How COVID-19 pandemic affects foreign residents in Korea

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt especially hard by foreign residents in Korea ― many don’t speak the language and are considered outsiders here. They have little support around them and visiting their families in their home countries is almost impossible due to travel bans and lockdowns around the world.


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The Korea Times contacted several foreign residents from English-speaking countries who are living, or based, in Seoul and asked them to describe their situations. All, but one, declined to disclose their full names. An American, who wants to be identified as only David, has probably suffered the most. A resident of Seoul for 35 years, he teaches tourism at a major university in Seoul but has been stuck in the Philippines ever since. He flew to the Philippines in January to stay with his wife and son there for a winter break, but couldn’t get back.

“President Duterte has imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdown policies. I can’t leave except by special arrangements that are too expensive. I have a flight booked on AirAsia, but it’s been canceled seven times. Once a month, I rebook for the next month, but it gets canceled again. My Sept. 8 flight was canceled a week ago. I have run out of money while waiting to return. Now I am too broke to return anyway. I need help, but don’t know how to get it,” David said by email Tuesday.

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He is still teaching through the internet, but he has only two courses now and the pay isn’t enough to support him and his family. An expert on Korea’s mountains and culture, he used to guide English-speaking visitors to Korean mountains and that brought in money. His wife is currently earning enough money to pay the bills but there is no surplus to pay for his trip back to Korea. “I can’t see any way out of this trap, as it seems the COVID-19 crisis will go on into next year.”

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John, who also refused to reveal his full name, has faced a setback to his teaching career because of the pandemic. After a friend came in contact with an infected patient linked to the Itaewon outbreak in May, he went to get tested on a Tuesday and was instructed to self-quarantine for a week regardless of the results. “I got a negative result on Wednesday morning,” he said. “My boss told me I need to come to work ASAP. I told her about the government instructions. She then told me to come into work on Monday. On Friday I was fired.”

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He got a new job now teaching older children English online. But he’s required to come into work every day and recently bought a bicycle so he can avoid commuting on crowded public transportation. Shane is probably the luckiest of all the interviewees. He is a full-time teacher at a university in Seoul and a part-time DJ. His Korean wife runs a weight-loss business with 40 employees and her business is doing well.

He offers classes on Zoom at home and takes care of his 11-year-old daughter who also spends most of her time at home now. They both have more time together because of COVID-19, and he is trying to make the most of their quality time together. He’s stressed out because he hasn’t been able to visit his parents back in Canada, his daughter watches too much YouTube and he hasn’t DJed in months. But, he is among the lucky ones and he knows it. To relieve his own stress, he goes on bike rides around his neighborhood.

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Likewise, Jenikah Joy and her husband Mathew Nolan, both freelancing as English consultants for language academies here, have avoided misfortune. The couple has experienced financial strain, but it’s been manageable and the ongoing situation still gave them opportunities to travel domestically over the summer and support the country’s hard-hit tourist industry. “My husband is a musician and had a show booked in Gangneung last weekend. Due to COVID-19 it was canceled, but we went there anyway to get away for some time,” Joy said.

Compared to a previous visit to the coastal city in July when the daily caseload was lower, the couple saw a lot more people wearing masks this time. Back in Seoul, they face inconveniences because of QR code checks and other restrictions, but acknowledge the need for the measures. “The government is doing a remarkable job to contain and control the spread of COVID-19,” Joy said.

Source: The Korea Times

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