We’re back for part 2 of our interview with TEFL Teacher and World Traveler Kimberly Rodriguez. In this episode, we discover where Kim’s love of travel came from, how she was introduced to the idea of teaching English as a second language, and what her initial experience in Korea was like. We also discuss the challenges of dating in a foreign country, making trips revolving solely around food (food trips are the best!), and the challenges of being a practicing Christian while traveling and living abroad.
Kim has been living and teaching in South Korea for over eight years and is a great resource for anyone interested in the ESL teacher lifestyle. She has worked in the Korean public education system for a long time as both an Elementary Teacher and University Professor and currently holds a position as Visiting Professor for a Korean National University where she teaches English as a second language.
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with TEFL Teacher and world traveler Kimberly Rodriguez. (@lil_miz_kimbo)
*Transcripts may contain a few typos. With interviews ranging from 1-2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Kim’s Backstory: Why live in South Korea?
Peter Kersting: Now in the previous episode, we talked about what it’s like to live abroad long term, as well as some of those challenges she’s experienced as the world continues to transform back to, quote-unquote, normalcy. So we talked about that, but what led her abroad in the first place? Today, we’ll be discussing Kim’s backstory, as well as some of the unique challenges she continues to experience as a Catholic expat in Asia.
Peter Kersting: Kim, we ended the episode with a little bit of a cliffhanger. You told the story of when you first decided to move abroad. I didn’t know that you got your masters in South Korea, actually. So that was really interesting to me. But you got your psych degree in Southern California, and you were working three jobs. What was it that said… Okay, I get that you go, “There’s got to be something better,” but why teaching and why teaching abroad?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Good question. So I worked at Cal State San Bernardino while I was an undergraduate, I worked on campus. And one of my friends that I was working with, she had actually brought up to me the idea of going to South Korea to teach English. She didn’t tell me, so that I could go, she was telling me because she wanted to go. And everyone in our office thought she was absolutely crazy. Why would you want to go to Korea? What’s in Korea? We didn’t even know what Korea was. We knew North Korea and that’s it.
Peter Kersting: That is so funny.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So she planted that little seed right before I was graduating and I graduated and she was still going to be in school for another semester. And I was working, working so hard for that year that I was off and I just messaged her one day and I was like, “Hey girl. So remember when you said that you were thinking about going to South Korea, how serious are you about going now that you’re graduated?” And she’s like, “Oh, I don’t know.” I’m like, “I will go with you. I will go with you to South Korea. Let’s do it together.” And she was like, “Okay.”
Kim Rodriguez: So we decided to start looking into different ways of coming out here. It was really between Japan and Korea. So it was just, she actually is an educator. She studied to be a teacher. So for her, it was going to be like a gap year to get experience. For me, I didn’t have a teaching background. So I had to do a TEFL course to kind of like learn how to lesson plan and learn how to manage a classroom.
Kim Rodriguez: So yeah, that kind of was the catalyst. I had someone that I was going with. So I’m lucky that I wasn’t doing it alone. And in a way, it was kind of necessary for me to have someone to go with because there’s no way my parents would’ve let me go. Like they wouldn’t have let me gone without someone going with me. They’re just too afraid of that kind of stuff.
Kim convinces her family to let her go
Peter Kersting: Yeah. What did your family think when you made the decision? They’re like, “Kim, you’re crazy. What? No.” Like, what-
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. They were not thrilled with the initial idea. They thought I was joking and all my friends did too. They were like, “Nah, you’re not going to go to Korea. Korea? Why Korea?” I just, I made a PowerPoint presentation and I showed my family all the pros and cons.
Peter Kersting: You made a PowerPoint for your family?
Kim Rodriguez: I’ve been a natural educator, I suppose, but yeah, I made a PowerPoint.
Peter Kersting: You have like a cow bomb game on there and everything?
Kim Rodriguez: I should have. I wish I knew about that back then. No, I just-
Peter Kersting: That’s so awesome.
Kim Rodriguez: I made a whole presentation about the pros and cons of living abroad for one. I told them I was only going to live for one year, maybe two years max. I kind of sold them the idea, I can go there. I can save money to come back to grad school. I can save money to buy a car. I’m very fortunate I’ve never been in debt. I didn’t have any student loans.
Peter Kersting: Really?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Zero. My dad was really, really, really good at teaching us to pay off every single credit card, as soon as… Don’t even use the credit card if you don’t have money to pay it off.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: And always pay it off in full. He was like never, ever partial payments, always in full. So one thing me and my siblings have that we’re very blessed with is that none of us have debt.
Peter Kersting: Wow.
Kim Rodriguez: Because my dad, he’s so adamant about it. Yeah, it was all just gain. Going to Korea was just all positive, living abroad, new experience, saving tons of money, traveling. My parents knew that I was already addicted to traveling.
Peter Kersting: Wait, when did that start?
Kim Rodriguez: My addiction to travel?
Peter Kersting: Because I’m pretty sure you told me off screen that your parents aren’t travelers.
Kim Rodriguez: They’re not. They’re not travelers.
Peter Kersting: So where did that come from for you?
Kim Discovers her love of travel?
Kim Rodriguez: For me? I think it just, it came from going to Europe with my mom. So I did travel with my mom to Europe when I was in high school. And we’d been to Mexico a couple of times as a family. We traveled around the States. So my family does travel, but locally. They don’t really go international. The farthest international my family will go is Mexico. And that’s because we’re Mexican and they speak Spanish. They feel comfortable going to that kind of a place.
