Meet my friend Michael Altman! I met Michael at NC State University. We were in Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity together along with his roommate, Erwin Lewis who was featured in my previous Expat Chat, Living Abroad in Okinawa, Japan. Now, Michael works as a Mission Support Engineer for Collins Aerospace in Osan, South Korea which is actually only about a 2 hour flight to Okinawa (of course he has already visited!). It really is a small world after all! He supports the US Air Force and Republic of Korea Air Force with mission critical aerospace systems. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, drones, rock climbing, and video games. I am excited to share his story of living abroad in Osan, South Korea with you!
Original Home Location: Thomasville, North Carolina, United States
New Home Location: Osan, South Korea
About the Move to Osan, South Korea
When did you make the move?
Michael: February of 2020
Why did you decide to make the move? / What motivated you?
Michael: I was lucky enough to have positioned myself at my company that when the job came up I was able to take it. Living here previously during my time in the military made me want to return.
How many times did you visit your new country and city prior to your move?
Michael: I lived in South Korea for 2 years before I recently moved back and had a few small work visits with my company.
How did you break the news to loved ones?
Michael: There really was not much change, I already lived a significant distance from the family before this for work. I told them my interest in the job and made sure to visit a few times before I made the jump. We still FaceTime a lot.
What was the hardest part of moving / what did you find frustrating during your move?
Michael: Packing up my entire life into a few boxes and then waiting on it to arrive. Due to moving with a military team there was a timespan of about 3 months where I had no furniture but I did not want to buy any since I knew it was arriving soon-ish. Due to Coronavirus, my shipment was delayed by a few more weeks. I had to survive with a lawn chair and a camping table.
Did you decide to ship your belongings or to store your belongings?
Michael: I chose to ship everything since I am shaping my life to be out here for as long as possible. Also being a single man, I do not really have a ton of things, so the packing is not too troublesome.
Do you have any pets? If so, did they make the move with you?
Michael: The only pets I have at the moment are house-plants. I shaped my life a bit to be ready to move out here when my work offered so no animals as of yet.
About his Home in Osan, South Korea
How did you find your current home?
Michael: A few of my coworkers recommended a realtor that worked with me to find a place that met all my needs and I was lucky to find something I really like. Many of the realtors speak great English from working with tons of expats so there wasn’t much of a problem at all.
Describe your home – apartment, house, etc:
Michael: High-rise apartment
Did you buy or rent your current home?
Michael: Rent with the idea to eventually own
Lifestyle Abroad in Osan, South Korea
Why did you choose your current country and specifically, your current city?
Michael: After falling in love with the culture and everything in South Korea for 2 years in the military I just knew I had to find a way to come back here.
How long do you plan on living an expat lifestyle?
Michael: As long as I possibly can, I love my job and the country and plan to stay as long as possible.
What have you missed the most about the city that you used to live in?
Michael: The fast food, no matter how much I love trying new and interesting foods I find myself missing some of the basic biscuits that I grew up with.
What was the most surprising thing to you?
Michael: How so well developed the public transit is. Public transportation in Korea is wonderful and is super easy to use, even for someone who does not speak any Korean. You can be anywhere in Korea on a train in half a day with no problems at all.
What do you love about your current city?
Michael: The ease of access to small markets and stores. It is wonderful to be able to walk 100 meters and have a bakery, butchers, and coffee shop right around the corner.
What was the hardest thing to adjust to?
Michael: General differences in things like how to pay bills and how to conduct yourself in an office setting have probably been the trickiest so far. Many places are still very old fashioned and don’t allow bills to be paid online so you have to go in person. Places that allow you to pay with card sometimes only accept domestic Korean bank cards as well. Getting a Korean bank account is very important.
Korean work culture is a big change too, with many Korean companies trying to foster teamwork and sacrifice to the company. Usually extra hours that are outside normal working times can be expected, and team dinners happen quite often. Don’t expect to get home until late some evenings, but this is not an everyday thing.
What did you have to sacrifice to make living abroad come true?
Michael: I had to adjust my lifestyle to better fit what my company needed and became someone who could move quickly. I chose to not have any animals and to live in an apartment month to month to make moving that much simpler of a process.
Have you ever lived outside of your home country before?
Michael: Yep, I have lived in South Korea for 2 years previously but nowhere else so far.
What do you do for fun in your new location?
Michael: I rock climb and hike with an expat club here in Korea, play board games with friends from work, and fly my drones when I take a trip to the mountains or the beach. Sometimes I go exploring in the small section of my city that is being built up. There are always new restaurants or shops being opened.
What do you like/dislike about your new location?
Michael: I really like the quick access and the small city vibe that my area has. It is easy to grab tons of different food or go to tons of different venues within walking or a quick train ride.
One of the downsides is I am a bit further outside of the major Seoul city area, so to meet with friends who live there can be a bit of a process. It is not difficult, it can just take a bit longer due to having to grab a bus or train and ride it into the city. I could move closer but with that comes much higher rent for a much smaller place.
What are your favorite spots in the area?
Michael: Suwon Chicken Street – a famous street within the city of Suwon that is totally devoted to my favorite Korean snack – Korean fried chicken, it is absolutely incredible!
Korea has some of the best mountains for hiking I have ever done. Hallasan / Buraksan / Seoraksan – are all amazing hikes that are worth the views at the top.
Do you have your own mode of transportation, a car, bike, etc in your new city?
Michael: I use a car to get to work – but I could easily take public transport to my office.
Advice and Benefits of Living an Expat Lifestyle Abroad
Is there any advice or anything that you wished you would have known before your move that you would like to share with someone who may be considering an international move?
Michael: Keep all of your paperwork involving immigration and customs, you will always need a few more copies and always make sure to have two forms of photo ID. Having extra copies of forms has saved me multiple times from having to reapply for residency and customs paperwork.
Are there any items, apps, or tools that you have found to be helpful when navigating your new lifestyle and city?
Michael: Cellphone apps are your greatest tool in Korea – Kakaotalk is the best messenger app / Kakaometro is the best for checking train times.
Food delivery apps are critical as well –Shuttle is an English food delivery app that delivers near big American hubs of the military bases.
Yogiyo – All Korean delivery app but delivers anywhere.
Any other recommendations or words of wisdom?
Michael: The country isn’t very big but has so many different things to see and explore. You can be in a thousand year old castle and then be in a coffeeshop in 10 minutes. Go out and see things!
Joining online groups work really well for meetups here in Korea. Hiking and outdoor groups are plentiful.
Getting lost in the city is a great way to spend the day and do not be afraid to speak to people, many Koreans know at least some English and they have always been super nice and helpful when I need it.
I want to thank Michael for sharing about living abroad in Osan, South Korea. Unlike my husband and I, he was able to make the move right before the Covid-19 pandemic struck so it’s nice to share his success story. Now I’m definitely craving some Korean Fried Chicken and want to visit some of these beautiful natural wonders!