Year Two in S. Korea: What I’ve Learned
With a couple weeks left in Korea, I’ve been reflecting on my second year. The past twelve months have been a transformative time for me. As I prepare to take off for Southeast Asia, I wanted to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
1. Our mindsets and attitudes define our lives. We truly do see the world not as it is but as we are. Thus it’s crucial that we remain diligent and often remind ourselves of this easily overlooked truth. The lens through which we perceive everything is of crucial important always, but especially while we experience trials and tribulations.
2. Time is relative. This may seem obvious but living abroad has shown me to a degree I didn’t grasp before just how accurate this statement rings true. Before moving to Korea, a year didn’t seem that long because, in the grand scheme of things, it isn’t. But actually, it is. A lot can transpire in 12 months. We advance closer to our impending mortality. One month can fly by or stretch infinitely. Time gets distorted depending on how we view it.
3. Each person is a world. It’s taken me a long time to comprehend that what’s obvious to me isn’t necessarily obvious to others. This is to say we all experience the world in our own unique way, influenced by our background, experiences, beliefs, family, etc. Living in Korea and growing close to people from all walks of life has cemented this notion.
4. Slow travel forever. The past 2 years have confirmed what I already knew: that I rather explore at a slower and more leisurely pace than mindlessly ticking off places from a list.
5. Shmoney matters. Paying off credit card debt, saving up for my travels and for post-travel endeavors has afforded me a peace of mind I didn’t know in Chicago. Money buys us options so financial stability is important, ya’ll! I even think about investing and saving up for old age on the regular… though I’m not sure just yet how this paper will be made.
6. How to get shit done. I (finally) know how to focus—and remain that way. This isn’t to say I don’t often give in to procrastination and put off things, but I’ve implemented systems to account for this behavior and meet my productivity goals in spite of it. Self-motivation & personal productivity are challenging! My personal system involves lots of lists, scheduling everything on Google calendar, endless reminders, and so on. I do all this to practice being a freelance employee with the discipline to get stuff done so that when I do have that lifestyle, I’m set.
7. Mistakes are human. Mistakes are inevitable but it's our attempt to repair or amend them that matters. Sometimes our fuck-ups can’t be fixed but owning up and apologizing is important. The way we handle our mistakes (or being wronged) speak volumes about our characters.
8. Teaching is exhausting. During my 2-year teaching stint in Korea, I’ve developed a newfound respect for teachers because projecting so much energy is mentally and physically draining.
9. Loneliness has its place. It serves to make good times feel sweeter, and it’s great to feel sad because this is a great indicator that we aren’t numb to our lives. Feeling lonely shows us we have the capacity to feel.
10. Friendships v. friendships. Ride or dies are ‘Friends’ and more casual acquaintances fall under ‘friends.’ Sometimes these shift and sometimes they don’t. Living away from family and friends has shown me who truly matters and whom I matter to. It’s a bit of a painful realization when these two don’t always align but I’ve come to distinguish my Friends from friends.
11. We all hold deep-rooted biases. To realize the amount of unlearning I need to undergo about the lessons of gender that I internalized while growing up has been cathartic. The cultural and societal conditioning – on matters ranging from womanhood to feminism, to singledom, to name a few – that I’ve operated under no longer serve me. It’s been damn humbling to start knowing all the shit that I don’t know.
12. No shame in being single. For a long time, I viewed my perpetual singledom as a personal failing. I felt embarrassed for never having been in a serious, long-lasting conventional relationship like most of my friends and peers. This caused me unending insecurity and feelings of inadequacy. This is still a work in progress, but it’s been liberating to arrive at the conclusion that the outdated ideas of gender that have influenced me are incompatible with the woman I’ve become.
13. Habits are the fabric of our existence. Make sure you’re happy with the habits and routines that fill your days because this is most likely how you’ll spend the rest of your life.
14. Family is a priority. During my last trip to Chicago, it became clear just how much I miss my family and how much I’m missed. The magnitude of my absence and the importance of living in the same place as the people I love dawned on me. Hence, I’ve decided to live with my parents for a few months after my travels. When I return, I’ll have lived on my own for nearly a decade! I’m ready for some home comforts.
15. Different people express love differently. This year I was exposed to the 5 languages of love—the notion that each of us prefers to give and receive love in a certain way. It was eye-opening to understand how and why oftentimes showing love gets lost in translation.
16. Self-awareness is worth cultivating. I’ve learned it’s worth setting time aside to observe our behaviors, thought patterns, and emotions. I often worry I’m a bit too self-obsessed but in my opinion, this is preferable than not having enough self-awareness to know what you’re all about. As cliché as it may sound, it’s worth getting to know yourself.