Kim Rodriguez: For me, I think it developed after I went to Europe with my mom. I just, I loved being in a country where I didn’t really understand things. And I loved seeing and interacting with people from different cultures. And yeah, it just kind of gave me this desire to see more of the world. The world’s so big and beautiful. Why would you not want to explore it? There’s just so much to see, to do, to experience, to eat. Like how can you not?
Going on Food Trips
Peter Kersting: There’s so much to eat. Okay. So I really… This is a totally unplanned question, but I want you to tell me this, because I know for a fact, if I’ve done this, that you’ve done this, okay? I tripped, actually as a planned trip to Busan, where literally everything I did had nothing to do with the place, it had everything to do with the food. Every stop was about-
Kim Rodriguez: Guilty.
Peter Kersting: … the food.
Kim Rodriguez: Guilty.
Peter Kersting: So I need to know, can you walk me through one of your food trips, because I’d be really curious where it was and what you did.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I remember what I ate. Like if you look at my pictures of me traveling, like anytime I have food, I’m happy.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, me too. I do a dance when I eat. Like, you know? So for me, I love Thai food. I just got like a sudden craving one day that I really wanted pad thai and I wanted pad kra pao and I wanted like all these different Thai foods. And I was like, “Man, I really miss this place that was next to my donut shop.” Because that place had good Thai food.
Kim Rodriguez: And so I had a vacation coming up and I was like, “You know what? Eff it. I’m going to Thailand.” So I bought a flight to Thailand love, just so that I could eat Thai food. And it was no regrets at all, not even one. Best trip. Just food.
Peter Kersting: Was it just you?
Kim Rodriguez: Huh?
Peter Kersting: Just you?
Kim Rodriguez: No, I actually went on that trip with a couple different friends. So I went to Thailand and Lao and Hanoi. So it was like a 12-day trip, maybe 10 to 12 days. And so we went to a couple different places. But my whole thing was, I’m going to Thailand to eat Thai food. And my friends were like, “Yeah, let’s go to Thailand, but let’s also go to Lao and let’s go to Vietnam too.” And I was like, “YOLO, let’s do it.”
Peter Kersting: What was the food like in Lao?
Kim Rodriguez: Lao food is very similar to Vietnamese. They have a dish that’s kind of like pho, with like a soup type of noodle dish.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. Soup base.
Kim Rodriguez: They have lots of barbecue, like skewer type of foods, like Thailand or Vietnam as well. A little bit of a French influence as well.
Peter Kersting: Like Vietnam?
Kim Rodriguez: It’s a variety. But the thing about Lao, it’s landlocked. It’s not a country that has ocean or lakes or rivers.
Peter Kersting: Not as much seafood then?
Kim Rodriguez: There’s not a whole lot of seafood. So it’s mostly, pork, chicken. I don’t remember beef. Probably beef, too, but it’s a small, tiny country. So the variety of food-
Peter Kersting: Super small.
Kim Rodriguez: … isn’t that great. No offense to anyone that’s from Lao, but it wasn’t like…
Peter Kersting: I don’t think [crosstalk 00:08:29] my viewer’s that diverse yet.
Kim Rodriguez: … one of my top countries, yeah, for food. But I ate everything that I wanted to.
Peter Kersting: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What is your top country for food?
Kim Rodriguez: Oh, oh man.
Peter Kersting: Is it Mexican?
Kim Rodriguez: Okay. I’m Mexican, but I have this obsession with Vietnamese food. I really love Vietnamese food.
Peter Kersting: Really?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. But then Mexican food’s like second. Pho is my favorite food in the planet, like on the planet.
Peter Kersting: I didn’t know that.
Kim Rodriguez: I don’t know why. It’s just my favorite thing.
Peter Kersting: My roommate is Vietnamese.
Kim Rodriguez: Really?
Peter Kersting: He’d be happy to hear that. Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s my favorite. My dream is to live in Vietnam for at least a year and just live on a beach-
Peter Kersting: You could totally work at a Korean university in Vietnam.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah? University, I don’t know. I think it’s a bit competitive. Maybe, but definitely teaching elementary or…
Peter Kersting: You could teach at a Korean school in Vietnam, if you really [crosstalk 00:09:25]-
Kim Rodriguez: My friend has a connection in Hanoi, and she’s like, “If you want to go live in Vietnam…” I keep saying Thailand, “Vietnam, there’s definitely my friend’s school. It’s Korean. You’ll be teaching Koreans in Vietnam, but you’ll live in Vietnam.” And I was like, “Oh.”
Peter Kersting: It’s a story for a different day. But I almost did that, but in Ho Chi Minh city. Yeah. I decided against it. But I tell you, it is the weirdest thing ever to go to Vietnam, in one of the biggest Vietnamese cities, and then be in a place that’s only Korean stuff.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: It’s Korea town, but in Vietnam. Like you see that kind of thing in the States, so I guess it shouldn’t be that weird to me, but to have whole section of Vietnam, be just Korean stores and even in Hangul was wild.
Kim Rodriguez: They have it in Taiwan, too, because I went to the little Korean area just to check it out.
Peter Kersting: Interesting.
