Commentary

Hitting Bottom when Living Abroad

Written by Carl Hedinger

There would be no cloud-nine days without rock-bottom moments left below. ― Richelle E. Goodrich

Hitting Bottom when Living Abroad

I always like to write and focus on the good side of life abroad, because how else would I justify being away from friends and family for so long? Newsflash! It’s not all wonderful. There’s a darkness that arrives in many forms, from loneliness to anger and resentment.

Where does it come from? How do I come to question my motives for leaving, to the brink of packing up and going back home? Being away, it’s easier to hit the bottom of my dark well and ponder all that’s gone wrong in the recent past. So many questions come up and answers seem impossible to find and after dwelling on the bad times, I have no choice but to pick myself up from the ground.

It’s something I can’t avoid, or else I’ll descend to the depths of apathy and despair. We must face our problems, even if they seem too difficult to overcome. I started thinking about this during a recent visit to our former home in Korea’s Gyeongsang Province.

Reliving the Tough Times

A Sunday drive back to an old haunt knocked a few memories to the forefront. Some were hard to face, but that’s the point of overcoming the anger and frustration. Avoiding it would only drive me insane, and a variety of emotions came out during our walk along the Nam River in Jinju.

This was our home for roughly 15 roller coaster months, where we learned some harsh yet useful lessons. The first and more important one had to do with trust, and how much I would thereafter put into someone who owned my visa and life in a foreign land. Is it possible that so many evil traits lie within one person?

Hitting Bottom, Baby Steps Up

After many bouts over lots of lost income, we actually taught for the entire duration of a lengthy contract before temporarily saying goodbye to Korea. It almost seemed like we were leaving with our tails tucked behind us. Phone sessions with family hangouts with friends quickly veered into complaints about Korean society, culture, and everything else that rubbed us the wrong way.

We’d hit bottom. It was time to get away.

Even inside that dark well full of terrible thoughts and feelings, there was some discoverable gold. Some valuable lessons and accomplishments came about while dealing with this hell of a job and existence. My wife had started her journey towards a better, fitter life and I had continued helping the community in Gwangju that kept me busy when free time offered itself. These were baby steps towards the happy life that we know now.

Thanks to our time spent in the job from hell, we hit bottom while living abroad…but we picked ourselves up.

Takeaways

There were wonderful people whose wisdom and friendship I miss on a daily basis. The city was near some beautiful places, and we started to learn that the bad times only occurred during the bad part of the week. Sharing them with such wonderful people made the problems go away, but only for the moment. We couldn’t ignore them, and had to face our issues. Sometimes it’s easy to paint a rosy picture even in the worst situations.

Life abroad isn’t always the best and that’s something people should realize. Sometimes, everything will fall apart and there won’t be too many people in your corner to help. Taking a step back and just enduring is probably the best way to grow and learn from such an experience. Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson that we took away, and revisited during this recent trip. Overall, we looked back on Jinju with regret but that’s not the whole story.

Looking Forward, Up

We learned so many things from this small city, coming out of it with lots of ideas and aspirations for round two. Yes, we somehow came out of the nightmare wanting more of Korea. Going home first was a must, as we had to recharge and look for better jobs. More importantly, we were getting married and taking the next step in our commitment to each other.

Looking back on Jinju was hard until that recent visit, but things seem so much clearer now. I owe a lot to our time there, and think that it was a necessary step along the way in our journey. I had to encounter that nightmare scenario and doubt each coming day in order to grow and become the person that I am today. I needed that time, even though there are parts I’d love to forget. I had to learn from hitting bottom in order to reach the top.

Thank you, Jinju. I needed you.

Have you ever hit bottom? I’d love to read your story in the comments below! 

Hitting Bottom When Living Abroad

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About the author

Carl Hedinger

I’m a writer and recovering American expat who shares my family’s travels through life. Follow our adventures here and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

14 Comments

  • Wow! I can totally relate to this but in a slightly different way. I’m in my first year living abroad and overall have been extremely confident in my decision. Recently was the anniversary of the death of my father and I realized how isolating living across the world can be. I think its important for people to know that regardless of how good (or bad) your experience of living overseas is, there are definitely going to be ups and downs. Great to see that you’ve turned the situation into a positive!

    • Hi Stephanie! Thanks so much for the comment. I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling isolated during such a sensitive time.

      I hope you have a supportive group of friends around to help you through it. If not, you have people like us to help you through:)

      Are you in Australia at the moment?

  • Carl, I really have been here in a few countries. Cultural differences can be maddening, especially when doing long term travel. Rock bottoms give you a solid foundation for building 😉 I have seen and learned this first hand while being a digital nomad and no doubt, my freedom and success, life-wise and business-wise, were borne of shitty, crazy and hectic times on the road. Thanks so much for the heart felt share!

    Ryan

    • Thanks so much Ryan! It’s great to hear that you also were able to come out of the rough patches and make your life positive. I’ve clearly got a lot to learn from you in the digital nomad area:)

  • Glad I found this post and your blog. I’m currently living abroad now and can relate to your post. This experience will undoubtedly make you stronger. Happy that you saw it through and coming out the other end. Thanks for sharing such personal experiences. Look forward to following along with you. Cheers.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this post. Have you had similar work/life experiences while living abroad?

      Where are you living these days?

  • I recently heard news of a death of a young guy (about 18 years old) I used to babysit when he was about 5 and 6 years old. It took me by surprise and the circumstances surrounding his death is a bit off. His body was never found. People usually wont know what youre going through (and most don’t care).

    I’m finding that despite the negativity, to change my deliberately perspective. I’m slowly becoming “decidedly positive”. It’s harder on some days than on others, but it’s working so far.

    Thank you for sharing~

    • It seems like maybe we are fighting similar battles. Do you think this time in Korea has helped or hindered your progress towards becoming decidedly positive?

      Thanks for sharing your anecdote, and I’m sorry that you had to find out about it while far away from home.

      Take Care.

  • Love, love, love this! I think it’s so cool that you were able to take such a miserable first year in Korea and find the strength to move past it and try again. The fact that you’re in a much better place and totally enjoying the country is pretty awesome. Way to adapt and push through!

    Was it a conscious decision to reframe your experience of Korea and try to make your second year a positive one? Or did it just kind of happen due to the new job and location?

    • Yo Nathan. I feel like the job kinda dictates how we’ve felt while living here. The hagwons were worked at before were a mix of good and bad with more of the latter, so our weekends were spent recovering from that.

      Now, we’ve got awesome jobs and are trying to keep that pattern going in preparation for our return home. I guess the job/everyday thing we do is most important here. Gotta feel fulfilled, I think.

      We have been trying to become more positive people in general, and that came during our first year working through a REAL job from hell, even before this one. It’s been a long struggle, and I hope we can keep working our way up no matter the circumstances.

      Sorry for the book. I hope this answers your questions. Thanks for your comment and for continuing to read my stuff.

      Take Care.

  • Having lived abroad, I can totally relate to this post. There are always ups and downs along the journey but no matter what, you’ll learn about them and grow as a person a lot more than you ever would have if you had never left the home sweet home! I’m glad I found your blog, you gained a new follower. 🙂

    • Hi Saana! Btw, I stopped by yours and followed back:)

      I really appreciate your comment and am happy you found something within this post that reached you. It’s not as easy as we all make it out to be, huh?

      Looking forward to staying in touch!

  • I am sorry that you had to go through it, but I think we all do in some way or another. Betrayal of trust is hard for me to get over, so I truly understand. I love that you turned it around and I do empathize with how hard that is!