What Living in Korea for a year taught me about myself
When the new year starts, it’s usually a time of reflection for most people. I guess I’m still in that phase of reflection as my mind has drifted back to my year in South Korea. Although, if you had to go off my blog posts alone, one would think that my entire stay in SK was a horrible experience. It wasn’t. There was good and bad and throughout it all, I learned quite a bit about myself. Some things I already knew about myself, just not the extent of how much. Other things came as a surprise to me and I just wanted to share them here.
1.) I don’t like attention.
I think almost everyone doesn’t like unwanted attention, but sometimes it’s easier for others to simply brush off. For me, I don’t like any kind of attention whatsoever unless I’m teaching or working a customer service job where I would actually need your attention to get things done. But being stared at, gasped at, pointed at, gawked at, and having random strangers trying to talk to me, random strangers screaming hello to me from across the street, being followed by curious yet annoying and rude kids – I hate all of it. ALL OF IT.
I thought I was mentally prepared to deal with the attention that I knew I was going to get. But imagining it and actually experiencing it are two different ball games and I was not as mentally prepared as I thought I was. It hurts. It’s alienating and makes you feel like you belong in a zoo. Eventually, I started hiding out in my apartment which wasn’t good for my mental health.
Some good news about being stared at in Korea: it largely depends on where you live. Unfortunately for me, I was placed in an extremely rural area where there were hardly any foreigners at all let alone African American ones. The staring, the pointing, and the silencing of conversations when I walked by was constant.
But when I traveled to other, more populous areas such as Seoul, the staring was significantly less. Don’t think you’ll blend in at all; you won’t. Ever. Unless you are of east Asian ethnicity. But the locals are more used to foreigners in the populous cities so at least you won’t feel like you’re a walking zoo.
2.) I like seeing other people that look like me. I need diversity.
I think this is self-explanatory. I don’t like being the only minority for miles and miles around. I come from an extremely diverse country. Cultures, languages, accents, body types, skin color, hair textures and styles, fashion, the list goes on. There is so much diversity in the U.S. that going to Korea gave me an even bigger culture shock than I was prepared for. Once again, I thought I had prepared myself enough. Long story short: I didn’t.
Everything was the same in my opinion. The style of dress, the haircuts, the makeup style, the way my students acted on a daily basis, what their interests were (if they even had any, but that’s a different story). This could have very well been the case simply because of where I was living. But I was completely shocked that absolutely no one wanted or even tried to be different. Korea seems to be a country where people don’t like to stand out and embrace uniqueness. If you’re not rolling with the rest of the tide then get out the ocean. For me, I was never a part of that ocean to begin with.
3.) I don’t like teaching.
Unlike a lot of people that can be found on YouTube who use teaching in Korea as a way to just get into the country (and yes, that was shade),
I actually wanted to teach. I have a degree in school counseling and had to try my hand at teaching classes as a part of my degree. I couldn’t practice teaching here in the states because I need an actual teaching license to do so. So, I planned to use my year in Korea as the deciding factor of whether or not I wanted to pursue teaching as my career and get a license when I returned to the states. To keep that long story short, I don’t ever want to teach again lol.
Could teaching be fun at times? Sure. But it’s not something I can or will devote my life to doing. Standing at the head of a classroom in front of a bunch of screaming 16-, 17-, and 18-year-olds is not the life I see for myself. I actually thought it would be a passion but, alas, it wasn’t. Elementary, middle, or high school. The answer is no.
4.) I am interested in learning to speak other languages.
Learning another language has been an interest of mine for many years now. The interest first blossomed back when I was only 14 years old. When I knew that I wanted to go to Korea, I dabbled a bit in the language to try and learn some phrases and useful vocabulary. Living in a country and not knowing how to speak the local language is what has truly pushed me in wanting to learn other languages.
For my school’s winter vacation, I booked a ticket to Thailand because I needed some warmth in my life lol. It turned out to be another reviving hit of wanting to learn more languages.