Kim Rodriguez: And I was like, of course, of course, of course they have this.
Traveling for comfort versus looking for the new
Peter Kersting: Certain countries just love to have their stuff wherever they go with them. Americans are definitely culprits for that. French, French, for sure. I studied so many French people. Just like they travel in groups.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: And then I guess Koreans too. I’m sure there’s a much longer list, but it’s interesting to me. I always felt the way that you do like, or at least what I’m getting from you is that is it the differences, the culture differences is what draws you, yeah?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah, definitely. I like being in a place where I feel a little bit lost. I think it kind of keeps you on your toes and it’s a constant reminder that there’s so many new things to learn and experience. And I just, I really like experiencing new things. I think it’s important for us to grow as people to experience new things. If you’re only in the same rhythm all the time, or if you don’t have any challenges, you kind of stay stagnant and life can be kind of boring. But when you’re constantly put into a situation where you have to think quickly or challenge yourself, you grow, you grow so much more.
Peter Kersting: There is some shining bright moments. And then there’s the really stressful times that you’ll always remember for the rest of your life, but kind of like either up play or downplay, depending on how it makes you look.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Or how it makes you feel. You can have some really scary situations living abroad or traveling, but then you’re reminded by the good things that happen. You’re like, “Okay.”
Peter Kersting: Oh my gosh. Like that moment when you overcome that really stressful or crazy situation in a place where you have zero control is like addictive.
Kim Rodriguez: Yep. Had that happen. And it’s just, beautiful reminder that there are good things and there are beautiful people in the world and things are always going to work out.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. That’s so cool. Okay. So Europe was your first, it was your first big taste of international travel outside of Mexico?
Kim Rodriguez: Yes.
Peter Kersting: And that was like, that got you, it sounds like.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So I think what it was is that I went to this big event called World Youth Day in Germany.
Peter Kersting: Is that why you went with your mom?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. This will tie into like Catholic stuff later, I’m sure.
Peter Kersting: I love the way you said that. You, “It’ll tie into the Catholic part of the episode later.” [crosstalk 00:12:55]-
Kim Rodriguez: I mean, a lot of the stuff I do is because of my faith. But I mean-
Peter Kersting: I love it.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So for me, that was a really big exposure to different cultures. I mean, think about going to another country as a 15, 16-year-old, you’ve never traveled before, you’re with a big group of people, and it was such a dumb exchange. Like I met this guy and this girl from Australia and they were like, “Oh, you’re American?” I’m like, “How do you know I’m American?” They’re like, “Your accent.” I’m like, “I don’t have an accent. You have an accent.” And they’re like, “No, you also have an accent.” 15, 16-year-old me mind blown. I’m like, “I have an accent? What?”
Peter Kersting: That is so funny.
Kim Rodriguez: And maybe that’s a really silly thing to think about. But I think as an American, we’re often… we’re kind of often unaware of these kinds of things when we go abroad. Like we definitely are in our own thoughts. So going to another country and experiencing their culture kind of gives you a reality check that you are not the center of the world. There are other people living just like you are in their own countries.
Peter Kersting: Well, I think that’s one of the beautiful things about being an American abroad, is you can kind of start to change that stereotype as well, right?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I mean, and let’s be honest, it’s not just Americans.
Kim Rodriguez: Oh, no. Definitely not.
Peter Kersting: Europeans love to say that about Americans, in my experience. But like Europeans are just as bad. [crosstalk 00:14:21]-
Kim Rodriguez: Every culture is. Even Koreans are like that.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. Right. Exactly. We’re all biased human beings. You’re like when you’re from a place, you’re used to how you sound, and you think other people sound different. Well, why is it everyone else that sounds different, right? But that is the thing. I love that you mentioned that, because I really do think that is one of the powerful things about traveling is like, you’re going, “Hang on a second. Am I the one who sounds normal? Or do we all sound different and there’s no normal?”
Kim Rodriguez: Exactly. Yeah.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. I love that. This is a, still to me, a huge decision, right? Because you got your degree in psychology, which is, everybody knows is the degree that everyone gets when they have no idea what they want to do because nobody gets a psych degree, undergrad anyway, with the actual intent of becoming a psychologist. It’s like maybe like 1% of the people who get that degree actually want to do psychiatry.
Kim Rodriguez: Psychology, it goes into pretty much every field, because it’s all interaction with people. So that’s the beautiful thing about psych is that you can literally go into any type of field and you’re going to know how to handle it.
Peter Kersting: Right. Okay. Fair enough. Because that was why you got the psych degree, but then was teaching even on your radar?
Kim Rodriguez: Not teaching per se. No. I always had the dream of being a nurse. I wanted to be a nurse. Actually, that’s what my undergrad was in originally. I was pre-nursing. And I couldn’t pass the stupid math test. So I changed majors because I had failed that test three or four times and I started to get pretty depressed about it. So I changed majors to psych because I had been taking a lot of electives in psych and I was like, “You know what, I could finish in four years exactly, I just need to switch my major.”
Kim Rodriguez: So made the switch to psych. I’ve always loved helping people. So for me, if I wasn’t going to be doing it in a medical healthcare way, I thought I’m pretty good at listening. And I’m pretty good at talking to people. I’m that person that everyone comes to for advice usually. So for me, counseling or being a marriage family therapist, that was something that really was something that I seriously wanted to do.
