Moving to Korea was a dream that Eric had conceived several years before we met. I remember the first time I heard him mention it I thought, “Well that’s neat, but why Korea?”
At that time, Korea was a place that I didn’t know too much about. When I thought of Asia, I usually thought of China or Japan but never Korea.
Perhaps it was the size of the country that made it seem of less significance than other countries in Asia, or maybe it was the fact that all of the news about South Korea was overshadowed with news of the dreaded North. Whatever the case, I knew zero about the country and didn’t really have a desire to learn more.
After Eric and I married, we decided to pursue his longtime dream of moving to Korea as an English teacher. I knew that this was something he had worked hard for and as a friend and his wife I wanted to support him in achieving this goal.
Exactly five months after we got married we said goodbye to our families and boarded a plane bound for Seoul. Upon arriving, it didn’t take me long to question the decision that we had made.
Our new country was bitterly cold, friendly faces were few and far between, and while I had planned on taking classes and doing volunteer work in Seoul, every door seemed to close once we arrived in Korea.
Everyday found me alone in our small, bleak apartment, and I began wondering if it had all been a mistake.
I knew that I should’ve done more research before up and moving across the world. What had I done? What if the following year was filled with nothing but regret and misery?
What ensued during the next four to five months was a constant battle of loneliness, frustration and regret. It wasn’t pretty. It was hard. I can honestly say moving to Korea was the hardest thing I ever went through.
It was harder than doing a long-distance relationship, harder than being a newlywed and learning to live with another person, heck, it was even harder than planning a wedding in less than four months!
It was emotionally exhausting. I felt constantly lonely and had no idea what to do with my time. I had never spent long periods of time alone but in Korea I had to learn to be by myself all day Monday through Friday.
“All that sounds awful!” You might say, “I thought this post was supposed to be about loving Korea…”
Don’t worry! It gets better!
How did I learn to love Korea?
After months of constant struggle and wishing that I had never moved to Korea, I realized that Korea was not going to change for me—I was the one that needed to change. So began the process of changing my outlook on Korea and through this I fell in love.
1. This Is Travel!
When we left our home in the beautiful pacific northwest, I had looked at Korea as a sort of gateway to travel— instead of seeing it as travel.
I think in my mind I had told myself that this was “Eric’s country” because it was a place that he had always wanted to go. I on the other hand had never thought about visiting Korea and so to me it wasn’t really traveling since I hadn’t been planned on going there. Eric might consider it traveling but that was only because to him it was.
Obviously, this was a horrible way to start our journey and I had to change from seeing Korea as the “gateway” to seeing it as the real deal.
Once I began to change my perspective, my attitude towards Korea also began to change. I started wanting to explore, to see more of the country, and Korea went from being “Eric’s country” to our country and home.
2. I let go of my American standard of politeness!
Simple as it may sound, this was really difficult for me, in fact I’m still working on it. I’ve had to learn to put aside all of my cultural rules and realize that I am not in America anymore and so the same rules don’t apply here.
What I consider rude or inappropriate behavior from an American perspective isn’t necessarily rude or inappropriate here in Korea.
For example, the constant jostling in passing on the sidewalks. In America, if you bump or jostle someone you always apologize, not doing so would be pretty impolite. But here in Korea, you bump people in passing without giving a second thought to it or even a glance.
Also, in America it is very common to smile at people in passing, but here nobody smiles or makes eye contact with strangers. It just isn’t a thing.
When I first moved here these cultural differences really bothered me and made me think that Korean people were rude and unfriendly. Yet, I realized that I only thought that because I was comparing them to the U.S. instead of accepting the Korean standard of politeness. Since then, I’ve learned to adapt myself to the Korean culture and in so doing have come to see Koreans as the friendly and kind people that they are.
3. I learned to embrace the new and uncomfortable!
When we first arrived in Korea, I didn’t like the food, Koreans annoyed me, and I just didn’t get the culture. I let the little annoyances of culture shock sink in and they made me resent Korea. I listened to other people when they complained about their lives here and that definitely didn’t help my perspective.
Eventually, I realized that I was letting negative things that other people said affect my view of Korea and that it wasn’t making my life better—it was only making me resent Korea more.
I stopped listening to the haters—after all there must have been some reason why they moved to Korea in the first place, and surely it wasn’t all that bad if they had continued to live in Korea for years and years without leaving.
Korea haters! You know who you are, and if it’s truly that bad here—you can leave you know.
I also made an effort to be open and brave when it came to Korean food. I tried many foods I never thought I would. I even mustered up the courage to try lots of seafood (which I hated before moving to Korea).
I’m proud to say that after being adventurous and open minded I now absolutely love Korean food! I crave it often and find myself wondering what I’ll do when after another year I’ll no longer be able to just run downstairs to the Kimbab store or across the street to the Korean bbq place. What does everyone else in the world do without Korean food in their lives? It sounds so sad. I truly pity you all.
4. I put myself out there and found friends!
Another major part of why I struggled when I first moved to Korea was that I had no friends. It had been a couple years since the last time that I traveled and so being in a foreign place where I had to be making a constant effort to meet people was difficult (even though I had done it before).
For the first few months of our time here, I knew no one and didn’t really know how to meet other expats. Where were all the foreigners? All the like-minded expats who were also searching for friends?
Luckily, I was able to find Facebook groups and meet up apps for expats in Korea. The first one I found was the Facebook group: Expat Women in Korea. After that I asked the 10,000 or so ladies if there was a specific group for expats in my city and they were all eager to point me the right way.
It took a lot of effort, but I began to make new friends. Korean friends who helped me understand the culture and expat friends who helped me brave it. These companions cured my loneliness and helped me complete the process of falling in love with Korea.
And so that’s how I came to love Korea!! It was definitely a journey but by changing my perspective and expanding my comfort zone I grew to love Korea and even learned to feel at home here. I am beyond excited to see what adventures this next year will hold for us in this beautiful country. Stay tuned peeps 😀