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expat life

    Having Surgery In Korea

    Having a surgery is a scary thing. Having one abroad as an expat can be even more intimidating. If you’re considering a procedure in Korea, I hope my experience can help ease some fears. Some of the protocol felt overkill (extended stay in the hospital) and a bit backwards (no physical therapy after the procedure). But despite the differences, everything went smoothly and I was glad I had it done.

    I broke my first bone in January 2015 in Turkey and had a metal plate put in my arm. Due to some discomfort, I decided to have the hardware removed last month in Korea. I went to Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital at the recommendation of some friends.


    Having surgery as an expat in Korea


    Consultation and Pre-Op

    I called the international clinic to schedule an appointment. I was overwhelmed my first time at the hospital. St. Mary’s is large, one of the top hospitals in Seoul, and is consequently booked and busy.

    The ladies in the office spoke English and were so helpful. There were a slew of forms, but St. Mary’s accepted my insurance and filed all of my paperwork. After I checked in, they sent me off with a map to get x-rays and meet with the surgeon. My meeting lasted just a few minutes, and by the end, I had booked the surgery. I was at the hospital for two hours.

    A month before the surgery, I took a series of tests: chest x-ray, breathing, blood (vein and artery), urine, and EKG.

    I met with the anesthesiologist two weeks before the surgery. A translator sat in and this meeting took only a few minutes. For some reason, I was never asked about allergies before that point, so I was sure they added that information to my file.


    Surgery Stay

    I went into the hospital the day before (about 24 hours before) the procedure. They said they’d take me back between 12–2 the next day, but they couldn’t fit me in until 4:30.

    The Room: My insurance covered a double room, but they were all occupied. Instead, I got a private room. We felt so spoiled. It was on the twelfth floor and had an great view of Gangnam. The room included a desk with computer (which we didn’t use), a TV, a storage closet with a keypad locking system, a small fridge, a private bathroom with shower, and a small couch.


    Gangnam hospital room view


    David sleeping


    The Food: I received an evening meal. I chose the Western menu over the Korean (just in case to avoid anything upsetting my stomach). The food was good, but a little bland. They served a cream soup, spaghetti, salad, bread, drink, and a pastry dessert. I was given a form to select my future meals.

    They started fluids that night. I heard somewhere that Koreans have small veins, so they typically put IVs in your hand. It felt kind of offensive. It pinched and hurt so I couldn’t really use my right hand. And I was about to have surgery on my left hand. (After surgery, there was a problem with the IV and I had them move it to my arm, which felt much better.)


    IV in hand


    We met with a doctor (not the surgeon but someone in their residency) later in the evening. He spoke English and was very kind. He answered our questions and kept asking until we had exhausted everything we hadn’t covered in the initial consultation.

    Nurses came to take my vitals throughout the night and next day. The waiting was the hardest part. By the time they wheeled me back, some of the nerves had worn off and I was ready for it to happen. David walked with me up to the operating room doors.

    My previous scar had keloiding:


    Keloid scarring


    Post Surgery

    I was glad the surgery was in the evening. After I woke up from the anesthesia, they wheeled me to an x-ray room on the second floor. This area is usually packed, but because it was around 7:00pm, there weren’t people staring at me on my bed.

    Back in the room, I had to stay awake until 11:00pm. I was able to drink water around 2:00am. They had no food for me, and I didn’t eat until the next morning. They brought a full breakfast (eggs, fruit, cereal, pastry, juice), though the nurse told me to only have soup until lunch. They didn’t provide soup and I didn’t think convenience store ramen would be good for my stomach. Instead, I had some crackers and yogurt David had bought. That sat fine, so I ate the breakfast a little later.

    Another thing we felt spoiled by: they let me go home early. I was supposed to stay another night (for a total of 3 nights), but they let me go home around 4:00pm the day after surgery.


    Standing in Seoul St. Mary's hospital room


    They also let me keep the hardware! The bracket is about 4″ long. After I saw the metal, I felt good about having it removed. It had done its job and there was no need to keep the foreign material in my body.


    Hardware from radius bone surgery


    Now I have holes where the screws were:


    X-ray of radius bone showing holes


    I was amazed at my recovery time. I gained strength and mobility much faster than I had anticipated. The surgeon did a fantastic job. He cut out some of the scar tissue and the keloid. They didn’t use stitches, but glued me together. Someone told me if you’re going to have surgery and are concerned about scarring, Korea is the place to get it done. They are very conscious about how they look. I have a silicone scar reduction gel and cream, and I hope to avoid keloiding this time.

    I returned to the hospital every three days to have the bandaging replaced. Here is my scar two weeks after surgery:


    Arm scar two weeks post surgery


    Suggestions of Things to Bring:

    • Refillable water bottle (there are refilling stations for hot and cold water)
    • Snacks (because I got back from the surgery past dinner time, there was no food service)
    • Towels
    • Toiletries (body soap, shampoo, toothpaste)
    • Shower shoes (open shower room) and/or slippers
    • Electronic chargers

    Other Notes:

    • Upon arrival, a translator took me to the room and explained the basics of what to expect.
    • Shave the area where you’re going to have surgery or bring a razor to do it there. David had to buy some from a convenience store. The nurse offered a hair removing cream, but I have sensitive skin and didn’t know if I’d react to it or not.
    • Take off all nail polish if you’ll be under anesthesia.
    • Physical therapy is not emphasized in Korea. My doctor said they didn’t have hand specialists at St. Mary’s, but I got him to write a referral letter. There is a physical therapist at my chiropractic clinic in Itaewon.
    • Visiting hours were from 2:00pm – 8:00pm.
    • The international clinic closes at 5:00pm on weekdays and noon on Saturdays. The nurses I interacted with knew enough English to help. Google Translate is always helpful, too.

    I am thankful for a successful surgery and for the friends that came around us!



    Still Settling In

    I feel like this could be the post title for the next six months. Still settling in. We’re in the middle of our third week in Seoul.

    I’ve been trying very hard not to think of it this way, but I have also been processing it as six weeks since we left Turkey. If you Google “culture shock” you’ll find the term “honeymoon phase.” And while I would like very much to be there, I’m not yet. (That is not to say I am not grateful and haven’t been enjoying this place and meeting new people.) While I have one foot nearing the honeymoon phase, the other foot is planted in the grieving process of leaving our last home.

    It sounds overly dramatic and it’s definitely not what I expected. 

    I feel like it’s worth noting this is not a cry myself to sleep at night kind of grieving. I cried once about it when we were in the States for three weeks and haven’t since then. It’s more of a sense of loss and sadness. I know it’s part of the transition of settling into a new home.

    I subscribe to a lot of blogs and I recently read a post from about someone’s first home buying experience. And it resonated with me. Let me explain.

    The first few days on my own (while David was at new teacher orientation) revolved around shopping trips. We needed x, x, and x for the house, and I mapped out the subway routes to get to the stores. On Saturday, we went to IKEA and eyed some of the couches there. Our employer provided a couch along with other basic furniture, but we were missing the pull-out couch we lived on for the last three years. We decided to use part of a housing stipend and went for it. A few days later, IKEA delivered it and David spent a couple of hours putting it together.

    Once it was constructed, I started second guessing it. Did we pay too much? Should we have waited longer before purchasing it? Moving to a new country and reestablishing your house is not so cheap. You can only fit so much into a handful of suitcases. There are everyday household items that “need” to be purchased like an ironing board and a wall clock and hangers and a broom. While I pride myself on being a smart shopper, costs add up. I was feeling bad about spending money and then the couch was kind of big and was it the wrong size for the room and did we make a mistake?

    And then I read the blog post by Rachel Schultz. And it talked about making a house an idol and that idols never satisfy. And it woke me up. “As Tim Keller defines it, an idol is making a good thing into the ultimate thing.” I had turned the idea of home and making a home into an idol. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself and a place. And when I gave up the ideal and the idol, I felt a little more free.

    Settling in is a process. It takes time. And it’s okay that’s where we’re at right now. 


    Here are some photos of what we’ve been up to.

    David finished orientation last week. His classroom is decorated and ready for students:


    David's classroom


    I’ve been accumulating succulents here and there around town. I found the cutest plant shop in Itaewon called Pida! I got my first air plant. It’s planted in driftwood. Swoon:


    Air plant


    Grocery shopping looks a little different now:


    Spam Aisle at grocery


    I went out Friday night with some girls to celebrate a birthday. After dinner, the 12 of us shared a whole mess of patbingsu. We devoured two more before these arrived:




    David and I tried to go to a festival on the Han River on Saturday, but couldn’t find it. We did find a little water park. It was nice to dip our feet in the water to cool off a bit. It is HOT and HUMID here! We also browsed the Dongdaemun Design Plaza. Korea has the cutest everything for sale.


    Han River


    David played basketball Friday morning and woke up Sunday with a super swollen foot. He was in a lot of pain, so we went to a hospital to see a doctor. We were blessed by two new friends who took us and helped translate and navigate. The x-ray came back clear and they wrapped his leg almost up to his knee. (Maybe a little overkill.) Nothing like seeing a doctor your third week in-country and the day before school starts. The hospital made us wear face masks:


    David at hospital


    School starts tomorrow for David! My goal for Monday is to get more information about language school.



    Facing Transition

    Moving abroad and cross-culturally is hard.

    We’ve been in Korea since Wednesday afternoon. (!!!) Even before we left the States, I started making a mental list of things I wanted to be intentional about during our transition.

    I’m a list maker and a self-acknowledged Type A. When we traveled with David’s family around Turkey last month, I’d often be several feet ahead of our group. David told his dad it wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying myself but “it’s because she’s goal oriented.” And so, I’ve created a list of reminders for myself. If you’re preparing to expatriate, maybe they can help you, too.


    Six transition tips for moving abroad. |


    1. Approach life abroad as a learner.

    Everything is new to me. The alphabet, the language, the cultural expectations, the food, the history, the public transportation, the roads. Essentially, I’m a child starting at square one. Now is the time to be a listener and an observer. When that doesn’t answer my questions, I can ask the locals and other expats. (It’s beneficial to learn from both!) Having lived overseas once before, I’ve observed how a humble and willing attitude goes a long way in the learning process.

    2. Be flexible.

    Flexibility is a part of the learning curve. Initially, everything will take a lot more time. I will get lost and miss buses and subway connections. Communicating with the locals in the handful of words I know in Korean will be difficult. I’ll have no idea which brands to purchase at the grocery store. Factor in a little extra time for errands and know they might take longer than expected.

    It’s also good to remember that processes and transportation can change over time. Cities are constantly growing and evolving. What might have been true a year ago might be completely different now. What I learn today may change next month!

    3. Comparison is the thief of joy.

    This is something I learned the hard way when I moved to Virginia after college. I met some very sweet people, had a great time, but in my mind I unfairly compared them to friendships I had for years and years. I left that night discouraged and sad. David helped me realize how ridiculous my disappointment was. No two friendships are ever the same, and that is not a negative thing! Relationships take time to develop.

    David and I also want to be careful about comparing Korea to Turkey. Sometimes, making a comparison is logical. It is our most recent point of reference and a culture we loved. Of course I will make connections to previous knowledge as I navigate the unknown… but I don’t have to verbally express every thought. I don’t want to be “that person” who constantly talks about the last place I lived. I want to experience Korean culture for what it is. Will some things be the same? Yes. But it would be unfair to constantly measure Korean culture against another country.

    4. Be patient and gracious.

    This is one of the hardest. Transitions are mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically challenging. It’s a stressful process to find our new normal. It all takes time. I need to be patient and gracious with myself. I also need to be patient and gracious to my husband as he adjusts, too.

    5. Do not fear. Be brave.

    In addition to my Type A personality, I tend to be something of an introvert. With David working at the school, I could easily be content to stay at home most of the time. I need to be — and I’m telling myself right now to be — brave. Get out there, get lost, learn the streets. Be brave with the language. Yes, I will pronounce everything incorrectly and say the wrong words too many times to count. Practice anyways and welcome correction.

    6. Cultivate community.

    Cultivating community is an essential piece of adjusting to a new home. In an ideal situation, the new community will welcome you with open arms. They will help you learn how to use transportation, teach you survival language basics, and readily invite you into their homes and their lives. This may or may not be the reality. (Keep in mind, they may still be grieving their friends that left days or weeks before you arrived.) If the community doesn’t reach out to you, sometimes you must actively seek and foster community yourself. I think one of the best ways to do this is to invite people into your home. Going out to eat is fun too, especially in the first few weeks of living in a new place when you’re learning how to shop and cook. In the words of one of my college professors: “There’s just something about having everyone’s legs under the same table.” Reach out to others, both the new expats and old expats.

    7. Finally, and most importantly, trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understanding.

    The Father is good and loving. He is faithful and He provides (Matthew 6:25–27)! Be in the Word, put Him first, and eventually, everything else will fall into place. Will that make the process easy? No. But I can find contentment and trust in His calling for my life.


    I hope that writing these out will help ingrain them in my memory!

    Do you have any tips for adjusting to life in Korea?



    17,000 Miles

    It’s been almost eight weeks since we last updated here. A lot can happen in two months. A lot HAS happened in the last two months. Nearly 17,000 miles has happened.




    After we finished the school year, David’s family traveled to Turkey and we toured them around the central and western part of the country for two weeks. We loved showing them our home and visiting a couple of new places as well. It was a goodbye tour of Turkey for us. After the family left, we returned to Ankara to pack up our house and say our last goodbyes. A few days later we flew to Michigan for a week, drove to Arkansas for a week, drove back to Michigan for a week, sorted and packed everything again, flew to South Korea, and landed on Wednesday.

    We’ve been in Seoul for almost 48 hours now. We spent our first night in a hotel and stepped foot in our apartment for the first time yesterday. The weight of it all is still sinking in.

    For now, we’re unpacking, moving furniture around, and getting acquainted with the city and David’s new job. We’re making lists and planning shopping trips for things like tupperware, and pillows, and toilet brushes, and picture frames.

    Please pray for us as we settle into this new place! There are so many things to learn. We know that no matter the challenges that lie ahead, we can trust that:

    Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22–24

    I will share soon about our transition and first impressions and our travels this summer!



    My Farewell Speech

    We attended our end of the year staff banquet last Saturday. It is typical for teachers who are leaving to share a word with the group. It has been a hard few weeks thinking about leaving our home in the Middle East. I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the things I’ve learned while living in Turkey the past three years. Here is the abridged version.


    David and Leah dressed up


    Things I’ve Learned While in Turkey:

