There’s something about living in a foreign country that changes a person. It could be being taken out of their comfort zone and not knowing anybody, or not knowing the language of the country they are living in. Maybe it’s being exposed to an entire new culture or being constantly reminded of the things that were taken for granted at home. Whatever it is, the experience of being abroad, away from family, away from old friends and starting a new life from scratch definitely changes a person and puts their life into a new perspective. The changes that happen are extremely subtle, however. I didn’t realize I was changing as I was taking everything in from being abroad. I only started realizing a few months ago when I was reflecting on myself and my experiences abroad, that so many things have changed about me. It’s strange, because I feel like I’m still the exact same person who packed up her life into two suitcases two years ago and moved across the Pacific.
I landed in Korea in August 2013 and for about six months, I was so overwhelmed with everything that I just took it all in–there was so, so much to take in. The Korean culture is pretty opposite of the American culture, but has a lot of similarities to my own culture. Even with the similarities, some aspects of their culture was extremely difficult to adjust to, but life here isn’t only about that. It’s about teaching English in a classroom at a school in a country in which you’ve never attended–things work so differently. It’s about learning the ways of the Korean life and trying to immerse yourself into it. It’s about trying to survive in a foreign country without knowing how to speak the national language. It’s about depending on someone else to help you translate so you can take care of important things, things you could easily do if you’re home–the most difficult, in my opinion. It’s also about making new friends from all across the globe, learning their cultures, tip-toeing around them in the beginning and learning their boundaries. It’s a hard life. It’s very challenging and it’s definitely not for everyone, especially if you were dropped off in rural Korea like I was where English is non-existent. I would never have chosen the area where I was placed, but I’m so glad that I was able to spend two years there. It gave me the opportunity to both learn about the traditional Korean culture, as well as appreciate the city life of Korea. I’m glad to have been able to experience the best of both worlds.
Things I Won’t Miss
*Korean internet security. I hate the ten million security steps it takes to make an online purchase. And most of the time, it doesn’t work on the first try, or the second, or ever. I usually have to get a Korean person to help me after about one or two hours of trying to figure it out myself. It’s so frustrating and you can’t really get used to it because every website is different! And on most of them, you have to use Internet Explorer. WHO USES INTERNET EXPLORER ANYMORE???
*Lack of proper communication. I am so excited to go home and speak English (at a normal pace!) and not have to explain myself over and over again. I’ve learned to speak so slowly and have had to simplify my English so much. It’s so hard sometimes because if you’re already speaking to someone in the most simple sentence you can come up with, you can’t make it any simpler.
*Being yelled at by Ahjusshis (older men) and Ahjummas (older women). The older generation Korean men and women aren’t the most patient of people, so if you’re doing something that they’re not happy about, they will yell at you. I normally ignore them since I don’t understand, but I know they’ve yelled at me a couple of times and for who knows what for?
*Being coughed on or sneezed on by an Ahjusshi and Ahjumma. Yeah, they do that here. It’s pretty disgusting.
*Hearing people hock a loggie and spit it on the ground. Or seeing it on the ground. SO GROSS!
*Seeing my life flash before my eyes when a car almost runs me over. The pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way in Korea, at least not in my rural town. I can not tell you how many times I was almost run over because the cars just don’t care that there’s someone walking. The drivers think that the person walking, who is a lot slower than their car, will move for them. What kind of logic is that?
*Last minute things. Everything in this country seems to be last minute, specifically dinners and projects. I will not miss being bombarded with a project and being expected to finish it in a day, or being told an hour before I’m off that there is a teacher dinner. It’s mostly because the boss has decided this, which brings me to the next thing I won’t miss.
*Honorifics. The Korean culture is very honorific. I shouldn’t have to immediately respect someone because of their title or because they are older than me. I should give them respect because they deserve it or earned it. Obviously, I’m not going to be rude, but respect from me is gained.