Kim Rodriguez: So I did do psych thinking that I was going to go into that field, but life happened and I thought Korea sounds like a good idea for a couple of years. And then I finished my degree, my masters, and I was like, “Okay, I’m done.” I left. And maybe I’ll give it a shot in the states after my travel. And then it just ended up coming back and here I am.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. That’s pretty amazing. I could see the way that you kind of logicked it out to me. It makes sense.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. I didn’t do it to stay here forever because I just want to be here forever. It was, I had a plan and I had a flexible plan, and it worked out. It’s been okay. Can’t complain.
Peter Kersting: Well, I would have to say, I would hope it’s been working out if you’ve been there that long. You’ve been there eight years, Kim.
Kim Rodriguez: I know.
Peter Kersting: You’re still there. What is your ultimate goal? Because I’m really curious to know. Like, is it to continue living abroad indefinitely? Are your parents going to hate me when they hear the response to this?
Kim Rodriguez: They know. They know already. My parents pretty much expect that I’m never coming back. My mom’s very, very hopeful that I will, but I think deep down, she’s accepted that I’m not coming home. Ultimately, if I could live the perfect life, the way that I want to live my life, not the way that I’m meant to live my life, the way that I would want to live my life is definitely I want to live abroad forever. I love living abroad. I love the excitement. I love the freedom. I love the lifestyle.
Kim Rodriguez: I’m happy teaching. I actually really love teaching. I don’t think I would love teaching if I was back in the States. I don’t think I would feel fulfilled teaching in the States. But as a job abroad, I absolutely love it. Granted, you have to have a job that’s giving you growth. Because any job that you’re in, if you’re not having growth, it’s going to get boring. So the job I’m at now, it does provide me with opportunities to teach different types of topics. I can teach essay, how to write an essay. I can teach public speaking. I can do debates. I can do all different types of things, but all related to English. So constantly pushed. Yeah.
Peter Kersting: You feel like the job itself is, it has enough… what’s the right word? It’s challenging you to change still?
Kim Rodriguez: It is challenging me to grow. I think I do need a bit more of a challenge. So I am thinking about… I do toy with the idea of leaving, and that’s a whole other deeper thing.
Peter Kersting: Would you teach in a different country? Would it be teaching? Would it be something else? What’s going through your mind? Because I’m really curious to hit your like what…
Kim Rodriguez: Ideally, I’d like to continue teaching and teaching abroad. My best friend lives in Taiwan. And she’s really trying to get me to go out there to teach in an international school that she works at.
Peter Kersting: Is this the same one that went abroad with you originally?
Kim Rodriguez: This is a different friend. This is one of my best friends that lives in Taiwan. She’s lived in Korea, and that’s how I met her. So I’ve known her for like nine years. But yeah, she is married and living and working at an American international school in Taiwan. And I actually have a credential… I’m in the process of taking some tests to finish the credential. But once I have that, I can apply for my license and then I’ll be able to teach international schools as well.
Peter Kersting: Very nice.
Kim Rodriguez: So my goal is to try and go to either Taiwan or Vietnam. I would love to live in Europe, like so bad, especially Spain. It’s like another dream of mine, is to like live in Spain. But if I can’t get to Spain, I want to go to South America or Mexico to like live and teach. But South America is not really as financially secure as Asia.
Peter Kersting: Not for teaching, anyway? No.
Kim Rodriguez: Not for teaching. You’re going to break even every month. You’re not going to save. You’re not going to save anything, but it’s the lifestyle, right? So I have a pretty decent savings. I would be okay to just get started. And then I could just save up a little bit.
Peter Kersting: You just really want to take a siesta. Like that’s what it sounds like.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. I just don’t want to work like slave. Back in the States, everyone works like a slave.
Peter Kersting: Honestly, it’s so crazy though. If you haven’t done it, it really is like… I remember I had a conversation with my friend, [Salman 00:21:26], who also taught in [Gungsan Man Do 00:00:21:29]. He was actually just a city above me. And so we became fast friends because we were close to each other and we’re in the same program. But he would say, “I feel guilty doing this job because it’s so easy. It’s as not a job.” And I was like, “Dude, don’t complain. That’s so nice. Like when are you ever going to have that again in your life?”
Peter Kersting: And I think about that sometimes. It’s like, if you like kids, if you enjoy teaching in any way, like it’s a really rewarding job, a lot of the time. Sometimes, you’re like, “Okay,” or even at the university level, I’m sure. But sometimes, you’re like, “Wow, I get paid to do this?”
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. It’s great. If you really enjoy it… I mean, there’s going to be days of course, in any job, that you don’t enjoy. I don’t enjoy admin work. I hate grading stuff. But at the end of the day, I’m so thankful that I’m able to hate some small aspect of my job. Some people hate every single part of their job. I just hate one tiny part.
Peter Kersting: Right. That’s so true.
Kim Rodriguez: I can’t be mad at that.
Peter Kersting: In the work-life balance thing, you’ve been able to find a really good situation. I want to turn the page here just really quickly. And I want to ask you, do you ever feel afraid that you’ve kind of trapped yourself into this position of teaching and you couldn’t do anything else even if you wanted to?
Kim Rodriguez: I think that is a very good question. I think it’s something that a lot of people struggle with here. I know that I’m not trapped. I know that I can leave, but I am very afraid of going back and not knowing what I want to do in the States.
