Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Live and learn

A lot of my readers and friends have expressed the desire to go abroad. I'd say, go for it! Maybe not for a full year- but go live somewhere else for a least a few months. You can get a job, volunteer, study, or just travel around with a backpack. I know it all sounds cliché, but it's true: seeing the world, and experiencing life in a different country (and not from the luxury of a hotel room), is going to change you... for the better.

Before my experience in Korea, I was a different girl. More princessy, more whiny. Small decisions, such as buying curtains or replacing my fridge, seemed so overwhelming. I had never seen a cockroach in my life. I had never stayed in a youth hostel. I had never visited a third world country. I had never seen people sitting on the side of the road, selling vegetables. I never had to use a non-Western bathroom. I never had to spend too much time on my own.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I quit my job and picked Seoul as my new home. I was terrified, but also excited, because it seemed so unreal, and I knew it would be a life-changing experience. Reality hit hard when I left my cozy white apartment on that snowy February evening, only to find myself living in a brown, cockroach-infested, cardboard apartment (I did cry when I saw it- go see the pictures!).Working for religious freaks that considered coffee-drinking a sin was quite horrifying. And the sewer smells in the streets of Seoul... and inside my own apartment? I was not prepared for that, and I used to get so frustrated.

But eventually, things got better. I spent my first few months hating life in Korea, but I knew it was a good experience, so I kept trying, and trying. I realized I'd have to go out of my comfort zone in order to be happier. I joined some meetup groups, met some great girl friends, started discovering Seoul, and all of a sudden I had a life there. I never quite got rid of the cockroaches, and avoided non-Western bathrooms at all costs, but I loved my lifestyle. I knew it was only for a year, so I had to make the most of it... and the most of Seoul.

Living abroad definitely made me grow as a person, and perhaps I needed it a bit more than other people. I became surprisingly independent, and way more open-minded about everything. I'm not shy about meeting new people, and I appreciate every little thing that was missing from my life in Korea: drinkable tap water, availability of cheese, fresh air, green spaces, a bug-free apartment, a clothes dryer, a shower that doesn't spray the whole bathroom. I learned how to be more respectful, and more understanding. The garbage smells in the summer heat just reminds me that I've smelled way worse in Seoul. Everything just doesn't seem like a big deal, and most importantly, I'm grateful for the small things. There's more to life than owning the latest trends. (I don't think I knew that before). I still love shopping just as much, but I shop at Zara so I can have more money to go on trips.

I'll always be one to encourage my friends to take the plunge and do something different. Even though it's difficult at times, the outcome is always positive, and it gives you friends and memories for a lifetime. 

And, am I still princessy? Peut-être un peu. 


mina said...

It's really easy to get caught up in needing to own the latest/greatest stuff - that's kind of what I'm hoping to take a break from on the road and just enjoy life and nature. I'll know who to turn to if I start missing all things Canadian!

Anonymous said...

Very well said. I don't think anyone could have put it any better than that.

Kelly said...

i really enjoy your writing! it makes me really happy and it's always fun to read!

i agree with the whole living abroad thing. which is why i'm trying to fit it into my life within the next year or two! i've only visited places but never have lived. and that's definitely on my lists of things to do in life!

The Lil Bee said...

What a great post, V. I just looked at the pics of your apartment and, yeah, it seems a bit dismal...though I'm sure, now, you have a soft spot in your heart for it. That's what happens in hindsight. And though I am 100% completely skeeved out by bugs (one of my biggest phobias...maybe from living in the city?!), I am so jealous of your experience. My life took me on a different path, but I cherish all the trips Paul and I are able to take, even if they are fewer and farther between. You really can't appreciate what you have until you've traveled.

Stephanie Morris said...

Right on girl:)
It truely is amazing how much perspective you gain once you take the plunge, open your mind, and decide to learn from everything thats happening all around you all the time. Still thinking about a year in Japan?
Brave lady!!

Glad to hear how well you're doing!

A Girl in Asia said...

Great post! Experiences travelling/living overseas definitely change your outlook on things.. and living in your Seoul apartment was obviously character building!!

Nicole Marie said...

ahh such a great post vivian. i completely agree! not that i had to suffer through cockroaches but definitely lots of mosquitos, dirtiness, fending for myself, holes in the ground as toilets.

its crazy how much it changes you. i too try to save money so i can travel and see more of the world or even the state and country!

K @ Blog Goggles said...

I totally agree! I'm so glad I just picked up and headed to Hong Kong (though I did have a bit of a safety net). Great post.

Courtney said...

I wholeheartedly agree! Living abroad definitely whips you into shape quickly and makes you appreciate how good you've really got it. Love reading about your adventures and the way you encourage everyone to travel and experience things for themselves!

Grace said...

This was a joy to read. I am actually planning on going abroad in the near future and spend some time living with out the luxuries I have here in the states. I've heard nothing but positive feedback when people return from these sort of extended trips.

Love Grace.

Life Abroad said...

I absolutely agree with this entire post. Beautifully written. I think that traveling abroad really does make you able to handle whatever situation comes your way, and not worry about every little detail. It makes you see that there is life beyond your little bubble, and just helps put everything in perspective. I love hearing your post-abroad view, it's very interesting to read about how Seoul changed who you are and how you see the world!

Anonymous said...

Well said.

Funnily enough, I've come to London from Hong Kong. I've been around Asia and see the whole tiny apartments and vegetable sellers by the roadside thing, but still, moving in the opposite direction has been just as difficult and shocking.

I've managed to cry almost everyday for the first few months and hated life here. But like you say, somehow, someway, you do find your way...and you do start to enjoy it. :)

Lisa said...

I've read most of your blog over the past few months, never really commented much though, maybe once or twice. I finally signed up and created my own blog, all that because of you and a few others :)

Anyways, I simply couldn't agree more. Going abroad is one of the best experiences in life. It's hard to explain how, or why, but it's an opportunity to completely start over. Making new friends, eating food you never dreamed existed, seeing places you will never forget. It becomes a part of you, and you can never rid yourself of it.

After I spent a semester abroad in France, I came to realize that I would never be 100% Québécoise. I'm also, in a way, French. Every place I've ever visited has left some sort of imprint on my soul, and it makes me who I am.

No wonder we sometimes crave new adventures in foreign lands. We want to get to know ourselves better, and to fully realize the potential we hold within.

Your experience, in particular, made me realize that I know so very little about myself and the rest of the world. I've become fascinated with Asia, partly because of your blog. I'm thinking of going there to teach, eventually. I just wanted to thank you for that :) I didn't know I had it in me.

Oh, and as for being a princess? From one to another, let me tell you, there is nothing wrong with that !!!

Clarity said...

Honest and true post, so glad to read this Vivian as a lot of people can learn and grow from expanding their horizons as they do with expanding their minds.

I admire your perseverance and wisdom in sticking with the bugs, smells and truth. May you always grow and reap the rewards.

If the next stop is Japan let me know. I might plan a trip next year to Toronto... sweet city.