5 Reasons To Live Abroad

It’s been 6 months since I landed back on American soil. A lot has happened in those 6 months. My taste buds have been reunited with American cuisine. I’ve been able to use a grown-up sized towel instead of one most of us are used to using in the kitchen, and I’ve been able to communicate.

I’ve gotten an array of questions over the last 6 months. Questions like, “Were you able to communicate with the natives?”, “What was the most exciting thing you did?” and the oh-so-popular “Did you eat dog?” But one question has definitely been the most popular. Increasingly popular the longer I’ve been back.

“Do you miss living in Korea?”

At the 6-month mark, my answer has yet to vary: “I don’t miss living in Korea as much as I miss living abroad.” While Korea definitely has its perks—amazing shopping, adorable children, cheap and good tasting food—I feel I experienced most of what the country had to offer.

While I know some ask this question because they want to live vicariously through my experiences, few ask because they have always desired to take the leap to live abroad and have yet to do so.

To those who have ever considered living abroad, my advice to you would be DO IT. Embrace adventure, take a risk, jump off the cliff (well, the metaphorical cliff, not an actual cliff).

Here are a few of the not-so-obvious reasons I think you should live abroad.

This is an article I wrote for Single Matter’s Magazine, to view the entire article, follow this link – 5 Reasons To Live Abroad

 

 

Royal Treatment

On my flight back to the states I had a 3 hour layover in China. It wasn’t long enough to go out and explore the country at all and frankly, all I could think about was getting back to America. So, I found a comfy airport seat, pulled out my coloring books and went to town. While I was minding my own business coloring my dinosaur picture, I heard a beautiful sound. The sound of people speaking English. 

 
I can’t explain to you how nice it is to hear your native language being spoken when for the last 8 months all you’ve heard is a language you don’t understand. Unfortunately, that beautiful sound I was hearing quickly turned to something not so beautiful as I heard the words “I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be da**ed if I get pushed by a Chinese person in my own country. It’s my turf, that better not happen on my turf!” As I heard these words, I turned to see a man, probably in his early 30’s telling his mother how much he hates the Chinese people and he is so happy to be leaving the country. 
 
I couldn’t believe he was berating a culture that had just employed him, sheltered him and provided him financial stability for the last 12 months. There were many times while in Korea that I felt mistreated, unwanted and under appreciated.  I wondered how much of that was genuinely what the Korean’s felt about me and how much of that was my perception based on things I couldn’t understand due the the inability to communicate.
 
As I crossed through the Chinese customs lines to catch my next flight to LA, I felt the same way, pushed aside and rushed through the “Foreigner” line. It’s a weird feeling to be an immigrant in another country.
But then… I arrived in America, and I realized, China, Korea, and America could all afford some additional training in sensitivity to cultural diversity.
As I approached the first line to get through customs at LAX, I was approached by a man who whispered to me “Are you American?” I told him yes and he motioned for me to come with him. He explained I was standing in the U.S. Citizens line but they had allowed non U.S. citizens in “our line” because the lines were so long. I explained to him I had an 11 hour layover and I was in no rush to go to the front of the line to which he replied “But you are American, you deserve to go to the front of the line.” I thanked him but told him I was fine waiting. I was completely disgusted by his actions and his ignorance in assuming that just because the people standing around me didn’t look the same way I did, does not mean they don’t speak English and can’t understand every word he is saying. 
 
I patiently waited through the very long line to get through the first check point to again have the same thing happen in the second line. This time, I was approached by a man in a security uniform. He simply said the words “Come with me,” so I did as he said, unsure of why he was pulling me out of the line with at least 20 people standing in front of me. As we moved away from the crowd he said “You are American right?” I answered yes and he said “Okay, come to this line it’s much shorter.” 
 
I wasn’t wearing my American Flag t-shirt or my Texas Rangers baseball cap so I’m unsure how someone can take a two second look at me and without hearing a word from my mouth just assume I am American. If there is one thing I learned from my time in Korea is that you absolutely can’t make an assumption about where someone is from based on their appearance. I met South African’s who I assumed where from England. Canadians who I thought were American.
In my own journey to self discovery, I realized just how ignorant I was to other cultures. The Lord has blessed us by allowing us to live in a world filled with people from all walks of life. I look forward to the day we are all embracing that instead of continuing to ostracize ourselves and stay in our comfortable bubble. 