Kim Rodriguez: I think that’s a very real fear for a lot of the friends I have here. A lot of us are not teachers by trade back in America, or back in our home countries. Because I have a variety of friends from different countries here that are teaching. I know people here that are here because they will never go back because they literally don’t know what they would do. And they’ve been here for like 15, 20 years, you know?
Peter Kersting: I mean, it’s interesting because I’ve met people in the same spot, but you don’t feel that way?
Kim Rodriguez: I don’t feel like I’m trapped forever. I feel like I can leave. I am afraid to leave solely because I don’t know what I would do back home. I don’t know if I would enjoy teaching the way that I teach here. But if I had to do it, I would do it. But yeah, I do feel like you can definitely easily feel trapped, especially, if you stay more than two years. Like they say people that stay over five years are lifers pretty much. You get stuck in this lifestyle and it just, it looks good. The pros are so much better than the cons of going back.
Peter Kersting: It’s just an interesting situation, I think, because you even talked about one of the beauties of traveling, is that pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Oddly enough, I feel like some people get so comfort… This is how comfortable the job is. They go-
Kim Rodriguez: “I don’t need to leave.
Peter Kersting: “Where else will I go?”
Kim Rodriguez: It’s fine. It’s fine. Yeah, and that’s kind of where-
Peter Kersting: No, go ahead. Sorry.
Kim Rodriguez: … people get stuck. No, that’s where people get stuck.
Peter Kersting: Well, Kim, one of the reasons we’ve grown close, I think, is how vocal, authentic and inviting you’ve been about your Catholic faith. If people do decide to follow you on Instagram, they’re going to notice that, at least to some degree. It’s not the only thing you talk about, by any means. Yeah. But it’s something that you make clear to people, that your faith is an important part of your experience and your experience abroad.
Peter Kersting: So I just, I wanted to mention, because I think if you could share a little bit about your experience being Catholic abroad or being just religious abroad, for those of us who are not Catholic, I think, there are some obvious logistical problems with traveling and going to a worship service of any kind that are tricky, but there are also some other very real obstacles that I was hoping you could kind of elaborate on. So what are some of the challenges you have experienced as a Catholic woman living abroad?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Definitely, the first thing is a language barrier. I’m very fortunate to have a church that is only like a five, six minute walk from my house. The mass is only in Korean. The next closest place I can go for an English mass is an hour away. So it’s not the most convenient thing to do. I definitely could do it, but it’s just much easier for me to walk five or six minutes, versus taking a bus for an hour. So that has been a challenge because I’m able to go to mass, but I don’t fully understand every single thing.
Kim Rodriguez: Another challenge is lack of community. I would say lack of community is probably the biggest challenge that I have. I have great friends here. I have very close friends here. I absolutely adore the friends that I have here, but to be surrounded with like-minded people that really understand your faith, it’s something that I don’t have. And they understand, to a degree, right? My friends are very good about like, “Oh Kimmy, she has church on Sunday. We don’t mess with her on Sunday.” Or sometimes on Friday nights, like I won’t go out, I’ll go to church on a Friday night. And people are like, “Why don’t you want to meet us for dinner?” People that I’m not close to, they’ll be like, “Oh, why don’t you want to go eat? Or why don’t you want to come out?” It’s like, “Oh I got church.” And they’re like, “Oh, church on a Friday?” And sometimes, I’ll go on a Saturday and they’re like, “Why are you going on a Saturday, or a random day of the week, like a Tuesday? Like why do you go to church on Tuesday?”
Kim Rodriguez: So yeah. Lack of community, that’s very difficult. Language barrier can be quite difficult. I think those are the big challenges. But when you don’t have a community, you don’t really have people to lean on. So I think that’s definitely really hard.
Peter Kersting: What have been some ways that you’ve tried to maintain your faith, because clearly it is something that’s still very important to you. Because I think for anybody who’s interested in living abroad, teaching abroad, whatever it might be, but it is important to them that they are pursuing their faith, whether they’re Catholic or Muslim or Christian or whatever. I think this is an interesting thing to think about. How do you keep it a priority?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. I would say just making it a conscious effort. I am very intentional with everything I do with my faith. I make it a priority. I go to church every Sunday. I try to go during the week when I can. I pray before meals. I’m very vocal about my faith. I’m very open to having discussions with people that have questions. I think when someone doesn’t understand something, and they ask you or they challenge your beliefs, I think that just makes you much stronger.
Kim Rodriguez: And I actually really love when people are like, “Virgin Mary, she don’t care about you.” I’m like, “Well, let me tell you something.” And with charity, of course. but I think it’s really nice to have those conversations with people because you’re kind of opening up a small door for them.
Kim Rodriguez: A lot of people are just really misinformed about religion in general. Right now in Korea, one thing with the pandemic is foreigners, we’re pretty much the scapegoat. We get a lot of crap from the Korean government about being the ones that spread coronavirus. And it’s primarily put on churches, that the churches are the bad places, and people are congregating and meeting and that’s why the virus is spreading. But that’s not.
Peter Kersting: That is interesting. I did never heard that about the churches. Now, I guess I’m curious if that has something to do with the cult at the beginning?
Kim Rodriguez: The Shincheonji. Yeah.
