One Year in S. Korea: What I’ve Learned [Part I]
This past weekend marked the one-year milestone in S. Korea, and what a year it’s been! As clichéd as it sounds, it’s been full of rewarding challenges, self-growth (on steroids) and invaluable learning. Below are six important lessons I’ve learned during the past twelve months.
It’s okay to need help.
One of the hardest things about moving to S. Korea was the demoralizing feeling I experienced every time I couldn’t do things for myself. From ordering food at a restaurant, to opening a bank account, or going to the doctor, I couldn’t do any of these seemingly simple things on my own. I needed to ask for help from my co-teachers or friends that spoke Korean. I felt as if my independence had been thrown out the window. I felt like a helpless child, dependent on everybody around her. I hated this sensation because I love being independent. I liked to believe I could take care and solve most things on my own, without bothering anyone. But, with hindsight, learning to ask for help – without feeling ashamed – was a tiny step towards embracing the scary monster that I considered vulnerability to be.
Creating is a lonely endeavor.
Creating poses a trade-off, to either spend time alone and make tangible things – from intangible ideas and thoughts – or spend time with people doing fun things. For a long time, I chose the latter, because who doesn’t love good company and having fun? But a sense of guilt was always present within me for neglecting my creative pursuits. Creating anything requires uninterrupted focus and we can best do that while we are alone. Since moving to S. Korea, I’ve learned to be overly protective of that quiet time in which I write. Foregoing social engagements in order to sustain my creative output has grown increasingly easy. At one point, I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ to events and socializing. I find that I love saying ‘no’ these days. While I enjoy the lifestyle, it must be complemented with healthy socializing. It’s all about a mix of both. My sweet spot lies in spending 70% of time on my own as long as I am in good company the remaining 30.
I’m an extroverted introvert.
Yes, that sounds like an oxymoron, but hear me out: I’m not fully extroverted, nor fully introverted. The idea of hanging out with people for an entire day is draining to me, while spending a week without the company of friends isn’t necessarily appealing either. I consider myself 65% introvert, 35% extrovert. And within this odd mix, I lean more towards thinking introversion. It’s taken me years to arrive at this clear conclusion, and actually embrace it. For a long time, I wanted to be exclusively extroverted; I constantly surrounded myself with friends and spent large amounts of time with family. But more often than not, I’d find myself feeling mentally exhausted while in their presence, and didn’t understand why. This exhaustion manifested differently depending on whom I was hanging out with. If it was friends or someone I was dating, I’d suddenly withdraw inwards, grow quiet and pensive. I never knew why I needed to do this but I can only imagine what it looked like on the outside: one minute I’m being my energetic, engaged self, and the next I’m incredibly detached. Talk about a walking contradiction!
Within my family dynamic, specifically a Mexican household where there is a steady stream of people coming in and out of the house, it got a bit more interesting. The need to reflect, absorb and process manifested in frustration and irritation – with moodiness – over insignificant matters. This is an admission I am not proud of, but too often I lashed out at the people I love most when I’d unknowingly reached my quota of socialization. The thing about family, at least mine, is that they tend to love you unconditionally, despite your (okay, my) bratty ways.
I know now that if I am spending time with anyone, whether family, friends or lovers, for more than a few hours, I will inevitably need mental, thinking breaks. But at least now I can explain this fluctuation in my personality from the get-go and avoid being taken in a personal way. With hindsight, it makes sense why I’ve always needed extended periods of solitude to feel recharged and ready to partake in social engagements.
Living alone is the best.
I’ve had terrible and great roommates before, but by far the best one I’ve lived with is yours truly. I’m OCD about keeping my space clean and free of clutter. I consider my place of living a sanctuary. Lots of previous roommates didn’t seem to agree with this mentality and chose to treat our lovely home as a hotel or their parent’s house, causing me great distress and frustration. Thankfully, I haven’t had to worry about anyone else’s mess for a full blissful year. Living alone has also aligned perfectly with my extroverted-introvert personality, leading to uninterrupted and distraction-free productivity, without the desire (or obligation) to spend time with those I shared a house with, or partake in the fun activities they invited me to and could never resist.
I’m never going to be (genuinely) cool, calm and collected.
Don’t get me wrong, I can display a Chill quality, but the thing is that most often than not it is feigned. I may be able to look the part, and actually feel it (here and there) but I’ve learned this attitude isn’t my true nature, sadly. I love the idea of possessing these traits, of remaining totally laid-back under pressure or thinking NBD when someone I’ve been crushing on for a while realizes I exist and starts texting me. Instead, I am a basket case that cannot help but over-analyze everything, especially romantic situations, and drive myself mad in the process. When I was in my early 20s, I liked to think that by the time I reached my mid 20s (now), I’d be super confident and just a total badass babe unaffected by most things, but unfortunately, this is not the reality. And that’s okay. The biggest takeaway is that I’ve accepted my neurotic nature because it adds eccentricity to my character (whatever we need to tell ourselves to make us feel better, am I right?).
Everyone is on his/her own (unique) journey.
I’ve always been blessed - though sometimes it feels like a curse - to have a very clear sense of what I want from life. The details are rarely revealed to me, or how the process will unfold, but the vision of my future remains intact. When I decided to quit the bullshit and excuses for not listening to that nagging inner voice, I had to implement a system to instill (and adhere to) self-discipline and time management. Since committing to this approach, I’ve been doing what I’m meant to be doing, and it feels good – fulfilling.
While being in S. Korea, I’ve met plenty of friends with a desire to ‘find themselves’ aka figure their shit out. I’d become very eager every time I heard them say this, wishing to support them in any way, but soon would grow disappointed and impatient with their seemingly lack of focus and commitment. Don’t they know this is hard work?! I’d impatiently wonder. But as I got to know a few of them more intimately, I started to glimpse into the layers of their complex selves. I realized that we’re all trying to make sense of things, of the world, of our place in it, and that’s a beautiful thing. But, that my own path, or approach to following it, doesn’t necessarily fit each and every person I encounter. Initially, I was judging others experiences through my own lens, which can be inevitable because we live inside ourselves but we should always try our best to respect others’ journeys, without personal projections or expectations.
Stay tuned for part II next week.
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