Homesick And Missing America

As the end of my contract approaches, I have been daydreaming about all of the things I look forward to upon my return to the states. I’ve been surprised by some of the things I’ve missed and entertained as I think about them. I thought you might get some enjoyment out of the randomness of my thoughts so I decided to share.
 
Here is my top 10 list of the things I look forward to the most:

 
10. Barbeque sauce. Koreans have tried to master the art of friend chicken and some foreigners prefer the chicken here to what they are used to getting back home but nothing compares to how the southerners do fried chicken and I can’t wait to eat it with a heaping side of barbeque sauce that does not have the word “sour” anywhere on the label. 

9. Warm towels. Hanging clothes to dry is great for saving on your electric bill but I definitely prefer the clean feeling than the few extra dollars saved. I will gladly be washing and entire load of towels just to dry them and wrap myself up in their warmth when I return.

8. Southern hospitality. The entire time I’ve been in Korea, I’ve been pushed and shoved out of the way, stared at funny for holding a door open and given dirty looks for smiling as a nice gesture as I walk by. I am so looking forward to the charm and kindness of my fellow southerners.  

7. Shopping!!! Fashion in Korea is super cute but with all the “You big size” comments and tags that say “One size fits all” that should read “Our size fits one American thigh,” I cannot wait to walk into a store a know that whatever I try on will actually fit me and look flattering. 
6. Fred Flintstones free bed. Although it may take my body some time to readjust to a bed that is not as flat as the ground we walk on, I am absolutely looking forward to sleeping in a bed with padding. 
5. Ordering food in English. Reading Hangul helps foreigners be able to pronounce what they are ordering correctly but just because you can pronounce it doesn’t mean you understand what you are ordering. I am so excited to be able to go to a restaurant and order food knowing I will not be randomly surprised as I stare down at a bowl of pig cheeks or pig skin (Yes, I’ve accidentally ordered both).
4. Sexual harassment. If you are a foreigner living in Korea, you are only considered beautiful if you are blonde and The Corpse Bride skinny. Don’t get me wrong, I know their standards of beauty are extreme and with the utmost humility I can genuinely say “I looks fly” BUT I definitely miss the occasional random pick up lines like “Girl are you a parking ticket cause you got FINE written all over you!” 
3. Taking a bath. I’ve never been a bath person, something about sitting in your own filth totally grosses me out but after a long stressful day, sometimes I would like the option of lighting a candle and listening to some Enya as I soak my troubles away in a bubble bath. 
2. Quality time. I love the advances we have made in modern technology over the years and I am grateful for FB, e-mail and skype. It has been wonderful to be able to stay in touch with everyone since I’ve been gone but nothing compares to being face to face with the people you love.

1. My crazy family!! Having Kasey visit me has been such a wonderful treat but it has also reminded me of how good I have it. I miss my family so much, I even miss having Brooke call me 15 times a day to leave messages yelling at me for not answering the phone the other 14 times she called. I can’t wait to get hugs from my family and slobbery kisses from my nieces and nephews. 

Run Waegook Run!

Last year on a whim, my community group and I decided to run the Color Run. I say run but you can hardly call what we did running. All 229 pounds of me showed up thinking I was actually going to be able to run some of it. I hadn’t run in forever and I knew I wouldn’t be able to run all of it but I was certain I would be able to run some of it. Ha! We ran a few steps but mostly we walked, splashed ourselves with color and made paint angles on the ground and it was a blast! 

Although I had a lot of fun, I definitely don’t consider it an actual race. When I heard a girl at work talking about running a half marathon in Korea and how cool it was when she got her first medal in another country, my ears perked up and I thought to myself “I want a medal from another country.” I didn’t actually have a medal from my own country, but I was determined to get one while in Korea. So, with the help of another foreigner who reads Hangul much better than I do, I registered for my first 5k.

For the last few weeks I’ve been training in an attempt to be able to run the entire 5k without walking. Unfortunately, my old ankle injury decided it didn’t like all the running and started to cause me a lot of pain. I wasn’t able to train like I was hoping so I definitely wasn’t prepared to run the entire race.  

 
Despite not being fully prepared, I woke up Saturday morning ready to take my 2 hour bus ride to Boryeong for my race. After 4 cab rides to all the wrong bus terminals in Daejeon, I finally arrived at the correct bus terminal at 6:28am to board the bus departing at 6:32am. I watched as the runners for the half marathon and 10k left to run their courses and eagerly waited to start my 5k. 
 
Running my first race in Korea was interesting to say the least. In addition to the race medal a runner receives, typical gifts for completion include rice and seaweed. Before the start of each race, runners stretch together, and massage each other to prepare for the race. I was given the following warning from the girl who registered me, “Don’t be alarmed if people start touching you.” I’m glad her statement came with an explanation of the race massaging because I definitely would have been caught off guard. And lastly, Korean’s take theme running to a whole new level. I saw a man with pantyhose on his head carring a huge toy gun the entire length of the race and three men wearing cheetah print dresses. Anywhere other than Korea I’m pretty sure the man carrying the gun would have been arrested and held for questioning. 
 

After we completed the race we walked to the nearby beach and jumped into the ocean with our race clothes on. In Korea, bathing suits are not allowed before summer and even during summer time, many girls wear a big baggy t-shirt to swim in due to the very modest dress code they follow in Korea. 

The water was just what we needed after a race in the very humid and hot Korean weather. We came out of the water to be greeted by a group of Ajusshi’s (older Korean men) who wanted us to play a beach game with them. The game is called Jokju and can best be described as soccer volleyball. There is a low net in the middle, above the ground and you get points my serving the ball (with a kick) and kicking the ball from one side of the net to the other until someone scores. The Ajusshi’s predictably underestimated us and were very surprised by our athletic abilities. Several head butts and face plants into the sand later, we took a group picture with the men and parted ways. 

 
It was a super great day and one I will definitely never forget. 
 
Medal from Korea, 34 minute finish time for my first race, a dive in the ocean and beach games with random Korean men… I’d consider that a definite success for my first official race! 

Alone In A Foreign Land

8 days ago I got word that one of the people I have grown to love so dearly while in Korea is leaving sooner than I expected. I knew the end of her contract was quickly approaching but she teased me by dangling the words “I might stay one more year,” in front of me and I got super excited about the thought of getting to spend more time with her. She has spoken wisdom and truth into my life only a mother can share, she has welcomed me with open arms when I didn’t even utter a word and simply laid my head on her shoulder. She is a beautiful person and I am more than sad that soon I will have to say goodbye. 

 
Another dear friend I have made while I’ve been here will also be leaving in a few months. She has tried to speak to me about her excitement of going to Tanzania and selfishly, I have told her I’m not ready to talk about it. Just 6 months ago, I said so many goodbye’s. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and frankly I’m not ready to start doing it again. 
 
I came to Korea knowing it was a heavily transient community and there would be many goodbyes and honestly, it made me very guarded. I haven’t opened up to very many people, I’ve created superficial relationships with most people I’ve met because I didn’t want to let them in knowing one of us would soon be leaving. Facing the quickly approaching goodbye’s, has made me very sad. In a skype date Tuesday, I told a friend back home with only 5 months left I have no desire to make new friendships. Fortunately, Mandy knows me well enough to know when to speak truth into my life and she quickly responded with the words “I love you, I support you, but I can’t relate to you.” She reminded me that my friendships with Corine, Megan and the other wonderful people I have met so far in Korea are so unique because only the people in Korea with me can understand just how hard it is to live here. 
 
They can relate to words that would be so cryptic to my friends back home without a lengthy back story explaining why it’s so frustrating when a child writes the words “I do ballet because I am ugly,” on a speech contest. They understand why I run and start looking at prices of plane tickets when my Korean head teacher utters the words “Don’t worry.” They know what it feels like to be pushed out of the elevator by an Ajusshi so hard you feel you are going to fall over just to politely nod your head and walk back on.  
 
The thought of investing in new friendships can be really scary sometimes but risking your heart is so rewarding when it results in beautiful life long friendships. If I hadn’t risked my heart and opened up to Megan and Corine, I wouldn’t have been blessed with such a wonderful experience so far. 
 
To anyone reading this who is struggling with the same feelings of not wanting to open up and make friendships, I would highly encourage you to take the lock off your heart and throw it away. Soak up every minute of time you have with the people you are in community with right now. Because although it may be temporary, you are creating bonds that go so deep and nothing can ever compare to that. 

Megan and Corine, I can’t express in words how much you mean to me. This blog is for you. You will never be able to get rid of me and I want you to always remember just how special you are to me!