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.
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?