After 4 years away from home, I have returned and started a new journey but I can’t do that without thinking back to our time spent in Korea. Loads of new and interesting experiences made it a real journey and valuable lessons have sprung from those memories. I want to share those ideas with those who might find themselves in our situation. Here are eight lessons that I’ve picked up from life abroad.
Eight Lessons from Life Abroad
This Life is for (Almost) Everyone
My wife and I decided on Korea and parlaying the tiny resources we had then to go for it. The jump was truly a risk and life didn’t exactly pan out at first. We hit bottom in Korea and many people were surprised that we’d actually come back for another round. Some people didn’t give it a second chance and simply left the country before their contract was up. Korea might not be for everyone but it’s not the only option. People are finding ways to live abroad (see digital nomads, work for stay) and if you save enough money to get started, it’s easily possible.
Embrace Homesickness, Isolation
The first moments of any stint abroad are usually the best and often known as the honeymoon period. It doesn’t take long before things change leading one to start hitting walls where open doors and new experiences once existed. Then there’s the yearly ritual of calling parents on holidays and trying to hold back guilt-filled tears. You make do and hang out with other expats during the holidays but it’s not the same. There’s always someone or something back home that you want to see and eventually, you no choice but to cope. Embrace homesickness because that’s the only way to grow and better appreciate this life we’ve created.
Know Nothing, Stay Humble
This is nothing new for followers of Buddha and genuinely humble people but this is something I learned while living in another country and traveling around others. No matter how much you think you know or read, you’re going to be wrong at least once. Your idea of personal space and the right way to drive will forever change after spending time somewhere else. Go a little farther and erase “I know” from your vernacular when talking with locals or expats (especially older ones) and you might just learn something. Maybe you’ll earn some respect after asking questions, listening, and nodding your head from time to time.
Research Everything, Always
Maybe this is the history major in me speaking but you should make good friends with Google and use it at least once a day, unless you’re stuck in a Wikipedia loop which I will not interrupt. No really, some of the harshest lessons I’ve discovered have come with looking things up AFTER visiting. Whether it’s a scam or a tip on the best restaurant in Seoul, you can find it after a quick click or two. People talk and blog and write things on social media so you can save your brain, wallet, and unrealistic expectations from too much hassle after looking things up.
We’re all the Same
It quickly becomes clear while abroad that people may look and act differently but in the end, we’re all the same. Everyone is after the same goals no matter the place. Our sense of everyday normal makes us think of the world as so complex and full of the distinct. At the end of the day, many of us want the same happiness and personal connections and hope to find love. We also profess a form of faith or moral code and seek answers to larger questions that take a lifetime to answer. We’re all the same even if our looks and accents and preferences are different.
Learn some History!
My elementary school teachers spent tons of time putting Columbus in a positive light before moving onto the Revolution and Antebellum periods of U.S. history. During those off years spent on world history, we’d spend at least a month each on the Holocaust and WWII and would never finish the book due to lack of time. I can’t profess to know what everyone else studied but after spending some time in Asia, I think something was missing. Do public school history teachers even spend a day on Korea’s dynasties before the Japanese came or the tumultuous era that followed the war? Sometimes you have to visit a place before you can begin to understand its intricacies and the history behind them.
Reverse Culture Shock
Once you do make it home, family and friends will love to see you again and everything should go back to normal. I mean nothing has changed in those years you’ve been gone, right? No, try again. People’s lives have moved ahead just like your own and while they’ll understand you’ve been gone and living an exciting life “traveling the world” like I hear all the time, the strangeness of settling back in won’t register with them. My advice to you is to try and seek out former expats or groups and find someone who wants to talk about life abroad. Otherwise you should just start a blog and start writing about your time abroad. That’s not advice but an order! I need more reads and beg you to write about your perspectives. Do it now!
What else can I say? My last bit of advice is simple: keep moving when you get home because there are probably tons to see there. Maybe there’s a spot in your old town worth investigating. Go for a walk or two before graduating to road trips and the eventual plane trip back to your old home abroad. One thing that I’m learning these days is that no matter where one goes, there’s always something new and exciting lying outside.
Anything You’d Like to Add? I’d Love to Hear Your Thoughts in the Comments Section!