    1. Goodbyes are the worst.
    2. Assumptions can ruin a fresh perspective.
    3. Humility is best learned where you are totally uncomfortable.
    4. Vegetables in America are not as good.
    5. Plastic forks in Turkey don’t taste good.
    6. Wash your veggies.
    7. Eggs don’t have to stay refrigerated.
    8. The milk that’s sold at room temperature won’t kill you.
    9. Everything at the bakkal costs iki buçuk.
    10. When teaching Bible, it’s good to establish the proper pronunciation of condemnation: “There is no now constipation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
    11. The world is not such a small world after all. There are many lost who need to hear the word.
    12. The best way to get rid of a dog that is chasing you is to kick it in the face.
    13. Travel is my refresh button.
    14. Establishing a good work/home balance is important.
    15. Camel köfte is a little bit tough.
    16. European football isn’t all that bad. American football is still awesome.
    17. The librarian is a hotty.
    18. Some students who appear to have it all would rather spend all of their time at school because of the love shown there that they can’t access anywhere else.
    19. Be prepared for the shock that ensues when a student asks you if his cat is asexual.
    20. Tear gas really does make you cry.
    21. It is selfish to worry about my students as I leave. It is beneficial to pray for them.
    22. I spend a lot of time in the car in America.
    23. Speeding laws are enforced in Turkey.
    24. Intestine cooked on a rotisserie is actually not that bad.
    25. Just give in to the personifications of the school printers. Also, both Fred and Wilma have staple functions.
    26. Greg won’t go to the hamam.
    27. Short on the sides and long on the top means a mohawk.
    28. Usually, conflict starts with people hearing the same thing, but having different interpretations. Talking about these interpretations can solve a world of problems.
    29. The Turkish Airlines cheese sandwiches are awesome.
    30. Snow tubing with me is dangerous.
    31. Sometimes when you play soccer at recess, a bicycle kick results in torn pants from your knee to your belt.
    32. 20 seconds of awkwardness could make an eternity of difference. Take advantage of every opportunity.
    33. Family and home are relative.
    34. Goodbyes are really just see-you-laters.


    Friends at the banquet



    Expat Life: June & Goodbyes

    As expats in Turkey, we live our life cyclically, mostly based around the school calendar. Lest it appear like it’s all cool students and travel and fun, before we know it June arrives. And June is hard. June is when we say a lot of goodbyes.

    Part of me feels like I don’t have a right to claim a piece of the June-is-hard-goodbye pie; this is only our second year as expats. There are people and families who have been doing this for decades. One mom told me that while she looks forward to the no pain and no sorrow in heaven, she most looks forward to the fact there will be no goodbyes. There are kids in our community who have been saying goodbyes every year for most of their lives. And these are kids who might actually never see their friends again in this lifetime. But when I think about it, just as I shouldn’t discount the feelings of anyone else, I also shouldn’t disregard my own.


    Ankara orange sunset


    We love this international community. Since we’re all in a different culture together, we struggle together. We depend on each other for understanding and support. We’ve created our own little world. I like how The Culture Blend explains the relationship between expats:

    We like these people. We connect on a level that is deeper than the surface. We help each other. We laugh with each other. When something horrible happens to one of us we all understand the pain of going through it away from home so we all try to fill in the gaps.  –Jerry Jones, The Culture Blend

    Whether it’s because of embassy contracts or other commitments, we spend the last few weeks of school figuring out who is leaving and who is returning. We were told on the last day of school that several students found out that day they won’t be returning.

    Aside from the student body constantly changing, so does our school staff. (Note: All of this is not to discount our friends that are returning next year and the new friendships that will come.) Last year, it was very sad to say goodbye to friends. This year, some of our closest friends are returning to the States. And as much as we are excited for them and understand, it’s still hard. They’ve been such a big part of our life in Turkey, and approaching goodbyes was a grieving process.

    The reason why it was so hard is because they’ve been such wonderful friends. I’m thankful we’ve had friends that understood us, laughed with us, joked with us, shared meals with us, traveled with us, celebrated with us. Bo told us his dad said, “It sounds like you’ve found your Christmas card friends.” These are people we will keep up with for the rest of our lives.

    So Brittany, Kendall, Bo – we love you guys. Thanks for being on this journey with us and for being our family. Our goodbyes are only goodbyes for now. We’ll see you all soon. 🙂


    Bacon, Anyone?

    I stole this pic from a friend. A group of us went to a grocery store a ways from where we usually shop and he found bacon! Anyone want six strips of bacon for 100TL? (That’s around $45 USD!)


    Bacon in Turkey


    It’s the strangest thing to want the products you suddenly can’t get any more. We rarely bought bacon and Oreos in the States. But now? They’re a special treat we ration and savor. Fortunately, our students with commissary access keep us stocked. What better present could a teacher in Turkey get than bacon?!