Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Expat Diaries-Life and Perspectives in Korea

I decided for this month's Expat Diaries, I would step back in time and talk about when we first came over to Korea and how moving overseas has changed us. Link up your travel/expat stories below and get to know some of the other lovely bloggers!


I still remember the moment my husband and I decided to move abroad. I had texted him to tell him that instead of settling in our hometown after the wedding, I wanted to live abroad and travel the world. He texted back saying he already knew of a job opportunity working as ESL teachers in South Korea. So while I planned the wedding, he set to work on the piles of paperwork needed in order to work abroad. Within four months, we were on a plane for half way around the world. The draw of traveling and experiencing different cultures all while being able to save money is what led us to hop on that plane with our lives in four small bags and not look back. Within the first six months of living in Korea, we had already decided one year was not long enough. We made plans to find jobs for a second and even a third year.
People always ask us how it feels to live in a different country. Don’t we miss home? Is it hard? Truth be told, it goes in cycles. At first, everything is a novelty. We walked around our small town for the first month with our eyes wide open, taking in all the strange sights and smells. Gawking in the fish market and getting confused at all of the signs written in Korean, a language that might as well been hieroglyphics. Then, it changes. You get sick of playing charades every time you want something to eat; you get annoyed at the pointing and the stares. You start to wonder why you came at all and daydream by looking at apartment ads posted back stateside (true story). And if you can make it through that, you graduate to the final stage…normalcy. Even the most bizarre, strange and annoying things seem like a walk in the park. Things that once made you want to pack your bags and leave, make you laugh and shake your head. The country you once thought of as so bizarre and foreign now feels like home (or as much as it can in a country where you'll always be looked at as an outsider).
My husband and I always speak about how life will be so different when we return back to the states. Living overseas not only changes the way you look at life, but also how you live life. So how has it changed us?
1. As you can imagine, Korean cuisine is drastically different from in the States. There is of course a lot of rice, a lot of fresh vegetables and a lot of spice. I am an absolute wimp when it comes to spice, so I hardly ate when we first moved here. But as the months wore on, I found myself adding more and more spicy sauce to my meals and even (gasp) craving Korean dishes. Living here has changed what we eat and has made us choose what we eat more carefully. We have found ourselves naturally eating less processed foods, more fresh produce and a more varied selection of dishes. When we move back home we’ll think more about what we are putting into our bodies and try to keep the habit of choosing to eat better foods for our bodies (even though for a while we’ll be downing every burger we come across).
2. Patience is not a virtue I excel at. But when you’re teaching young children a language they do not yet know and you have to explain what to do three times, in three distinctly different ways; patience eventually becomes one of your strong skills.
Even this simple art project took me a few times to explain
3. Living overseas and traveling as much as we do has made us much more open-minded to those around us and the different cultures of the world. And while this has made a huge impact in our own lives, it has also made us realize that we would like to raise our kids in the future with this same mentality.
4. One of the biggest things that living in Korea has shown us is how we treat foreigners in our own country. We feel so incredibly blessed to live in a country where, even though we know very little of the language, we have never had a negative or rude experience while living here due to language barriers. Everyone is so patient with us while we try to describe what we are looking for or what we need. Living in a different country is difficult as is, and I hope we can show the same patience to foreigners when we move back home. Now that we are able to understand what it feels like to be on the other side.
Traveling and living abroad is all about adaptation, developing the skill to laugh in any situation and most of all, to be humble. You learn to be flexible and work around the inevitable obstacles that will get in your way. You learn to laugh when the obvious cultural differences stare you in the face. For example, you have to laugh when the cook comes out of the kitchen and tells you to shush because you are the typical loud American, you have to laugh when your children try to grab your boobs in class, and you especially have to laugh when your boss tells you that you look tired and sick when really you feel fine. But most important of all of these, is to be humble. We as expats are bound to make mistakes and bound to step over a cultural line at some point. It is during those times that we have to be gracious and humble enough to take help from those around you and apologize.

I apologize that since we're leaving on a jet plane in a matter of hours, I won't be able to hop around to your blogs as usual. I assure you though that I look forward to reading them when we get back! Thanks everyone for linking up with us!