We came for 18 months, and stayed 36. It’s been one hell of an adrenaline ride with a few serious, and not-so-serious lessons.
Here are a few things that Korea has taught me:
- Never let possessions rule your decisions. We’ve always prided ourselves on being nomadic. Having moved some 14 or so times, we’ve gathered a number of household and personal items we love from our travels (and which have fond memories attached), but we also know it’s just stuff. We’ve never become particularly attached to any specific home or item – that was, until we built our own place in 2010 and purchased a few (rather expensive) rugs. When Rob suggested Korea, the first words out of my mouth were, “what about the rugs?!” I have no idea who that person is now, but I was absolutely, positively, no-questions-asked not going to Korea for fear my rugs would be damaged in storage. The reality is, they still may be, but so be it. Rugs do not an experience make. My point however is valid. I see all too often, people relinquish opportunities because they are too attached to stuff. If it’s the stuff that really makes you happy, then that’s fine, but don’t use it as an excuse not to do something that could ultimately change your life.
- Once I’m in, I’m all in. Rob will tell you this is both a blessing and a curse. It takes me some time to ‘come around’ to the new idea or change, but once I’ve decided, I’m 100% committed. There’s no turning back. Of course, this works in reverse. When it comes time to leave somewhere, I become all morose, reflective and sentimental it’s coming to an end. I swore I could never leave my Perth house and now I have no desire to ever live there again, but that didn’t stop the initial and extensive mourning period I had. I’ll do the same leaving Korea.
- Time is relative. We all know this – some days feel like years and yet years (especially as we get older) seem to fly. It feels like a lifetime has passed since we left Australia and yet I know that when we return to our original home town, it will feel like we never left.
- Patience grows when you have less control. Particularly in a new – and non-English speaking – country, where the food, shopping, culture and driving are about as foreign as you’ve ever experienced. I’ve learnt extreme patience when driving and doing daily jobs that would take me a miniscule of the time in Australia that it does here. But it’s taught me not to rush and to trust that the universe knows what it’s doing – which is not always easy for someone who feels the need to ‘produce something’ in order to feel some level of validation. I return home with a new level of Zen.
- Jealousy and judgement does not exist (or is greatly limited) in an egalitarian state. When a community of people are provided with the comfortable necessities of life – shelter, food, safety, transport etc – and are essentially earning the same income, it seemingly removes all envy and, to a significant degree, judgement. My experience of the expat community is only positive. You find your tribe and your tribe become family – our friends offered help, comfort, support and a willing ear, they organised birthday and other celebrations, came to our aid when sick, and provided me with a gentle shelter after Dad passed away. In every instance, we were happy for each other’s adventures, travels and kid’s achievements. There was simply no need for envy, we all had the same resources. Quite an interesting social observation.
- What you think you’ll do ‘when you have the time’ rarely happens. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said I would write a book, go to the gym daily, take on extra study, learn to meditate properly, read more books……the list goes on…..’when I wasn’t working’. I’ve had more time in the last three years than I’ve had my entire lifetime to pursue just about anything, yet have not. Many days have been spent just hanging out with girlfriends and quite a few more in my PJ’s till the afternoon, and not really doing any number of the things I always said I would do. My conclusion? You may hate your job but sometimes it’s necessary to push you forward into the day, to give you purpose and to feel productive. (That said, we all recognised how special it has been to just spend time hanging out together and talking, knowing that in the ‘real world’ this rarely happens).
- Shoes should not be worn in the house. Ever. This is fair warning to our Australian friends and family – when you come to our home, you will be requested (and expected) to remove your shoes. What started as a completely strange and irritating ‘requirement’ in all Korean homes, quickly became a habit we all embraced (particularly when you learn what germs and grossness you track into your homes via the soles of your shoes). Mind you, underfloor heating did help.
- A smile speaks every language. I’ve always known this of course, but never have I found it to be so true when trying to bridge the cultural and language divide here. If I smile immediately at my Korean friends, they will engage, typically smile back and attempt to converse, particularly the children. So many will tell you that the Korean’s have no sense of personal space and are completely oblivious to those around them. Whilst I’ve certainly found this to be true on the main, I’ve also learnt you can crack that armour with a smile and eye contact. Although, they do have to lift their heads from their phone screen first.
- I am my own best company. I’ve spent entire weeks on my own, not engaging with another person one-on-one (aside from Rob, of course), and I’m perfectly okay with it. I can fill my hours, days and weeks just hanging out with ‘me’ and I’ve been entirely comfortable with the solitude and my own company. A great deal of thinking, planning, learning, peace and research can be done in this space.
- Elevator mirrors make you narcissistic. I dare you to step into an elevator every day and not stare at yourself in the giant mirror. It simply cannot be done. Just ask the hundreds of Korean’s I’ve travelled across floors with. Oh, hang on, you can’t – they’re too busy looking at themselves. And yes, I was guilty too.
There are so many things I will miss about Korea – how safe it is, the distinct and beautiful change of seasons, underfloor heating, separate billing, the insane efficiency of their hospital system, the ridiculously low cost of parking and taxis, fuel attendants, the driving, World Cones and roadhouse potatoes.
However, we return home with amazing memories of our time here, lifelong friends, Soju Warrior, and excitement about what lays ahead. So long Korea, till next time. x