When Michael first asked me to write a blog post about living in South Korea, a place I happily (and sometimes unhappily) inhabited for 3 years, I struggled to come up with a way to express feelings towards it. Then I came across a book called ‘Dear Me: A Letter to my 16-Year-Old Self’. I decided to imagine what I would (if I could) say to the self who still has all those Korea years ahead of her.
Dear Pre-Korea Me,
There are things you need to know about the journey you are about to take. I’m going to give you some advice, ranging from the profound (cherish your loved ones) to the practical (take lots of bras), so you need to stop your ridiculous last-minute packing for a moment and pay attention.
First of all: enjoy ‘the honeymoon period’. This is the sweet spot, lasting anywhere from 3 to 6 months, when living in another country is still a novelty and everything is still an adventure. What comes after has its own comforts, but you can never recreate the heady mixture of anxiety and exhilaration experienced during those early days.
I want to tell you that Cass, Hite and Soju are liver poison, but I know you won’t listen. You’ll probably just try and counteract it with all that green tea you drink, even though there aren’t enough antioxidants in the world to undo the damage. You crazy kid.
Remember that the best way to adapt to a new culture is to practice patience. You will occasionally want to clench your fists and stamp your feet at everything from problems with work to petty xenophobia. Try not to lose your temper and to focus on the good.
Know that despite the occasional pay-cut, unscheduled overtime and bureaucratic BS, you have an awesome job. You will never again be paid so well to have fun with kids all day. Until you score that dream job in a millionaire’s baby penguin sanctuary, nothing else will compare, so enjoy it.
Take lots of pictures. Not only will camera shopping prove to be an excellent tool in wooing the guy you will spend the next four years of life with, the photos will be more valuable to you than you can imagine.
Embrace the kimchi. It’s free, it’s good for you, and you’ll miss it so much that you’ll end up paying a lot of money to eat it in London.
In times of distress, you often tell yourself: “This too shall pass”. What you don’t yet realize is that this applies to happy times as well. So slow down occasionally and appreciate where you are and who you’re with, whether that’s halfway up the world’s steepest mountain, or sandwiched between friends at a table for 20 in the world’s smokiest bar.
You will feel home sick, but know that your adopted country will become your second home and your friends will become your second family. People that you would never have met, had you not taken this impossible first step, will become great friends that you can’t imagine not knowing. This is probably the single greatest part of travelling.
And finally, on those long dark nights when you lie awake and wonder what the heck you are doing… go back to sleep. It all works out in the end.
That’s all for now. I’m actually jealous of all the fun you’re about to have. Take care.
Stacey is 26, was born in South Africa, raised in the UK, and lived in Korea between 2007 and 2011. She studied English Literature at the University of Leeds and received postgraduate diploma in Journalism at the London School of Journalism. Stacey is currently a Content Writer for a news agency called Adfero in England.
Find more Stacey has written at www.staceyliezl.wordpress.com