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An Interview with Marta Allina, Expat, Social Entrepreneur & Global Startup Ecosystem Connector

Her Expat Life interviewed Marta Allina last week to discover what expat life has been like for her, the ups and downs and her successful career working in the venture capitalist scene.

1. Where are you from (yes may be complicated but what's your nationality?) and how did you begin your expat lifestyle? As a student, entrepreneur, trailing spouse, professional, retiree, etc? And tell us about that journey. I'm originally from Warsaw, Poland and my expat life started at the age of 6 when our family moved to South Korea. My dad was a diplomat here and my mom was lecturing Polish literature at a local university. We lived here for 4 years and I returned again at the age of 20, as an exchange student. The only reason I chose Korea as my destination was because my mom was very anxious about me going abroad, far far away and she only felt comfortable with me going to well-known (for her) Seoul. That was 14 years ago - what was supposed to be a semester abroad has turned into a lifetime. 2. Is living the expat lifestyle or international life something you grew up in? When you began living as an expat did people in your immediate support you ? Scared for you? Against your move?

My parents weren't against me going abroad, but they were worried for sure. That's why Korea was such a safe choice - they knew the country and that it's safe, they knew people who they could contact to check on me. Other than missing me, they have been very supportive of my choice of life. As for my friends - those that did not experience living abroad do have a hard time wrapping their mind around why I'm still in Korea. But for the most part, they are positively curious.  3. What cities/countries have you lived as an expat? What were the pros, such as finding community, housing, neighbourhood, social life, schools, work, engaging in hobbies? What were the cons or challenges: securing a visa, integrating into a new culture, language barriers, finding housing, making friends, feeling at home, building a support network? I've lived in Cheongju for 1 year, in Seoul for 13 years and now in Busan for 3 months, all in South Korea. For Busan - the pros is that seaside chill vibe life. It's like Korea's LA Cons - it's much much slower than Seoul, less dynamic and with less professional opportunities. 4. You're currently in South Korea and work in the VC scene, please share how you made the transition into VC, especially as a foreigner.

Working on the VC scene, or startup scene in general, requires mostly a strong personal connections' network. And that takes years and years to build and curate. On top of that, to do that, Korean language and Korean business culture fluency is a must. I'm not sure you cannot do much without that here. Having a few strategic acquaintances who can introduce you to key people is vital to get anything done.  5. How were you able to maintain well-being, happiness, and professional goals as an expat woman?

After years of sacrifice, I shifted my mindset to putting myself first. For example I have to have at least 2 hours a day for physical activities, and I guard that time religiously. That automatically makes my day much much better, despite different hurdles that are thrown at me.  6. How was your life different from the local women and families?

Unlike a lot of my peers, I'm single and very happy with myself at the moment. Other than that, I blend in. 7. What goals were you able to accomplish as an expat that you wouldn't be able to accomplish in your home country?

I think becoming an expert in a very specialised domain, learning a language very few people know well enough and just becoming a global citizen. Back in Poland I'd probably be stuck in black-suit corporate life. 8. As an expat woman what type of privileges (or disadvantages) did you come across?

I do get a lot of privileges as a white person (as the WOW factor), but I'm also looked down upon as a woman, especially in business settings. Sometimes I'm just tired of proving every time that I'm not a dumb foreigner and that I can speak Korean and fend for myself. 9. Has your health, wellness, and overall happiness increased as an expat woman?

It's hard to say, since I've been here for so long. It's gone up and down. Definitely now living in Busan I'm much healthier and happier than in Seoul. 10. What is your favourite country to live as an expat and why?

I've only ever been in Korea, but I wouldn't mind living in an English-speaking country - seems to make life oh so much easier. Follow Marta Allina on Linkedin |

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