. I honestly thought it was too good to be true, but after I spoke to someone at the institute with hands-on experience teaching English overseas. He was full of resources and highly recommended Seoul, South Korea.

Seoul is a popular city for westerners to visit and teach English in. It has one of the highest paying salaries for ESL teachers. Also, it’s a good base for traveling around Asia. My family and friends (myself included) thought I would be kidnapped by North Koreans. Ha!

When I arrived at the airport, there was a driver holding a sign with my name on it as promised during the interview. I wish I took a picture of it as it looked like a scene out of a movie. The man spoke NO English, which was worrisome, but I rang my co-teacher who spoke fluent English and felt much more at ease. I arrived at my apartment in a quaint little neighborhood a block away from Kyeonggi University. I replaced a lovely teacher who I lived with for a week before her trek back to America.

suwondays_atk
Her days in Suwon area.

That was six years ago and since then I’ve met so many new friends from all around the world. I have learned a totally new language, experienced a fascinating culture and my entrepreneurial spirit has really kicked-off! 

Since I come from a big city like Chicago (Go Cubs!!) it didn’t take long to figure out how to get around on transportation. Seoul has an elite subway system at an affordable price unlike Japan. But rush hour is beyond MADNESS!!

Image Courtesy of Districtgal.com Seoul has an elite subway system at an affordable price unlike Japan. But rush hour is beyond MADNESS!!
Seoul has an elite subway system, but rush hour is beyond MADNESS!! | Image Courtesy of Districtgal.com

Koreans don’t like to speak English, but there are enough visible English signs to help tourists. After becoming more comfortable with my new surroundings, the language, and the culture I was able to obtain a better living and work position in Korea. I have worked for a public school, worked for an international and public high school as an arts instructor, developed content for a Korean publishing company; and I now enjoy working for an after school program. This job helps me sustain a living while pursuing my dreams in the fashion industry. After some experience working in Korea, you’ll find it’s easy to move around and change jobs as long as you’ve maintained good relationship with your Korean co-workers and come highly recommended. A positive attitude goes a long way!

I have had the opportunity to live and work in the following cities: Suwon, Bucheon, Bundang, and Yangjae. I currently live right in the center of Seoul. I like to call it the heart of Seoul. My area is called Haebongchon (해방촌), and it’s a cute, diverse, hilly little area near the US military base known as HBC. It’s a bit of a home away from home. I love Korean food, but there are many Western bites within a few minutes from my home and a friendly expat community to make you feel like home isn’t too far away.

It’s been quite the journey with DistrictGal in Korea. Getting settled in Korea took time, this meant my passion for fashion was a sitting duck: however, as soon as I was settled I dove straight back into DistrictGal.

I began by exploring Seoul, searching for the fashion enclaves I felt existed in this vibrant city. Cheap, cool designs, sophisticated, and trendy – there wasn’t much information about places to shop in English in Korea. So I decided to take pictures and share my thoughts about it on a blog that I would like to brand. I had a desire to provide fashion advice, share my styles, and Korean fashion with the English market. And so I started DistrictGal in 2013, a fashion blog that while born here in Korea is established to expand internationally and grow where ever I am in the world or where others in the world share. The ‘district’ in DistrictGal refers to that. On my site, I showcase wardrobe styling tips, creative expats, events and my personal look which is a style combo of Korean and international fashion. I would also like to create Seoul shopping guides which I feel readers and tourist could use to get inside tips of Seoul’s shopping scene from to help find those hidden affordable local shops in trendy locations. Opening my own shop is the big dream!

Districtgal.com
Districtgal.com

If you follow my instagram @districtgalista and @dgalshop you will know about all my fashion obsessions in Seoul (I’m a fan of couple fashion). I think it’s super cute when couples share their love. The feminine Korean styles and the clean-cut crew styles on the men here is done with the same finesse from K-Dramas. I’ve never seen so many well-dressed people in my life.

I consider myself very fashion conscious so the fact that I have to walk back home because I feel under dressed means the standard must be high. At the start, I couldn’t keep up though, haha! The clothing is affordable, but it can be tricky to find the right quality for your bucks. Most of the affordable clothing is unbranded. If you want to buy an international brand here be prepared to pay 2 or 3 times more than you would back home. Lucky for you, I am here in Seoul to tell you this because I had no one to tell me how to pack my suitcase. Bring your shoes and only your inexpensive key pieces that you don’t care to take back home with you. You will have difficulty with sizes here and you’ll probably end up handing down clothes to friends once you leave Korea. There are no dryers in Seoul, unless you plan on living in an apartment that’s over a grand. Despite all these obstacles the Korean wave has started to make its presence felt in the west. Eh, sexy lady, op, op, op Oppa Gangnam Style!!

One and only in Korea

Where should I start? Everyone brushes their teeth at lunch time anywhere you are, the giant wall mirrors in the subway stations, or the endless loud chatting at cafes.  Even after six years it stuns me!  

Activities

There are so many great activities to do when in Korea. My first couple of years, I did a good job at playing tourist and visited many of the amazing areas I had heard about through friends, K-pop songs or K-dramas, such as Samcheongdong or Gyeongbokgung.  

