Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Have I Really Changed?

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I'll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. 

A year and a half ago I quit my job, packed up my life and said goodbye to family and friends. My decision to move halfway around the world, to teach English in South Korea was met with many different reactions, both good and bad.  Although most of the people I choose to surround myself with are fully supportive of my decision there were those that had their doubts or at least thought I was a little crazy. Although, good or bad they all seemed to agree on one thing, "This will be an adventure that will change your life".  So now after being here for a year and a half, traveling to other countries and taking the opportunity to visit home I'll take a minute to contemplate those changes and make an attempt at explaining  ‘How Living Abroad Can Make You A Better Person’. 

Take a moment to stop and smell the flowers

Before responding to this prompt I wonder, isn't it a little bias?  Does living abroad necessarily make you a better person? Does everyone automatically have a positive outcome after moving to another country, filled with rainbows and butterflies?  I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say no, not everyone is going to change for the better or have the time of their life.  That being said, I do believe that I have changed (as my friends predicted) and mostly for the better. Okay let's get on with it, how exactly have I changed? Let me count the ways 

1. Roll with it, and smile: This is the polite way of saying learn to take 10 deep breaths before you pull your hair out or scream at whomever is in front of you.  This is probably the number one thing that my friends and family noticed about me when I came home or when I tell them stories about Korea.  They always knew me as a bit of an impatient person, wanting to know details and expecting others to use their common sense.  Living in another country you need to learn to adapt to doing things their way, ever hear the phrase "xxx time".  Usually i'm a punctual person who likes a plan or schedule, but living abroad you have to learn to roll with the punches.  Staff dinner in 30 minutes? Sure.  Classes canceled today for testing? Okay.  The taxi's are on strike and you had no idea that was coming? I guess i'll take the bus. Scooter break down in the middle of nowhere? Uhhh.... Point being, no matter what the situation, living abroad will teach you to relax and take each day one step at a time because you truly never know what's coming your way, but isn't that part of the fun? 

2. Step out of your comfort zone: as if picking up and relocating yourself to a foreign land wasn't challenging enough, you will continue to push yourself (or be pushed) to try new things.  I have a feeling i'm going to start sounding like a broken record but these changes shouldn't come as a surprise, aren't these the kinds of things you were seeking when you decided to jump ship?  Basically, when you're in a new country, meeting new people, eating new foods, and trying new things; some of them might not be classified as things you're comfortable with.  Weather it's stripping down and visiting the jimjilbang with your staff, eating a 1000 year old egg, or singing love songs with your principal at the noraebang, you will do it and you will enjoy every second of it.  How does this make you a better person? Well, I don't know exactly, if you enjoy sitting at home, watching FOX, eating pizza and drinking miller lite well then fine, enjoy.  But personally I think it's a little more exciting to break out of your shell and see what others have in mind when they say fun. 

3. Try new things, learn to say yes: This might be a slight overlap with the previous but not all of these new things that you're willing to say yes to will be outside your comfort zone.  But why is it that living abroad will make you try new things or say yes more often? Why is it that if you were offered corn ice cream at home you'd probably gag a little and say "no thank you," but if the opportunity presents itself in your new home, "hell ya pass it this way". My theory behind this one is that the little person living inside you're head is screaming "oh my god, corn ice cream? I might never find this again, I must try it".  Living in a new culture not knowing how long you're going to stay or where you might end up next (unless you have a plan in which case, kudos to you) you may begin treating everything like a once in a lifetime opportunity.  So next time your friend asks you to jump on the next train to XXX you're going to say, yeah let's go! My biggest hope for myself is that I retain this mindset after leaving my new home. I hope that once I return home I remember to say yes more often and treat every opportunity as something worth trying, especially if it's anything like this.

Where to next?

4. Appreciate the little things: Okay so after learning to relax and roll with the punches, step out of your comfort zone and jump at the opportunity to do almost anything; you may start searching for some of those comforts you used to know.  This is when you will learn to appreciate the little things. It could be something as simple as curling up on that couch in the back of your classroom for a little shut-eye in between classes, figuring out the subway map all by yourself, being understood when you order takeout, or maybe finding a restaurant that has english on the menu, small victories.  I found that I really came to appreciate that last one when I was hungry and tired, which let's all admit, happens pretty often.  Especially when you walk halfway across town in search for that awesome restaurant your friends/coworkers/blog said you have to try. So yes, when there is English on the menu my heart, stomach and brain do a little happy dance because ordering will be a walk in the park (well, as long as you talk to your server, pointing never hurts).  While we're on the subject of food another not so little thing that you will come to appreciate is the tastes from home.  I greatly appreciate the fact that my taste buds love almost anything thrown their way, but no matter how many times I listen to my co-teachers proudly exclaim"Yes, Stephanie likes Kimchi" i'll still have those days where all I want is a home baked cookie, American style pizza or heaven for bid a good beer,  ahhh yes, a good beer.    

Cafe study session 
5. Learn something new: This could mean so many things I'm not quite sure where to start....when you pick up and move abroad there's going to be loads of new things to learn. Let's start with the basics, your new town, how to get from point A to point B, where to buy your groceries, which of the 1000 restaurants serves the best samgypsal, what does the local alcohol taste like and which hangover cure works the best. Well now that we've got that covered you should probably learn a little bit more about the culture or if you're feeling really adventurous you might even try to learn the language (that was sarcastic, I truly hope you make a valid attempt at this).  Sure you'll learn loads of new things about the place you're living, but what I really  meant by this point is that you're going to learn new things about yourself.  Unless you're moving with (or to) friends and/or family, the first few weeks and numerous times after that you will be alone.  Now to some people that might sound terrifying, alone, what on earth will you do when you're alone???? but trust me on this one, you will cherish those moments of alone time.  Don't worry you will make friends, probably lots of them which will cause you to want to stay in this new country forever, but you will also be alone.  When I tell my Korean friends that I live alone you would think I had just broke the news that I have to share my apartment with a wild tiger like Pi on his life boat, but I love it.  So the point, when you're alone you will find out what you really enjoy doing. Maybe you're really good at nail art, or writing / blogging, drawing, martial arts, cooking, knitting, I don't know, anything!  For me I've dug deep into my semi-new found love for fitness: yoga and running.  Earlier this year I ran my first half-marathon something which I definitely though was impossible, and recently I'm pushing through barriers in my yoga practice I thought I couldn't break. My point being, when you find yourself alone, and maybe bored - don't freak out.  Take some time to figure out what you enjoy doing, and once you have, run with it. 

Okay so with a little thought and some downtime at work I was able to crack out 5 ways that I believe living abroad has made me a better person.  If you're reading this as a fellow expat living abroad I hope I've provided you with some laughs or head nodding moments.  Conversely if you're reading this as someone who is toying with the idea of packing up and moving away from home I hope I've convinced you that it's worth it. To finish let's take it full circle, back to number 1 of learning to go with the flow, let me provide you with one more example. "Stephanie, there is no class on Friday it is the schools' birthday" sweet "We will all hike the mountain behind school together" I can deal with that "Be sure to wear your school T-shirt, and jacket" That hideous polo is not a t-shirt and yes, I will be sure to wear my neon yellow wind breaker so that you cannot lose me in the Mountains

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I think your point about learning something new is particularly interesting. I think it would be such a waste for you to come and live in a new place and not learn anything new. I look forward to your future posts :)