Travel isn't always comfortable—and it shouldn't be. I believe that if you're not struggling, you're not growing. Being completely outside of your comfort zone and learning along the way is a rewarding experience in itself. There are so many challenges that I've had while working abroad in Korea. I've gone past the honeymoon phrase, and am now riding an emotional rollercoaster of confusion, frustration, homesickness and loneliness. Some days I could not be any more content that I'm here, and then there are those off days where I want to be in the comfort of my home country, surrounded by my loved ones. Here are some of the top challenges that I've dealt with so far:
In a span of three months, I’ve been sick three times. Since moving here, I've been mentally and physically drained, and in my most vulnerable state. It's exhausting being sick and alone on the other side of the country. You have to take care of yourself like the adult that you sometimes you forget that you are.
It wasn't until I experienced being ill in another country that I truly understood how important my health is.
My doctor told me that it was quite common for foreigners to catch the flu as they adjust to a new environment. It could be caused by all the changes, such as the change in season, dehydration, and the amount of yellow dust floating around. It might be the stress of living abroad and having to speak so frequently on daily basis as a first-time teacher. It might even be my overwhelming schedule, which makes me sleep deprived from time-to-time.
Thankfully, from my experience, Koreans are extremely caring and generous. Finding medical services is not difficult in my city, as there are many clinics and pharmacies in close proximity. I was fortunate enough to find clinics with staff that speak English. It wasn't until I experienced being ill in another country that I truly understood how important my health is. Your health determines your entire experience, and should always be your number priority.
It's a whole new level of loneliness when you're surrounded by more people than you could count, yet feel completely alone. It's when you're feeling down that you suddenly realize that you're alone in a country, 10,000 kilometres from home.
Not being able to communicate with others on a daily basis is one of the most difficult aspects of living abroad; the constant struggle for both parties to express themselves to to understand what the other person is saying.
There will be a gap that prevents you from truly connecting with your co-teachers, staff and, especially, the students. A great amount of frustration and time it takes when it comes to performing basic, daily routines such as ordering food, opening a bank account, getting your phone plan set up, and asking for directions.
Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that you are a foreigner entering someone else's home, therefore you have to follow their rules. Just because they speak your language, doesn't mean that they should accustom to your needs. After all, it is their second language and it isn't second nature for them.
My co-teachers and staff should help make my life easier in Korea, but they are not obligated to. I have to make more effort in learning the language for my own sake. Knowing even the basics can make my experience more enjoyable. And never forget that the universal language of a smile goes a long way with anyone, anywhere.
It's never easy prioritizing your time, especially when you're overseas. You want to make the most out of every single day and you try to push yourself explore whenever you have the time.
Time here seems to fly by 10 times faster than it does back home. I've somehow managed to overwhelm myself with an ambitious schedule. On the weekdays, I have both Korean classes and yoga classes twice a week, on top of full-time work and household chores. My weekends are dedicated to socializing and exploring.
I like to keep myself busy, and I've always been big on trying new things. I say yes to pretty much everything, because I've adopted the "you only live once" mindset. However, what I really need is time for myself. I need to focus on myself more and take things one step at a time. After all, I have the entire year to explore and see the world.
The best thing about all of these challenges is when you handle them all on your own. When you share these struggles with your family and friends back home, you're reminded that they will always be there to support you on your journey.
A close friend of mine reminded me several things when it comes to living abroad: You will experience stress, hardships, and loneliness along the way, but you have the power to create the change in any situation that you're unhappy in. More often than not, it is all in the mind and you will need to change your perspective. Over time, you will learn to adapt. It probably won't get easier, but it will definitely get better.
Originally published on Verge Magazine (May 24, 2016)