Things I’ll Miss About Korea
*Life in Korea. Life in Korea is so easy. It’s so cheap. It’s so convenient. It’s so nice to be able to just up and leave the country for a long weekend or have friends over at the last minute for food because during the week, we basically have no lives. We don’t make a lot of money, but housing is taken care of (or you pay a pretty low price if you have to), so bills are very few. Things here are just so much easier. My life is so routine and slow-paced during the week, it’s strange to think that I’ll probably go back to a crazy and hectic lifestyle.
* Food. So many people associate Korea with their food, and I don’t blame them. The food is so good!
*Public transportation. I frequently complain about public transportation and all of the walking I have to do, but I really do like it because it forces me to get off my ass. The most difficult thing is having to work my schedule around the bus and train schedule, but it’s so cheap to get around in Korea that it balances out. I’ve walked so much since I’ve been in Korea, I’m sure I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life. I do look forward to driving again, though.
*Being a celebrity. We are celebrities in the rural towns. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t see my students when I step out of my apartment and they are never fail to say “hello” to me. Even their parents, whom I never can recognize, say “hello” to me and often share food with me.
*Safety. Korea is so safe. I can leave my bags and come back to it hours later (I’ve never tried that, only limited it to about an hour, but this country is that safe!). I can walk home at 2am and see a group of people and know that they won’t harm me. They might yell, but they aren’t harmful.
*Supportive community. Korean people always look out for each other. There has been so many times where I asked for help and someone would go out of their way to help me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given candy or snacks from a Korean person. The whole “don’t take candy from a stranger” thing doesn’t exist because the Koreans like to share food their food. Generally, they’re really nice, but don’t think that they won’t push you out of the way when they’re trying to get somewhere and don’t expect them to hold the door for you.
*Convenience. The convenience of a convenient store in almost every corner. The convenience of getting ramen (or any food) at the store and getting silverware to eat it with. The convenience of going to a bakery to purchase a cake, and having the option of getting complimentary candles, matches, a knife and poppers to accompany the cake. The convenience of free delivery from restaurants and they even come back for the dishes. So convenient.
*Cheap piano lessons. I was able to learn the piano for $100/month, 5 days a week. If only I started lessons sooner, I would be better.
*Cheap snowboarding lift tickets and rentals. I live 10 minutes from a ski resort, so I get half off season lift tickets. Last year, I managed to score tickets that were 60% off on a special sale, so I spent less than $200 for my season pass. The rental shops are only $20 for rentals and they drop you off and pick you up.
*Hiking. The mountains in my backyard is something I’ll miss a lot. There are two trails that are only a 10 minute walk from my apartment.
*Teacher dinners. There are so many reasons for teacher dinners: someone is leaving, someone just arrived, we had an event, we took a field trip and the list goes on. As hard as it was for me to get used to drinking with the principal and vice principal, I will miss it. Normally after a few drinks, everyone loosens up and tries to talk to me in English or in Korean in hopes that I would understand. I usually don’t. I’ll miss the after dinner places we go to continue drinking and the norebang (karaoke room) where we usually end the night. I might even miss the times where someone has taken my hand and kissed it or has tried to feed me. Eh, maybe not.
My students: I will miss them so much. They made my life so hard and at the same time, we were able to share so many laughs. They made my job so fun and it was so rewarding to watch them grow over the last two years. I truly feel like I’ve made a difference in quite a few of their lives and I hope that they can take what they’ve learned from me and apply it somehow to their lives.
The Fun Had to End Eventually….
Living and teaching in rural South Korea has been the best thing that has happened to me. I’ve learned so much about myself. I’ve learned so much about different cultures from traveling to so many other countries while living in Korea. Although I have missed a lot from leaving my life at home behind, I would not change a thing.
Korea, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you to my school and my amazing students for making my life here a lot better than most. Thank you for making me a better person. Thank you for the delicious food. Thank you for the great friends I’ve gained here. Thank you to the Korean people who have made such an impact in my life. And thank you for all of the wonderful experiences.
Now, onto the next chapter of my life. Whatever, wherever that is.
Some highlights of Korea: