How Long Does It Take To Feel Like A Local?

7 months, 2 weeks, and 3 days

Audrey exploring a new part of Seoul

At least that’s how long it took me. One morning you just wake up and there is no longer a sense of urgency to explore the city. The markets have been shopped at, the street food has been eaten, and the grand palaces have been photographed. All of a sudden it’s easier to say, nah, I’ll just stay in and be lazy – nevermind that David Guetta is playing a live concert in my neighbourhood. My hood, people! (Then again, my electronic/dance music days were a short lived high school phase, so I can’t really blame the Parisian DJ…I could blame the ticket prices.)

Has Seoul lost its charm?

I can’t say it has. I can now work my way around the city without the use of a map, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I know where to find the best hotteok and what stores actually carry shoes in my size. I know what underground shopping center sells the cute girly dresses and where to find the best scoop of wildberry cheesecake and sangria sorbet. I know where the giant Garfield mascot hangs out luring people to the cat cafes, and I also know what subway stations have real toilets versus squatters. Pshh, I’d make a great guide around town!

Things feel different, but that’s what happens when you hang out in a place for this long; it becomes familiar. And while the initial allure may be gone, I am now fonder of the Seoul than I was during my first few months which were spent running around Gyeonbokgung, taking part in parades, and exploring what I then believed to be Myeongdong (yeah right! I was nowhere near the shopping mecca). My exploration pace has gone from short-term-tourist to, dare I say, localite?

Korea may frustrate me with its strange work politics and lack of flexibility, but at the end of the day, it has been good to me. When it comes time to say farewell, I know I’ll miss the old men playing baduk in the park, the ajummas selling their vegetables on the sidewalk, the cardboard collectors hauling their carts down the street, the teenagers trying to practice their English with every waegook, and the stares I get from toddlers who have probably never seen a tall foreigner before.

There are still a few things I want to do in the city over the next few months, so it’s time to get mon arse off the couch. Next Saturday is the day people! Unless it’s raining, or it’s cold, or…no, I can do this!

How long did it take you to feel like a local in a new place?

Join the Conversation

56 Comments

  1. says: Sheryll

    Totally the story of my life. I feel so comfortable here, it’s almost a little scary! It’s the little things, like knowing exactly where to go in Emart to find the shaving cream, or not having to call the tourist hotline for help every 5 minutes, to actually getting mad when people talk loud on the buses or subways. It’s amazing and all sort of weird at the same time.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Hehe, I should have made use of the tourist hotline when I first got here! I hear they can help you out with ANYTHING! πŸ˜€

  2. says: memographer

    Ha-aa. Very interesting! I have never thought about this. Certainly, the feeling of knowing the city comes pretty quickly. I would say as soon as one can use public transportation routes without checking the map. But, how long does it take to feel like a local?? Learning the routes will not be enough.

  3. I don’t remember how long it took me to feel more like a local in Chiang Mai…but it sneakily happened somewhere in there. Now though, I seem to be uncovering and understanding deeper layers of the place and people – not as exciting and whirlwind as in the beginning, but definitely adding another dimension to my experience and idea of Thailand.

  4. says: Eileenι»ƒζ„›ηŽ²

    I don’t know how long it’ll take me to feel like a local. I’ve only been in Taipei for a month. πŸ˜€ I hope you’ll continue to have a fabulous time in Seoul.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Ooo, Taipei! My friend just got back from there and loved it! I’m sure you only have good things to look forward to. πŸ˜€

  5. says: Stephanie - The Travel Chica

    I cannot pinpoint the day because it took me a while to realize it in Buenos Aires. But I completely understand what you’re saying about not feeling the need to go out and explore everyday. A big deal for me was being able to navigate the local buses like a local.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Yes, a big part of it is being able to take local transportation. It’s a bit daunting to do so at first, but it grants you so much freedom!

  6. says: Joy

    I think it took me close to a year to feel like a local in Xi’an, China. Everything started to make a lot more sense after the year mark and I had explored the big sites. The newness had definitely worn off but I was still surprised by many things – often on a daily basis. But I was much more relaxed and not overwhelmed anymore. People even started asking me for directions. I still get stared at every day though. That doesn’t make me feel like a local but I have to accept it as part of this life I’ve chosen for myself.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      You know you’ve made it when people are asking you for directions even though you’re the foreigner, hehe. πŸ˜‰

  7. says: Sarah Shaw

    I understand where you’re coming from. I also feel so comfortable living in Seoul–sometimes even more so than in my hometown! I know my way around this city so well, and if I do need to venture to a new area, it is so easy to find. Even though my Korean language skills are skill not polished to perfection, Korea is not daunting anymore– that’s why I feel like I need to move somewhere else soon, so I can keep challenging myself. However, on the other hand, because of my appearance and the way Koreans tend to treat me as an outsider, I feel like I could never completely blend into my surroundings. There’s always something to keep me on my toes here.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      There are plenty of countries in SE Asia to keep challenging yourself. πŸ˜‰ I’m looking forward to experiencing somewhere new too!

