I've learned so much since coming to teach English in Korea! Take some of my advise below:
1) As much as you pack and plan and make lists, you are still going to need your mom on that last hectic day stateside. I had months to prepare for my departure, yet I found myself in a state of sheer panic my last night at home. In an attempt to avoid a motherly lecture, “You should have been packing instead of watching that movie last night!” I declined her incessant offers to help me pack and ushered her away before she could catch a glimpse of my work area full of empty bags and piles of belongings. As the day wore on, I finally swallowed my pride and welcomed her into my mess of a room. Only a mother would repeatedly lift and hold a 50+ pound piece of luggage while standing on a scale as you check the weight and contemplate which pair of shoes to part with next. Only a mother would drive you to the store at an ungodly hour for last minute necessities. Only a mother would remember to Google the pronunciation of the town you are moving to in South Korea. Her: “How do you even say that?” Me: *blank stare* (Uijeongbu: oo-ee-jung-boo - say the first two syllables very fast, together, but maintain the “oo” sound, don’t turn it into a “woo” sound, keep the j hard) Thanks mom.
Uijeongbu - my home
2) Living abroad can be an exotic adventure, but unless you packed your trust fund you have to actually work, sometimes a lot, so use your free time wisely. I have learned to take full advantage of my weekends, something I am sad to say I didn’t always do while living in Boston. I’ve heard that tourists usually see more of a city than the actual residents, and this now makes perfect sense to me. I seize every weekend as an opportunity to see as much of Seoul and Korea as possible. I spend week nights Googling and browsing travel blogs for weekend planning inspiration. It is easy to sleep away a weekend day, but when you only have a foreseeable number of weekends in a country, you learn to fill them with stories that do not start with “This one Saturday morning while I was sleeping...”.
Haeinsa Temple - one of many weekend adventures
3) Yes, you will get homesick, I don’t care who you are, you will miss someone at some point, trust me. But don’t cancel your flight just yet. Thanks to technology I am in constant contact with friends and family, maybe a bit too much. Just yesterday my mom emailed me after I failed to answer her text (yes there are texting applications that allow me to text US numbers for free from my Korean smartphone) she had sent earlier in the day in which she wanted to plan a Skype date. Oh technology, I may be in Korea but sometimes it really doesn’t feel like I am a 17+ hour plane ride away from home.
Kakao Talk - helping me stay connected
4) Living abroad is chock-full of newness - new food, new language, new people - it can be overwhelming, so keep some old in there too. I believe it is critical to maintain a few familiar elements of your life from home while you are abroad. It’s crucial to live like the locals and adapt to your new surroundings, but it’s equally important to remain you in a foreign land. I chose to keep up with my hot yoga practice while living in Uijeongbu and recently forked over a large chunk of my paycheck for a three month studio membership. I’m quite sure I am the first foreigner to enroll in classes, the instructor teaches all in Korean and the other yogis glance at me curiously during class, but I feel serenely comfortable and perfectly at home on my yoga mat.
5) As a foreigner living abroad you are never truly alone. I admit I was nervous to move to a random city outside of Seoul. Would I make friends? Would anyone speak English? Within the first 24 hours of arriving in my new town I was warmly welcomed by a handful of other foreign teachers from my school, I realized there were two Canadians living in my apartment building, and I found a Facebook group dedicated to the foreigner population of Uijeongbu. How convenient. English speaking foreigners are magnetically drawn together in Korea, and I assume this goes for other expat communities around the world. Instant friendships - they are marvelous - completely void of almost all awkwardness. Foreigners are friends and that’s that. We have a common bond of being foreigners in Korea and that’s enough to forge and maintain a friendship.
A few of my new friends in Seoul