I can’t believe it has been just over 6 years ( 24 September 2012) that I packed my bags and moved to South Korea. What an absolute adventure it has been.
So much growth, change and challenges over the years, and I don’t regret any of it, and I am so grateful for the journey so far.
When I left for Korea, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. Honestly, I didn’t even exactly know where Korea was on the map… I also didn’t research at all before I left, and had no idea the seasons they had. ( I left in September, so pretty soon it would get really cold, and I went over with maybe two jerseys and a pair of sneakers. This South African had no idea that winter was coming… )
But you know what, I survived and got sorted once I was there. Sometimes, too much planning and organizing causes more stress than actually just jumping in and doing! (Advice that my current self should definitely take from my 6 years ago-self!)
A little background, I lived in Cheonan, South Korea for 3 and a half years, and currently live in Bangkok, Thailand, where I have been for the past 2 and a half years.
What have I learnt from living abroad:
- That life is not always easy, but you can always make it work.
Every situation and experience seems hard while you are in it, but there is always a solution, a way out or a way to make it work. Living in Korea taught me that. I moved there all on my own, started a new job, lived all by myself for the first time in my life in a county I didn’t know. You can get overwhelmed and get “culture shock”, or you can choose to jump head first and start to live. Make new friends, do a brave thing every day and when you get as sick as a dog in your first snowy winter, and need to take care of yourself, you make it work. You learn to be resilient and embrace the challenge.
2. You truly see who your friends are, and realize that oceans and distance can be hard, and it takes work and effort to keep friendships and relationships going.
Moving across oceans can be hard when keeping in contact with friends and family. From day 1 it has always been a big priority of mine to stay in contact with all my loved ones. Over the years, it has build stronger relationships with some and with others it has fizzled out. I am truly grateful for all my friends that have put in the effort to continue a long distance friendship. Maintaining relationships with people back home, can sometimes be challenging, but to me it has always been a priority and living abroad, you have no idea what a text message and random call from a friend back home means. WhatsApp and voice notes make it so easy to pop in and say hi and just have a bit more of a connection with people. Everyone has their own lives, and life goes on (no matter where you are in the world), so reaching out, connecting and nurturing relationships can sometimes be hard, but so rewarding and worth it.
3. As much as life is different here, it is so much the same.
When visiting a doctor on a trip back in South Africa, I told him I live and work in Bangkok. He was very surprised and curiously asked what I do on weekends and if I get to go to the beach every day. (I wish ;)) Life here is as normal as it would be in a suburb in Cape Town. I work hard in the week, take weekends to rest, visit parks, get in some fresh air, do laundry, study and bake. Learning to settle in a new country is key. Making it your home and living like you belong.
4. You become an expert at communicating without speaking.
Living in a country where English is not a first language can be really, really challenging at times. Not being able to direct a taxi, get medicine at a chemist, or even just ask why my grocery store has been out of chickpeas for 3 weeks can be frustrating at times. (Me trying to google images and google translate -ask the clerks why there are no chickpeas, turned into a 40 minute hustle and ordeal with shelves been packed out, managers of the whole MALL being called to explain and try and figure out that I would just like to know if they will still be getting in chickpeas at some point. The answer: No “no more chickpeas, the boat with the chickpeas doesn’t deliver to Thailand anymore”. Ok, I have my answer.) Learning a new language can be hard, but it has been so helpful to just learn even a few new phrases and words to get by a little easier. Korean was definitely a bit easier for me, and Thai has been a real challenge. )
5. Age, religion, nationality and language doesn’t stand in the way of real true friendships
Over the years I have met so many amazing people, from different walks of life, different backgrounds and different upbringings. And I have made some life long friends. Living in a country where you are the foreigners and connect with fellow foreigners , you truly get to know people. I am so grateful to the amazing friends I have made. They have taught me to be more open-minded, to be myself and to be brave. Live a life of wonder, take risks and be adventurous, and step out of your comfort zone! In my head I am planning a world trip to go and visit all my friends I have gained through my years in Thailand and Korea, and I can honestly say I have close friends in most continents and literally can globe hop and visit them all and travel the world! Connections with people have been the most rewarding gift from living abroad. Building real relationships with people who I would otherwise never would have met. I am grateful for all of my dear expat friends.
6. The world is so so big and beautiful
O my goodness, I have not even traveled a fraction of the world, but I have seen some of the most amazing places I could ever have dreamed of. I have had the privilege of staying in the most picturesque places and seeing the bluest of blue waters, and the greenest of green jungles. I have visited small islands and had snow fights, I have celebrated my usual winter birthday in the middle of summer, and lived in a country where I haven’t worn warm clothes in 2 and a half years. I am truly in awe at how beautiful and big the world is. How much beauty there is in every place you visit, from dirty Bangkok, to the tropical islands, from peaceful Cheonan, to a small little sea town way up in Korea, close to the north Korean border. With this said, I have also seen how we as humans, are messing up the beautiful earth, the ignorance, the cruelty, the audacity that we are better. Seeing the hurt and dirt breaks my heart, but makes me more aware of how I can make a difference, no matter how small. We need to step it up and take care of this beautiful planet we call home.
Living abroad for 6 years has truly changed my life and shaped me in a way that would never have been of I didn’t leave Cape Town on September 24th, 2012.
I am so grateful for all the memories, lessons learnt and experiences, friends and travel. It’s something that is not always easy, but so worth it.
O, and ps. My grocecry store is back at selling chickpeas again! The boat must have found its way to Thailand!