Peter Kersting: There was a cult at the beginning of the coronavirus. Like say, it’s the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, I’d say that is-
Kim Rodriguez: Super spread, pretty much. All of Jeju.
Peter Kersting: That was the first time I heard the phrase super spreader.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: I remember, it was… wow.
Kim Rodriguez: It was pretty intense. It was basically a woman went to visit her son in China, a Korean woman went to China to visit her son. She came back to Korea, she heard about this whole coronavirus thing, and she continued to go out, going to the store, going to church, going to group meetings and eating out with friends. And she spread it all over that city. And people she met spread it and it was a huge thing.
Peter Kersting: I remember it was something like a thousand cases in South Korea, turned into 10,000 in like-
Kim Rodriguez: Overnight.
Peter Kersting: Overnight, because it was right before where I left the country. It was like, people were like, “Yeah, no. It could be a problem.” And it was like, “Oh my. Korea’s really got it under control though.” And it was like, “Oh my God.”
Kim Rodriguez: Like it was bad.
Peter Kersting: “It’s everywhere.”
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. It was really bad.
Peter Kersting: The buses were empty.
Kim Rodriguez: I actually got-
Peter Kersting: Everything was closed. But I’d never heard that that continues to be a focal point on churches. I don’t know.
Kim Rodriguez: It’s still a thing. But it’s mostly because of churches like that. And I’m not trying to like be like a Catholic church is better. We’re not spreading things, but I will say we have not had any issues in our churches because we are following social distancing, and we are not congregating after mass, and we are not sitting next to people in church. But some of these other communities may not be following as strictly as they’re supposed to be.
Kim Rodriguez: So unfortunately, they are getting a lot of shade from the public, especially. I see it in the expat community. A lot of people will attack anyone that posts something about going to church immediately. Like if someone asks, “I really want to do like a Bible study, can anybody recommend me a church that I can go to?” You’ll get a bunch of people that are like, “Why are you going to do that? You’re going to spread the virus and da, da, da.” And it’s just, it’s really sad to see, but it definitely happens a lot.
Kim Rodriguez: So that can be a challenge of someone that is living their faith out. Because in times like this, people are very on edge and they want to look for someone to blame. And if a big group of people gets caught, they’re going to just put the blame on that people. And right now, that group of people is usually foreigners or people that go to church.
Peter Kersting: Have you experienced that yourself, people kind of being like, “You’re part of the problem”?
Kim Rodriguez: I have friends that think that, but I don’t believe they would ever tell me that to my face.
Peter Kersting: But you have a feeling from the way they act around you?
Kim Rodriguez: I see how they comment to other people that post things on social media. You don’t need to fight every battle you see online. So I stay out of it. But I know that they probably think I’m a bad person because I go to church on Sundays.
Peter Kersting: Did you call that person a friend? Because I don’t think that sounds like a friend.
Kim Rodriguez: I mean, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. And just because they don’t understand the belief system that I follow, doesn’t mean they’re bad.
Peter Kersting: Or it doesn’t mean they’re your friend necessarily either.
Kim Rodriguez: They’re not close people. Yeah. They’re more like acquaintances.
Peter Kersting: That’s all I was trying to say.
Kim Rodriguez: My close friends wouldn’t say anything.
Peter Kersting: But that is an interesting dilemma. You were recently on another podcast. So I’m switching gears here a little bit, but you were recently on another podcast. Can you tell me the name of that podcast and what exactly it was that you were talking about?
Kim Rodriguez: So that podcast is called This Connected and it’s led by a really awesome guy named [Arnel 00:33:42], catholic.dad on Instagram, if you want to follow him, he’s pretty funny.
Peter Kersting: Catholic.dad. I like it.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. Catholic.dad. He’s a really cool guy. He’s in the diocese that I’m from in California and he just wanted me to be on his podcast, talk about my experience also living abroad as an expat, but specifically my experience of being a Catholic abroad. Because his whole podcast is specifically for Catholics. So if you’re Catholic and you’re listening and you’re curious about stuff like that, he has lots of different interviews with different people that are Catholic. They talk about all kinds of topics, but yeah. He just wanted my experience about living abroad in Korea, how I practice faith and how difficult it is, as the stuff you ask me to.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. Some similar questions. I think something that I would really be interested to hear about… I appreciate how raw you’ve been up to this point in the podcast. I know it isn’t really easy to talk about something like faith, especially like you said, in a situation where people are criticizing or judging maybe your motives in a different country, and especially with the way things are.
Peter Kersting: But I think our listeners would really get a lot out of hearing about your experience with dating abroad in general, but also from the lens of like you as a Catholic, right? Because I know that’s been something that’s been difficult for you, trying to balance the desire to be living abroad and also to meet somebody. Well, it wouldn’t mean, it’s like you haven’t dated. So I mean just maybe you could tell us a little bit about what has that experience been like for you overall and then we’ll kind of dig in a little bit more from there.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So I have dated within Catholic and non-Catholic pools of people. So dating in Korea, I will say no matter what, it is difficult. I don’t think any person living in Korea will ever say that dating is easy. It’s probably the most inconvenient and difficult thing about living abroad. Yes, cultural differences are hard, but you get used to it. You get used to living here, but you never get used to how hard it is to date.