The hiking is stunning, too! I’ve hiked in Suwon, Bundang, Seokcho, Seoul, and Ilsan. Korea has mountains everywhere and the views from the peaks are breathtaking.  

Foodies can experience fun meet-ups and cooking classes.

Korea can be a heaven for foodie.
Korea can be a heaven for foodie.

Honestly, Korea has something for everyone. Meetup.com was my go-to site which helped me find all these cool interesting things to do and people.

When I first moved to Korea, before I started blogging, I went on so many tours and trips outside of Seoul. These are palaces and the gardens both inside and outside of Seoul, even now when I want to play tourist again, I visit these enchanting places. You have enough time to yourself here and working with schools you have the opportunity to go on trips together with the other teachers, and sometimes the locations you visit aren’t places you’d go on your own because of the difficulty to find them on a Korean map.  

Now, I spend most of my time exploring Korean trends in different districts and discovering Seoul shops or plan my photo shoots to share inspiring styles with you! Now that I’m established here, I also love planning and checking out the local community events on Meetup.com. It’s a great way to enjoy awesome music, culture, mingling and networking with like-minded friends.

Korea is extremely safe compared to other countries, and I do believe this has a lot to do with the fact that there aren’t any guns in the country. People don’t steal things, nor harass you, as a woman who sometimes has to walk back home by herself late at night, I almost generally never worry because it’s so safe.  

Different

Differences can be found everywhere: work etiquette, the food, the language, and manners while eating or queuing.

And of course being a fashionista, I am going to say STYLE! In Korea, it’s much more appropriate for women to show their legs and wear flowers or bows in their hair. The boys are usually formal or trendy. They play with proportions in a different way compared to the West. For example, before coming here when I wore a button up I would style it the American way which would be a tank under and unbuttoned at the top. In Korea, they make a fashion statement by taking the last button at the bottom and fastening it to the second to last button hole creating a drape effect of one side of the blouse. It’s brilliant! Once you give it a try you might be obsessed with the look. It’s the small things that count! If you try the look don’t forget to tag @dstrictgalista and #districtgal so I can check you out.

To

There are so many awesome places to go shopping in Seoul. I don’t want to sound repetitive because there’s enough basic information about the shopping districts on the internet. I will break down the shopping areas this way:

  •         Bupyeong (Line 1): Thrifty Chic
  •         Dongdaemun (Line 1): Wholesale Paradise
  •         Gangnam (Line 2): The New Yorker
  •         Hongdae (Line 2): New Hipster Ville
  •         Itaewon (Line 6): Tourist Town
  •         Apgujeong Rodea (Bundang Line): A Mini SoHo
  •         Insadong: Traditional Korean Dress   
  •         Sinsa (Line 3): Boutique Delights

For more places and details you’ll have to stay with me on DistrictGal or say hello on my social media channels and share your thoughts or comments.

My shopping places
My shopping places

Either here or back home, some of my favorite places to visit are boutique-like shops that are sometimes on main roads or in the subway stations. You can get great deals there! After you’re done shopping, the cafes and bistros in the areas have superb menus and are perfect for unwinding.  

I’m always on the lookout for the many new, great opportunities Seoul has to offer. I’ve hosted several events, including themed parties and the DGal Shop and Swap, where anyone can come and either buy an article of clothing or swap their own clothing for it. I’ve also recently been an extra in the upcoming K-drama, Mermaid with Lee Minho. I will grab every opportunity to make my dreams come true and expand my business while in Korea and across the globe. I have grown up and learned invaluable lessons here that will have a positive influence on the rest of my life.

Others

Korea is a unique place. If you plan your meals appropriately for a week it can be inexpensive to cook at home, eating out every day can get expensive in Seoul unless you plan on eating Kimbap and Ramen every day. If you want to live where ever you want than it’s best to find a roommate and share the rent, otherwise you should plan to put down a lump sum for the deposit upon signing your housing contract. I didn’t get into details about cosmetics, but Seoul beauty is a whole separate interview. There is always some new skin solution hitting the shelves. There are times when it’s easy to get frustrated living here, but at the end of the day I call it a second home. And if you want a truly unique experience, visit Korean sauna!

Shout out to my proof readers Kaitlin Keyes and Sarah Roche!

Final Thoughts

It was fantastic to read about Yvette Cruz’s journey to Korea. I think many people teaching English in Korea headed there as it is a good base for traveling around Asia. Of course, it looks like Korea pays well, too. Another thing that most expats agree on is that Seoul has one of the most developed subway systems.

Not only does her blog share her overview about Korea as above, but she also shares her own perspective about Korea as a fashion blogger. According to her, Korean style has big differences with Western style. She says, “It’s much more appropriate for women to show their legs and wear flowers or bows in their hair. The boys are usually formal or trendy.”

Her blogging life developed from her passion for the fashion industry, so much so that nowadays she would like to create Seoul shopping guides about hidden affordable local shops in trendy locations. She also dreams of opening up her own shop in the near future. I can imagine myself reading her guides and visiting her shop someday.

If you want to talk about fashion industry in Korea with her, here is a list of her social channels:

We want to hear what you think!

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