How to (Successfully) Live Abroad

July 03, 2013

I sometimes wonder if my blog should have more substance. Typically, I create images first, words later. I know that there is knowledge I can offer, but I often doubt myself - is this original? Does anyone want to hear my ideas? As I selected photographs for this post (originally written about a trip to Busan) an important idea came to mind. There are blogs I read because the photographs are beautiful; there are blogs I read because the recipes are consistently delicious. But there are also blogs I read because I am inspired to be better, to live more adventurously, to share my experiences with others. I recently discovered that there are people outside of my family and close friends who read this blog - I was pleasantly surprised!

Therefore, I have decided to write more. Because I have ideas to share.

Starting with this:

Until this year, I had never lived outside of the USA. Since January, I've been living in South Korea with my fiance, Ryan. Living abroad can be tumultuous and difficult; but it is also surprising and exciting. Here are some strategies I've learned to ensure a successful experience living in a foreign country.

How to (Successfully) Live Abroad:

Study the culture before you arrive. I was surprised at the major and minor differences between American and Korean culture. For anyone who is specifically planning to live in Korea, I cannot recommend this book enough. It is thorough and thoughtfully written, and it provides the historical context needed to understand contemporary Korean culture. At the same time, it is important to expect the unexpected. You can't prepare for everything.

Try anything (safe) once. Don't just say that you're open to new things - really be open to new things. Ryan and I tried raw fish (hoe) at Jagalchi Fish Market shortly after we arrived in Korea. Though we found it somewhat bland, we enjoyed the experience (particularly when the vendor slaughtered the wriggling fish before our eyes and when we noticed that we were the only foreigners in the dining area). It was exciting because it was new. Ryan - who never agreed to sing karaoke in the USA - is now hooked on noraebang (private singing rooms). One of my goals is to visit a jjimjilbang (bathhouse) before 2014; yes, you must shower and bathe naked with strangers. Again, try anything once, as long as it's safe for you and other people.

Study the language. I can't believe how many people I meet who have lived in Korea for years and don't speak any Korean. I quickly learned to read the Korean alphabet, and it has been little short of life-saving. For those living in Korea and interested in learning the language, I have found the following resources to be incredibly helpful:

Learn to read, write, and pronounce Korean - I used this site for my initial alphabet practice. I like the set-up and it has many, many practice activities.

Korean Made Easy for Beginners - This is the book I continue to use for my private Korean language study.

Talk To Me In Korean - This site is fun and helpful for Korean language and cultural guidance. The creators and contributors are youthful, energetic, and multicultural in their approach.

- Many communities have free conversation-based lessons or language exchanges. This benefits all participants - who are sharing language and culture - and can lead to friendships and fun social gatherings.

Be friendly and socialize. It's been impossible not to make friends as foreigners living abroad. First, you will find that like-minded people are attracted to you - these are people who want to learn about other cultures (yours) and make new friends (you). After all, isn't this why we travel and live internationally? The most miserable foreigners I've met in Korea are the ones with no Korean friends. Be brave and interact with people who are different. You won't like everyone, but you will learn new things (perhaps you'll even learn more about yourself and what you value in your friendships).

Stay positive! In April (three months after our move), Ryan and I had a mini-meltdown. It lasted about a month and there were times when we regretted our decision to move abroad. Friends had warned us that this would happen, but still it surprised us. Acknowledge that living abroad is a challenge and that it won't always be fun. I recommend keeping a journal so that years from now, you can laugh at all of the ridiculous, frustrating, amazing things that happen when you leave home and explore the world.

For those readers who have lived or traveled abroad: do you have suggestions or ideas? How do you make the most of your travels?

All of the above photos were taken in Busan in June, with my dear friend Jen, at the following locations: Haeundae Beach, Busan Tower, and Nampo-dong.

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  1. Great pictures and thoughts! Never be afraid to do some writing, even if you know it's not an original thought. You have original things to say, or a new way to express your feelings, and people are interested in that. If they're not, they'll just skim on over it.
    Your list has awesome advice! I would also add, be kind to yourself. When learning a new language or immersing yourself in a new culture, things are hard and you will definitely look and feel like an idiot (more than once). Don't continuously beat yourself up, but learn to laugh at your silliness.

  2. Thanks, Codi! I agree. Living in Korea has challenged me to be kinder and more accepting of myself!

  3. I absolutely LOVE this idea for your posts! Regardless of how many travel blogs, photo blogs, or anything in between there are not one will offer your view of this experience. Too often I've found those blogs are more of a "hey, isn't it awesome that I went here?" as opposed to truly diving into the local culture, cuisine, and people as you often have.

    Also, there can never be enough information about adapting to living in a new country. Advice from all sides should be welcomed and encouraged. I still won't be keeping a journal though... :P


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