On this day six months ago, I flew on a plane from SFO to Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea. One of my best friends, Blythe, was waiting at the airport for my arrival along with a taxi driver so they could take me to my new apartment in Suwon where I’d be living for the next year.
Since there is a 16 hour time difference between California and South Korea, I remember being extremely jet-lagged when I got here, as well as overwhelmed and shocked by the culture: Instead of seeing a large mix of ethnicities like what is found in America, I’d say that foreigners only make up about 5% of the population in Korea; I couldn’t read what anything said or understand what anyone was saying; and I was afraid to leave my apartment in fear of not being able to find my way back. On top of having to learn a new culture, language, and city, I would have to learn a new job in a couple of days. Everything was just so different from what I knew back home, and I wondered if I would ever get used to this new environment.
It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come in the last six months: I know so much about Korean culture, I could probably write a novel on it; I can read Hangul now and speak enough survival Korean to complete daily tasks like ordering food and taking taxi cabs; I can get myself from Point A to Point B to Point C to Point Z; and I feel confident when it comes to knowing how to do my job. What seemed scary, overwhelming, and impossible when I first arrived here now seems so normal, minuscule, and simple. Even though I don’t plan on staying here forever, I can honestly say that Korea feels like a second home.
Making such a huge adjustment wasn’t easy, though. For example, I got incredibly homesick around my third month of being here; they say homesickness after the third month is common because that’s when all the newness and excitement has worn off, but I feel like I may have taken it especially hard because this is my first time ever living anywhere other than Sacramento. I distracted myself from being homesick by staying busy, but there have still been some struggles with cultural differences, like getting used to the food and feeling insecure about my weight. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living in another country it’s: YES, living in another country is an exciting experience, but it’s also extremely challenging, especially if it’s your first time leaving home.
I moved to Korea to push myself– to be put out of my comfort zone in order to travel, learn, experience, and grow. In the last six months, I have done exactly all of that and more, but it’s not over yet as I have only reached the halfway point. While I am looking forward to moving back home in six months, there’s still a lot I have to do while I’m here: participate in a temple stay, visit the DMZ, and travel to at least one other country in Asia. There’s a lot I want to continue doing: keep making new friends, keep learning about the Korean culture/language, and most importantly, keep getting better and better at my job in order to prepare me for my main career objective as a high school English teacher.
These past six months have been a fun ride, but like I said, it’s not over yet: I have six more months to go, and I fully intend to make the best of them.