Kendrick Payne gives us a view into his three years as an American expat in South Korea. Not only has he cultivated his interpersonal skills and his lust for life...Kendrick has found a sense of freedom through his travels. Read on to find out more.
Hi, my name is Kendrick Payne. I current live in Daegu South Korea as an elementary English teacher. The thing that interests me most about travel is discovering new places,
cultures, people, and ways of thinking.
What sparked your trip to South Korea?
The general monotony and rat race culture of America initially sparked my interest in living in another country. I had done what my parents always told me to do: go to school, get a job, etc. Oh, if it were that easy. I found myself struggling through school and finding a job. Once I finally achieved that, I felt no satisfaction. No contentment. It was a struggle to get up and go to work every day. I was not happy. A good friend had recently moved to Italy to teach English and was raving about how much she loved it. From there, I began looking up options about teaching abroad. After sifting through the myriad of options and doing the research, I settled on South Korea because it was great for saving money and cultivating teaching skills.
Having lived and worked, in South Korea, how do you think the experience differs to being a tourist in the country?
The experience of living and touring South Korea is different in that as a resident, you get to see how Koreans really are. You get to see the depths of their culture including all of their holidays and why they celebrate them. You also get to see how they feel about certain topics. As a tourist, it can be difficult to ascertain those sentiments and you may not get an in-depth understanding of a culture.
How was this travel experience different from past trips you’ve taken?
This travel experience is different and that I'm actually making a living here. I've been here for three years now. This is more than a trip—it’s my life. What surprised me most about living in Korea is the homogeneity and homo-pathology of Koreans. Everyone here seems to think the same way about everything. It can be somewhat creepy and feel like the twilight zone at times.
Does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Photography definitely influences the way I see the world in that I'm always looking at people through an imaginary frame. They might make a certain face, smile a certain way, or look off in the distance and I think “Wow, that would be a great photo."
How did you approach to photography while there?
I approach photography aggressively here. When other foreigners see me they say, “You always have that camera!” I enjoy taking my camera out every day and looking for candid shots of people.
Did you generally strike up a conversation with people or just candidly capture the moment?
People are so fascinated by black people here. They usually point, laugh, or whisper to one another when I am a present. I garner a lot of attention here so it's not hard at all to get people to look in the lens.
How did locals react to being photographed?
When I take someone's photograph, they generally just start laughing and smiling. It’s no big deal because chances are they have already taken my photograph as well.
Have you had any transformative experiences while travelling?
My transformative experience with travel would be a study abroad program done in grad school. It was my first time traveling abroad and it really opened my eyes to a new world. I found out that people in other countries live and think differently than people in America. It was an amazing revelation to have. Ever since then I have wanted more of that.
What is your favorite/funniest memory from a trip?
The funniest memory I have from traveling abroad would be in Bali Indonesia. My return flight to Korea was in the evening, so in the afternoon I decided to go to the beach and have one last meal and drink. While dining, I met a fellow traveler and got enthralled in a long, deep conversation. When I looked up I had about 90 minutes to get to the airport. This wasn't a big deal but I like to be really early for flights. I didn't panic I just went to the street to hail a cab. To my chagrin there was deadlock traffic. No cars could move or get through. I stopped and asked a cab driver how long it would take to get to the airport and he said one hour. This would leave me with 30 minutes to get my ticket get through security and customs and get to the boarding gate. I knew this wouldn't work.
Just as I conceded that I would miss this flight, I noticed scooter taxis and I knew I could get through the traffic faster if I got on the back of one of these. However there were none available; and besides, I’d never ridden on a scooter before. As I was walking dejectedly down the street, a man sitting on a bucket asked me if I needed a scooter taxi. I told him indeed I do and that I was in a rush to get to the airport. He told me not to worry and quoted me a cheap price to get me there. He told me to wait as he went behind the store he was sitting in front of to retrieve his scooter. When he returned from the alley he was donned in leather and a helmet, he had a motorbike—not a little scooter. It was like one of the motorbikes you see going around the track at 250 miles per hour with their knees almost touching the ground. It was a super bike; not a scooter. As he handed me the helmet and told me to get on the back, another man from the store said, “Oh you ride with him? You go fly!" He laughed as he went back in the store.
This was my first time on a motorbike and I was apprehensive about it. I told him it was my first time on a bike and that he should go slow. He laughed and took off through the streets of traffic! Going the opposite way up on the sidewalk, weaving in and out of traffic, close calls, passing, and overtaking vehicles coming on the opposite side of the road. At one point he told me to release my arms from around his neck. I didn't even notice they were there. We were almost to the airport and finally out of traffic and cruising when he took both of his hands off of the handlebars while the bike was going at about 50 miles per hour and looked back at me and said, “Oh you like guitar? I can play guitar! He proceeded to air play his imaginary guitar as the bike is rolling along. He looked back, laughed, and said, "I love guitar!” At this point I thought: if I'm going to die on the back of this bike I'm going to die laughing. We both laughed all the way to the airport gate. He really did get me there quickly. I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. I learned that by taking a little risk on your trip you can meet cool people, have lots of fun, and maybe overcome a fear.
How did you interpret the local culture? Did you have any favorable culinary experiences?
I have a few Korean favorites; one being Korean BBQ. It’s a selection of meat; usually grilled samgyeopsal (pork belly) with a large selection of sides. It can be eaten with a sesame leaf and tastes great! Here at a popular restaurant, they have a special cut of samgyeopsal called the “Obama” cut. It is seasoned heavily with Black pepper.
What would you was the most gratifying about your experience?
The most gratifying thing about living abroad for me is following my path. I thought up what I wanted for my life and came to get it. The most challenging? The most challenging thing is easily being away from my friends and family back in America. I have a niece whom I haven't even met yet. That can be heartbreaking at times. However, I stay focused and remind myself that I'm here following my truth and my path and that I can see my family when the opportunity presents itself.
What would surprise most people about the region?
The thing that might surprise most people about Korea is the marriage between infrastructure and nature. It's quite beautiful. I can be on a train going 180 miles per hour while gazing at beautiful uninhabited mountain ridges. When people think of Asia they usually don't think of such infrastructure; but it is definitely impressive in Korea.
What recommendations do you have for future travelers interested in having a similar experience?
My advice for future travelers interested in having similar experiences would be just to buy the ticket. Buy that plane ticket first and figure out everything later. A lot of people hesitate when it comes to traveling, for reasons I don't know. It's not Mars. It's not scary. It's not weird. The city I live in now is just like any other city. The only difference is the language and the food. There are buses, trains, planes, cars (someone literally asked me if they had cars here), buildings, subways, escalators, elevators, etc. anything you can think of— you name it. It's just a different cultural experience and I think people should embrace that.
What’s next for you?
What's next for me is just to keep living my life, exploring the world, and learning about new cultures. I also plan on improving my photography skills and opening a studio. My advice would just be to live a life that's true to you and your desires. At the end of the day no one has to live with the choices you make, so make sure you are happy with them.
To see more ofof Kendrick's work, be sure to check out his Instagram @seoulbound87.
Images courtesy of Kendrick Payne
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