By the time this is published, it will be a year since I started the physical journey to move to South Korea. On January 1st, 2021, I packed up the rest of my belonging (throwing away some things that couldn’t fit) and my cat into my Honda Civic to drive back to my parent’s house ignorer to make my final preparations for my flight on February 14th.
This year to any observer may seem only full of wonder and joy. The truth is that I struggled. In the beginning, it was the struggle with quarantine then with figuring out life around me, like what was going on at work and how to get groceries. That fell away, and I struggled with my diet, travel anxiety, and building a community. Friends have come and gone, some choosing others over me while others seem caught up in their lives. All of which is fair, but I struggled with it nonetheless. My disappointment with friendships falling apart is my disappointment with the ex-pat community and the ability to make friends.
In my experience, the expat community in Korea can be very hostile and racist (just look at the comments of the larger comunities across reddit, facebook and even Kakao chats). Though that does not apply to every sub community of the expats here nor to every expat individualy it is easy to be discouraged by they those who vocalize their ignorant opinions.
For those that I have met who fall out side that generlization of the foreign community many are not at the point in their personal journey to be good friends, or are chasing the dream of being an influencer. Everyone has come to Korea for difrent reasons and for most Korea is temporary.
Outside of the expat community, I have been unable to build friendships appart from coworkers and the people who came here with me, including locals in my town. Taking covid out of the situation, I’ve found out that it’s pretty normal to have difficulty making friends here, both Korean and foreigners alike. With the work-life balance here, many people don’t go out, and if they do, it’s in couples. The single solo life is not looked upon with the kindest eye when marriage is an expectation, and everything, including food, is meant to be shared, not done alone. To add to that, it’s not normal to introduce yourself to someone. Most introductions are made from a fellow acquaintance, which is not easy for someone like me who knew zero people in a 30min radius when I moved here. To make it even harder to find a community, Koreans self-proclaim themselves as being ‘shy’ people who don’t want to embarrass themselves by saying or doing something wrong. I cant blame them. Although I have no problem introducing myself to a stranger, it makes me highly anxious, plus doing that with someone in my non-native language would also add the fear of not being understood. It’s terrifying. Knowing why it’s hard to make friends here does not mean it’s easy to break the social norms to find them and build a community for myself.
The past couple of months have felt particularly hard outside of not finding a welcoming community in Korea. Between Covid restrictions, dealing with xenophobia, dealing with a coworker who drunkenly professed his love to me just to find out he was married (men are men everywhere), back pain, and not feeling sucessful at work I’ve been really down despite my grand adventures.
Every year Its important to me to reflect on the negitive things in my life I feel like it gices mee a good perspective on where Im at and what I need to work on to make my life better. Now that Ive done that it is time to Reflect on all the good things that have happened to me and That I have accomplished this year.
List of Accomplishments
- Paid 1/4 of my debt
- Consistently Traveled
- Tried a new career after leaveing one that drained me
- Tried new foods (skunk fish never again)
- Stayed connected with family and friends back home
- I feel a lot healthier than I have for a long time (it’s a journey that may be at a low as I write this but should be celebrated nonetheless)
- Zip Lined TWICE and finished a ropes course!
- Scuba-dived (12 times!)
- Hiked a dormant volcano and lots of other peaks
- Moved to Korea (I always wanted to live in another country)
Despite the lack of community in Korea, I’ve met some fantastic people and am extremely greatful to call some of them my friends. Despite the covid restrictions, I’ve seen so much of Korea and gained experiences most never will. Despite the xenophobia, I have these wonderful interactions with people, including; shop owners who offer me a free thing for my patronage, old men who cheer me on hiking, and people who are genuinely lovely people wanting to say hi or help me out. Let’s not leave out the thoughtful poem a coworker (not professing love guy) wrote about me, which was to thank me for making coffee everyday but definitely had undertones of I didn’t like foreigners till I met you (look, I’ll take it). Despite not being a great teacher, my school and students really like me and make me feel welcome. This is why despite all the drawbacks of the last year, I decided to renew my contract and stay a second year.
Reflecting on the wild ride this year, I feel more in control of my life and I am happiest I’ve been ever. With that in mind, my intentions for this year are to build a better community, learn how to be a better teacher (classroom management and engagement), refocus on my health, continue to give my voice a platform through blogging, laugh more, and be more spontaneous.
Next year, I want to reflect on this year, and no matter what happens, no matter if I decide to stay another year or move to Thailand or Morocco, I will have spent a year working on myself while enjoying all Korea has to offer.
Wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with joy and growth despite the hardships!
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