So many people claim that English is the universal language. While that holds some truth, I still think it is good to learn more languages. When you learn a language, you learn about that culture and about the people who speak it. This in turn can open up your worldview and expose you to new things. Not to mention, there are still so many places that do not speak English, nor do they cater to English speakers.
There are quite a few languages that I want to learn now. I’ll check back in in a few years and let ya’ll know how it’s going for me lol. Ya’ll might be surprised.
5.) I am fully capable of moving to a different country alone.
Packing up your life and moving to a different country where you don’t speak the language, you have no friends, no family, and no bank account is extremely hard. I didn’t know what to expect, and once I arrived, I spent many days crying throughout the length of my stay.
I learned that I was stronger than I ever thought, but it was a rough journey and I now completely understand why some people call it quits early and go on home. Starting your life over in another country is both physically and mentally taxing.
Would I do it again? Maybe, if I knew the language of said new country. But I know now that I am able to do it while still maintaining my relationships with my family. I did something many people would never do by choice and I am proud of myself.
6.) I thought I would never miss America. I was wrong.
100% honesty: America was getting on my nerves. And yes, that added to my reason for leaving for a year. I was completely enraptured by the youtubers and bloggers who would move abroad, claim they only planned to stay for a year, but then end up staying in their new country for 5, 6, 7 or more years. I wanted that to happen to me too. But guess what?
Maybe I just didn’t find the country for me. Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to teach and just explored the country itself first. I’ll never know. All I know is that no matter what tomfoolery goes on in these here United States, America is still my home. It’s my culture and it has made me who I am today. There is no disowning that just because the government sucks sometimes. I’m an American and I enjoy the things that America has to offer me, such as having a multitude of hair products for my specific hair texture that I can easily access on a daily basis lol.
7.) I want to travel more.
Living in South Korea was my first big step in traveling for myself and only the second time in my life that I had ever stepped foot outside the U.S. One of the things I loved the most about living in Korea (rural Korea specifically) was nature. Most of the pictures I have of my time in SK consist of either the interesting school lunches I was served every day or of nature. Trees, grass, mountains, flowers, random fruit trees and bushes. The land in Boseong, South Korea was so beautiful, and I truly do miss it.
I also really enjoyed seeing Korean tradition; visiting temples, old villages, looking at old traditional clothing, learning about old Korean dynasties, attending the multitude of different festivals. The list goes on. I love seeing new places, exploring new foods and activities, and making memories. I am hoping to continue on with adventures like this once the world defeats covid and opens up again.
8.) I like public transportation.
Well…in Korea at least. It was clean, convenient, and easy to navigate. The bus, the subway, taxies. It was awesome and I can only dream of America following suit with our transport system. Whenever I have to take the city bus in my area in the U.S., I hate it so much. I’ve only ever taken the subway once (in New York) and it was one of the most stressful things I have ever done. I’ve never taken a taxi or an Uber due to the expense. And out-of-state travel by bus is long and grueling and you’re lucky if your bus arrives on time. The only public transportation I can actually recommend is the train. It’s clean and in my experience, almost always on time. Amtrak and Septa are A-okay in my book. As for the rest…yikes.
9.) Even though I’m an introvert, I like the closeness of friends and family.
I don’t like being “the foreigner”, “the other”, “the outsider”. I like being able to talk to people without thinking too hard about grammatical rules and vocabulary. I like being able to see my family anytime I want to. I like going out to lunch or dinner or having movie nights even if I don’t do them very often. I need the safe space, the access, and comforts of close friendship and close familial relationships.
This seems to be hard to gain in Korea and sadly, I have heard from many people who have spent many years in Korea that this was one of the ultimate reasons they end up leaving. Never fully being allowed to integrate just because you’re foreign, even when you know the language is alienating. I don’t mind being alone most times, but everyone needs a close friend or two and family, even if that family is not related by blood.
So, I guess that’s it. Living abroad was truly a journey of self-discovery for me. Sitting back and allowing myself to reflect on my time there gives me a fond feeling. I hope to hold on to the memories I created there forever and make more in the near future.
Thanks for reading ~