I’ve been living abroad in South Korea for just under 4 weeks now, so needless to say.. I know it all.
Far from it, obviously. But even in such a short amount of time, I feel such change already come about.
This isn’t my first time traveling. But this is my first time living abroad and completely alone. I have my own apartment in a city – a country – on a continent – where I know practically no one.
I’m a personable guy, I’ve met people since. But it was a daunting first week.
The following are a few revelations and thoughts I’ve had about travel and living abroad thus far. More to come, I am sure.
Personal growth on crack.
Regardless if that’s what you were searching for or not, living abroad will jumpstart your growth. You need to think on your toes, navigate in an environment completely foreign to you – more or less so than what you’re used to depending where you’re going.
Towards the end of high school I spent a few weeks on a school getaway in Europe. Now Europe was quite different to the Great White North & Prairies that I am from, but there is still many commonalities. In most parts of Europe, English is one the main language in lots of areas, and a close second in others. Music and media are on similar terms and the weather is mild compared to where I am from – most places are, save Antarctica.
Contrast that with a place like South Korea, where a serious minority of the population speaks English. People stare at you like you’re an alien. Basic things like ordering food to eat, or taking a taxi become immense obstacles. This shock won’t kill you, but it will certainly push your limits.
This is one of the beauties of doing such a thing as traveling to a foreign country to live abroad on your own. You are left to your own devices; there’s no shifting responsibility or calling mommy and daddy for support. Personal growth is inevitable in such circumstances. And the fruits of the proverbial labor are oh, so sweet. It’s empowering to survive on your own.
This may not be consistent with someone originally from a large city, but now that I am living and thriving solo in a city of over two million people (a country of 50,000,000..) I feel like my future holds no bounds. I could go almost anyway and thrive just the same. Being from the country just outside a city of 800,000 I always felt anxiety over the idea of living in a large metropolis. That fear has been mostly stripped away now. Granted, South Korea is a country of immensely low crime rate, nor does it have signs of a corrupt government, which changes situations quickly in other countries.
But all the same, I feel as though the world is now my oyster. Borders mean a lot less, I could make a life abroad anywhere.
Perception and compassion.
Maybe this falls in line with the personal growth gained from living abroad, it’s certainly intertwined. But when you see cultures so different – and yet very similar in many ways to your own – and different landscapes, customs and ways of life in different parts of the world your mind has no choice but to expand.
When you get to meet and come to know people from different backgrounds, you begin to understand some of what you previously found quirks or annoyances to just be the way they do things.
I’ve grown to appreciate how hard it must be for immigrants and refugees moving to different countries. I feel like Koreans are much more accepting of foreigners. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to move to a new country where so many people look at you with contempt. Also, I can only talk of my experience of moving to South Korea with the comfort of a home and life back in Canada in the back of my head. In most cases immigrants and refugees have left everything they know with no plans or ever going back.
The argument of ‘if you want to live here you need to learn our language’ is completed trashed in my opinion. Sure the locals appreciate it and it makes life easier. But learning a language and new customs aren’t fast and easy processes.
Get lost to find your way
It’s extremely clique to say, but travel does help you find yourself. *Insert 22 year old white girl inspirational quote meme*. But seriously. When you are living alone in a foreign land you have a lot more time to yourself. You have no choice but to introspect.
Sure with technology all your friends and family are finger tips away on multiple apps on your phone or computer. But there is just less communication after a while. Maybe it’s different time zones, maybe it has something to do with your immediate environments differing. Maybe you were really just friends by association.
Coupled with not knowing many people in your environment, and (a big one in my case) being in a country where you can’t read or speak the language – yet – and you’ve got less communication and less distractions. When all you have are the essentials to focus on, the answers become clearer. The noise fades away.
It’s ironic, because never in my life have a had so much stimulation from my environment. South Korea is a country full of mountains and cities. The night is littered with traffic, bright signs and people everywhere.
Leading up to my departure earlier this summer most folks would mention how crazy it was that I was up and leaving across the globe for a year. I can’t deny it felt that way at times and from the outside looking in that’s exactly what it was. But in my mind, nothing made more sense.
Can’t wait to share more with you!