  8. says: Jessica

    Weirdly, I was having this exact conversation with some expat friends last night. We collectively agreed that it takes at least 2 months, and often even longer depending on the size of the city. I love being in a place long enough to feel like I know it – it’s such a different perspective from the one you get just visiting as a tourist for a few weeks.

  9. says: Christy

    Funny, I’ve never really thought about this. I think for me it depends on if I already know the language. In some places, that could take me years! πŸ™‚

  10. says: Sarah

    I don’t know about you, but I felt this massive sense of relief when I no longer felt the urgency to explore. Everything just seemed that much more…natural.

    Or at least that’s how I justify it when I spend an entire weekend doing total Westernized things like eating cereal for every meal.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed this post!

      1. says: nomadic translator

        omg David, I wasn’t going to comment on this post as I have written my thoughts before, but your comment just made me LOL and I had to let you know that it made my afternoon! XD

      2. says: thatbackpacker

        I am officially frightened – won’t be visiting any clubs in your country. Haha, not going to even bother mastering ‘local’ there… πŸ˜‰

  11. says: David Trujillo

    I stood for 2 months in Maceio, Brazil. A small city in the Mid Northern part of the country. I have a terrible orientation problem coming from Medellin, Colombia. Medellin is in a small valley where you can locate yourself just by looking at the mountains and figuring out which way to certain areas. But in flat places like Maceio I actually had to use street directions! Nobody in my city ever tells a taxi driver a street location, you just say “by the stream… near the mall… or Loma los Gonzales (Gonzales Hill)”. But once I figure out street directions and felt local in Maceio I got bored and explored other routes to get where I needed to go, the portuguese languague school for foreigners. I even got a bike and explored nearby localities and beaches.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      You’ve got to love directions based on landmarks rather than street names, haha. πŸ˜‰ Those always seem so vague to me. I’m used to getting a real address and looking that up on Google maps before I go. πŸ˜€

  12. says: Shing @ The Culture Map

    By the true definition of the word, I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a local. In foreign countries the language barrier prevents me from feeling like a local. However, I do love the feeling you described – a familiarity,and an ability to find the tasiest local dish and shop that sells the best girlie dresses at the best prices… hmmm so maybe I have felt like a local after all?

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      The language barrier can be a tough one. My Korean has taken a few steps back since my time here, so by those standards I’m not very close to feeling like a local. πŸ˜‰

  13. says: Zhu

    I always find it hard to feel like a local in Asia, especially in China where people will stare at you, no matter how long you’ve been there for (and no matter how good your Chinese is!). However, I know the feeling of being confident and comfortable with your surroundings, and that can be a great one.

    (Love the new font, thank you!)

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Maybe it’s your language skills that amazes them. πŸ˜€ Hehe, I know what you mean about the stares; I get the best ones from toddlers…big eyes and a head turn follows.

      I’m glad the new font works better. πŸ˜‰

  14. says: akum

    It took me almost a year to feel like a local in New Delhi. Though I feel am part of the city now, am still struggling to learn how the locals deal with all the chaos.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I’m sure the chaos would take some getting used to. Although, I found that by the end of my time in Mumbai, I learned to like the traffic noise. It felt kind of comforting in a strange way…

  15. says: Jackie D

    For me in Chicago it changes everyday. Some days I’m walking down the street and someone will ask me for directions and I’ll actually know how to direct them to wherever they’re going and I’ll be like, “Yes, I am awesome, I belong here.” But then other days I’ll be waiting for the train when it’s snowing and windy and I literally cannot feel any of my body parts and I’ll look around at all of the Chicagoans who are just standing there like it’s normal and I’ll think, “HOW DOES ANYONE THINK THIS IS OK” and realize I should probably move somewhere that does not experience snowfall.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I keep telling myself that the next place I live will be tropical, but I keep ending up in places with horrible winters! I don’t know how you survive those Chicago blizzards. Winter in ‘the windy city’ would probably make me cry.

  16. says: Emily @ Hope Squared

    After having lived to two countries as a local – I always find I start living like a local when the man at the corner shop remembers what I’ve come in for – or the thought of hanging out with tourists sounds like an awful idea. Why are they so loud and excited? Oh yeah I was once too.

    Anyways I just came across your blog from Jackie! I might stick around. Because I also miss ajummas selling fruit on the sidewalk – that never happens in Canada. She only sells me delicious Kim Chi Bokkeum Bap from her wok in her tiny shop in Korea town.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I can’t say the woman at the corner shop knows my name, but my local chicken restaurant always gives me free beer when I go in to buy dinner, so that’s gotta count for something, haha πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by, Emily!

  17. says: Julie Sheridan

    I’ve thought for ages that ‘live like a local’ and phrases of that ilk are some of the most cliche terms in the travel writing industry. I’ve lived in Barcelona for a year and a half but will never feel like a local. I look different, I talk differently and my mindset cannot possibly ever be Spanish, never mind the truly local – Catalan. Best I can hope for is a semblance of acceptance and certain familiarity in my adopted city, but I don’t presume anything more long term.

  18. says: Colleen Brynn

    Looks like lots of people have something to say about the matter of feeling like a local.

    I have lived in Canada, Mexico, Denmark, Spain and England… The one thing I can say about this is that it definitely takes months to get this feeling, not days or even weeks. And it’s not a feeling that can be forced. You’re right… it just… happens one day.

    xo

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Ooo, you have quite a few international homes under your belt. πŸ˜‰ It’s kind of nice waking up one day and feeling, “Yup, this is what it’s like to live here.”

  19. says: Michelle

    That must’ve been a great feeling! You definitely have the days counted down πŸ™‚

    For me, I feel like every conversation I have in German brings me one step closer to feeling like a local, haha.

  20. says: Ceri

    I think I knew I’d become a local when the backpackers started bugging me. Hahaha. Every Sunday evening there’s a flood of backpackers in my local supermarket who take up the aisles and get in the way. They really bug me so much and I end up turning into a snooty local, turning my nose up at how LOUD they are, speaking English. Pahahahaha.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      I don’t get very many backpackers in my area, but it’s always strange hearing people speak English. Whoa, more foreigners!!! I’m always surprised to see them.

  21. says: Melissa

    You must share where those shoe stores are. My suitcase was lost when I landed in Seoul and I thought I was going to have to replace my travel wardrobe. Pants and shoes where the hardest. Felt like every woman in Korea had a 24″ waist and wore a size 6 shoe or something. Thankfully me and my suitcase were reunited the next day.

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      H&M in Myeongdong (the main shopping district) has been a saviour in terms of footwear! πŸ˜‰ They had a few select size 10 shoes. I honestly don’t know where foreigners with size 11 or 12 go!

  22. Story of my life when I was in China. I felt the same way. Now I’m missing everyone and I feel like coming back. I think the time doesn’t matter. You feel like a local when you are treated like one of them by people who surround you. I felt like way after a month πŸ˜‰

  23. says: Arianwen

    I haven’t experienced feeling like a local in a foreign country yet, but I love that feeling when you’ve been in a place long enough you can walk around without a map. The utterly lost feeling where you know people can take advantage sucks!

    1. says: thatbackpacker

      Finally being able to map out the city in your head is one of the best feelings! I hate walking out of a subway station and not knowing which way I’m supposed to go. It just takes time and practice. πŸ˜€

  24. says: Tanned Traveler

    Great article, for me it takes some time…I’ve never been overseas for longer than 2 months, but using my experience traveling throughout the US, I felt like a local when I knew the hidden gems of the place. Local news were experiences I was there to witness.

  25. “Things feel different, but that’s what happens when you hang out in a place for this long; it becomes familiar.”

    I love this thought, Audrey…great post! And I really enjoyed hearing about what you’ll miss when you leave Seoul. I’ve got my own little list of things in India – it’s funny how they become such a part of what a particular place means to us. Happy exploring next Saturday! πŸ™‚

  26. says: Priyank

    Hey Audrey, I know of the fuzzy feeling of familiarity and “home” that you are talking about. It took me about a year to feel the same about Toronto. After that point, you really feel a sense of belonging and ownership of the city isn’t it?
    cheers, Priyank

  27. says: Giselle and Cody

    Hey Audrey,
    Totally know how you feel. We have been in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand for over 6 months now. You just wake up one day and like you said “no longer a sense of urgency to explore the city” It is still beautiful and amazing to be here though. We have reached that point and I think that’s when it might be time to move on (for us at least) πŸ™‚
    Great post!!

  28. says: Paul

    Really interesting article.

    The science behind this is very interesting. Before I moved to London, everyone I knew who had done any kind of long-term stint in another city told me the same thing “give it at least 6 months”. I, like you, found myself completely at ease, happy, and feeling like a local at around 7 months too. Just some kind of barrier that that 6 month mark presents for some reason. I wonder why that is?

  29. says: Jessica Hill

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts about Seoul – I didn’t like it very much when I was there (though it was only for 12 hours), so maybe you can convince me to give it a second try.

    To answer your question, it took me several months of living in Thailand to feel like a local, but I’ve just returned after eight months away, and it immediately felt like home. Sitting on the plane, the airline attendant didn’t even give me a second look when passing around arrival cards to foreigners. When I landed, I had this intense feeling of happiness, just like when I arrive back in Oregon.

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