Kim Rodriguez: The pools of people that you have, the options are very small. Chances are, somebody you’re dating has dated somebody else. And that’s kind of not such a big deal, but when you’re in a tiny little pond and there’s already only like five fish and everybody’s fighting for the same five fish, you kind of [crosstalk 00:36:18]-
Peter Kersting: Five other expat fish, or-
Kim Rodriguez: These are expat fish.
Peter Kersting: Expat fish. Okay.
Kim Rodriguez: And so imagine you have like 10 fish in your pond, but you have a really high standard of the quality of fish that you want to catch.
Peter Kersting: Okay. Yes.
Kim Rodriguez: So for me, I specifically have a very high standard of what I want in a fish, in a partner. And so my options are even more limited. I don’t have the option of dating just anyone that’s around because I won’t even consider certain people unless they meet this standard that I’m looking for. So that has made dating for me even more difficult than the average expat, because I think the average expat is more willing to date Koreans and date in the community and all of that and I’m just not about it.
Peter Kersting: Yeah. Can you tell us… This could get a little bit, I don’t know if explicit is the right word. I don’t think it’d necessarily be explicit, but I guess we’ll find out. Could you tell me about two things? One is the naked man.
Kim Rodriguez: Okay.
Peter Kersting: We’ll start with that.
Kim Rodriguez: Okay. Okay. So in my experience of dating in Korea, when I was very new to Korea, I had a friend in my town. She was talking to a guy that was in the Korean military. And they started going on a couple of dates. And we went out as a group and took pictures with her and that guy. He went back to base and showed all his friends, all the foreigners that he’s friends with. And countryside Koreans were like, “Oh, oh, oh. Like let’s talk to this girl.”
Kim Rodriguez: So one guy wanted to go on a date with me. He got my Kakao, Kakao is kind of like a WhatsApp for Korea, and started messaging me, wanted to go on a date with me. I had never met him before. I didn’t want to go on a date with this guy I didn’t know. So I went on a double date with my friend and her guy.
Kim Rodriguez: And after the date… The date went really well. We went to dinner, went to have some drinks. I wanted to walk home, but the guy was insistent on walking me home. And I was like, “All right, guy. You can walk me home. That’s fine.” We get to my building. And he’s like, “Oh, I really need to go to the bathroom. And I’m really thirsty. Do you mind if I come up and just use your bathroom?” And I was like very hesitant. I’d only been in Korea for less than a month, okay. Less than a month. And I was very naive. I had never lived alone. I was only 23 when I came to Korea, never lived on my own before. So I didn’t know that this was a dumb idea.
Kim Rodriguez: I let the guy come up to my apartment to use the bathroom. And so he used the bathroom and then I gave him a glass of water and I said, “Okay, I’m going to use my restroom. And then I’m going to walk you downstairs to leave.” And he was like, “Okay.” I’m like, “So be ready to leave,” because I made it very clear that he was not staying.
Kim Rodriguez: So came out of my restroom and he wasn’t in my living room. I had a three bedroom apartment at this time. Okay. He wasn’t in the front room. He wasn’t in my living room. I opened my bedroom door-
Peter Kersting: No you didn’t-
Kim Rodriguez: And this fool was naked on my bed with his legs open, like with socks and glasses on, and that’s it. It’s nuts. And I call it the naked man, because if anyone has watched How I Met Your Mother, in How I Met Your Mother, they say, I think it’s two out of three times, it works every time, I was that one that it did not work with.
Peter Kersting: Oh my gosh.
Kim Rodriguez: It was a really bad time. And after that, I didn’t date another Korean until-
Peter Kersting: You weren’t dating Koreans for a while.
Kim Rodriguez: Until the last year that I left Korea, which was my fourth year, I started dating a guy. And the only reason I even considered him is because he was really cute, I’m not going to lie. He was the only guy in town that spoke English. He worked at the bank. He was also happened to be Catholic. And I was like, “All right. Let me give this dude a chance.” And he was nice and he didn’t pull the naked man on me.
Peter Kersting: He didn’t pull the naked man?
Kim Rodriguez: Bus these dang Korean guys. I was so mad after that, I was like-
Peter Kersting: I’m sorry. I shouldn’t laugh, but-
Kim Rodriguez: You can laugh. I laugh now too.
Peter Kersting: Thank you for telling me about the naked man. Now, can you give a little context to, I guess the term… I’m going to ask you about the term and then I’m going to ask you like, just like, what are… The naked man’s pretty big. It’s probably, I don’t think you have anything that’s going to top that. But what are some of the other interesting dating scenarios you found yourself in, in South Korea? So the first thing is what is riding the white stallion?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So riding the white stallion is kind of an offensive thing that Koreans use for when they sleep with a foreigner, basically. I don’t know. I think it comes from… I think it comes from Japanese imperialism. I don’t know the exact history, or maybe not Japanese imperialism. Maybe it comes from when Russian women came to Korea and they were brought here to be prostitutes. And I think it kind of has a… It has a really negative connotation to it actually. But yeah, it pretty much goes to Korean sleeping with white women and they just call them white stallions. So if you ride the white horse, you’re riding a foreigner.
Peter Kersting: I don’t know why. It’s just a funny concept to me because you hear about the opposite thing. Like when I moved to Korea, a couple of the different things you get would be like, “What? You can do that?” And I’m like, “Yeah. And it’s not North Korea, it’s South Korea.” That’d be like a common one I would get. And the other one would be like, “What? You like into Asian girls or something like that?” It’s like, “Well, no, that’s not why I’m going.”
Kim Rodriguez: Because a lot of people fetishize-
Peter Kersting: But There is a lot of-
Kim Rodriguez: … Asians. You know? Yeah. It happens a lot here.
Peter Kersting: But it’s funny to think that there is this thing.
Kim Rodriguez: Opposite fetish.
Peter Kersting: And it’s not just guys to girls. It’s the girls, too. It’s an interesting experience for me as well.
Kim Rodriguez: I do think it’s different for women and men in Korea, because women want to marry out of their culture because then they don’t have to take care of their husband’s families. Whereas in Korean culture, a woman has to basically live with her husband’s family. She basically gives up her own family to become part of his family. And if her mom’s sick, but the mother-in-law’s sick, she has to prioritize the mother-in-law and it’s just a lot of pressure. So I think women, Korean women tend to want to get out of that cycle just because their life will be a little bit easier versus if they marry a Korean man, they have to care a lot for them. So yeah. I don’t have to deal with that as a foreigner.
Peter Kersting: That’s a whole other aspect of the culture that we don’t necessarily need to get into.
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah.
Peter Kersting: But were there any other, like anything else that sticks out as far as like… I just think you wanted to share one more. I find that funny, I don’t know why, but.
Kim Rodriguez: I think that’s probably… My naked man story is probably the craziest story I’ve had only because after that, I didn’t really date Koreans. And then I only dated a few guys here and there. Since I’ve been back in Korea the second time I’ve dated one guy, and you met him. He’s a great guy. It just didn’t work out. Not Korean, foreigner. So yeah, I haven’t had too many crazy stories out here. I’ve been pretty lucky. Just that one first experience, really set me up for life.
Peter Kersting: That really set the bar. That set the bar out there. Well, I wonder if on a more serious note, and we can leave it off here, when you’re thinking about where you want to go next, whether that’s staying in Korea or trying to pursue the job in Taiwan or Vietnam, or wherever, how much of these things, the dating situation, or being able to get to church, ends up being part of your… the factoring in of your decision?
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. So the church thing is definitely the priority. I won’t move somewhere if they don’t have a church, my best friend even told me the name of her city. And I looked up all the Catholic churches in the area just to make sure that there was a church I could go to. That is something that is a requirement. Like I’m not going to move somewhere that I’m going to be far away from a church. It’s just, I can’t live like that. I would not be happy ever if I wasn’t near a church.
Kim Rodriguez: So that’s really important to me. And then, yeah, like finding a partner, finding someone, like that’s important. I just feel like that’s going to happen when it happens. But I do think staying in Korea limits me to finding that. I don’t know if going to Vietnam or Taiwan would make it any better. I feel like the communities of Catholics are very small and people that are travelers or expats like me, we’re usually not religious.
Peter Kersting: Yeah.
Kim Rodriguez: It’s really, really uncommon to find people practicing their faith living abroad.
Peter Kersting: I think it’s why this is a very interesting conversation to have because there is this, I don’t know where it came from or what, but there’s almost this like understanding that if you’re living abroad, you’re not interested in that. Like you can’t be.
Kim Rodriguez: You can’t, exactly.
Peter Kersting: Because that’s too impractical.
Kim Rodriguez: It’s not normal.
Peter Kersting: Like how could you go travel to Japan on a weekend and go to church? Like, like you can’t do that.
Kim Rodriguez: But I do.
Peter Kersting: But you do, which is awesome. I think it’s an awesome witness to your faith and to anybody else who’s interested in traveling or living in another place, you can do it. It is much more challenging. You have to be much more intentional.
Peter Kersting: And I want to thank you for talking about some of these things. And I want to add a little, this is maybe sounds a little hokey to you, but if you could just take it as seriously as you can. This last question, I think that’s where we’ll leave off for part two. If your future spouse is listening to this right now… Okay. Seriously. Okay. He could be listening to this podcast, the love-
Kim Rodriguez: Yeah. You never know. You never know.
Peter Kersting: You can thank me later when he reaches out to you and follows you on Instagram. And I’m sorry for all the other naked men that try to follow you because of this, but this guy, if he’s out there listening to this right now, what would you like to say to him? You want to give him like a checklist, a criteria?
Kim Rodriguez: Oh gosh, no.
Peter Kersting: I’m just kidding.
Kim Rodriguez: If he’s out there listening, I just want you to know, my mystery man, that I am praying for you. I’m praying for you every single day. And I hope you’re well, mentally, physically, spiritually. And I hope that you’re praying for me as well, because that would be nice. And I hope that we can get together and pray the rosary together.
Peter Kersting: That’s sick. I love it. I love it. I love it. I love it.
Kim Rodriguez: That’s all I’m going to say, wherever you are.
Next Episode: Kim provides actionable tips for future nomads
Peter Kersting: Thank you. Thank you, Kim. This is going to conclude part two of our interview with Kim, and I want you to stay tuned for our final part. You’re not going to want to miss this because Kim and I are going to quickly rapid-fire, go through, I think some of the questions that people who are interested in teaching abroad would love to know. And so if you are someone who is interested in teaching abroad, you’re interested in living in Korea, you’re not going to want to miss this next part of our interview on Alone With Peter.