Friday, August 21, 2015

Preparing for life in another country

As I explained in my previous post, I have just accepted a job in Korea and will be arriving there in a few weeks. I'm really excited about the new experience I'm about to have and I can't wait to discover what life in Korea will be like.

Every time I go back to the states to visit my family, I run into people who are amazed by my country-hopping lifestyle. "Isn't it scary living somewhere where you don't speak the language?" "What do you do if you can't communicate with someone?" "HOW can you live THERE?"

I think this is how people imagine my daily life in Japan...
... But the reality looked more like this, a lot more mundane than you might expect.

These are some of the typical questions that I get asked whenever I go back. Maybe to a lot of people in the U.S. the idea of traveling or living in a foreign country where the spoken language is not English is a daunting or terrifying prospect. But I think the fear that most people feel is an unfortunate side-effect of growing up monolingually. People who speak more than one language or who grow up in a country where that's the norm, generally don't find the idea of living abroad so scary. And for me personally. the question I am always tempted to ask in return is: "HOW can you stay HERE forever?"

It's not that I don't love my hometown of Portland or that I don't enjoy living in the U.S., but for me the idea of spending my whole life in one place and never experiencing other cultures or other ways of living is far more terrifying than the potential problems of living overseas. It's true that sometimes language barriers can be frustrating and can make your life difficult, but over time you learn to adapt. Even when you don't speak the language, you can find other ways to communicate. Communication is a versatile tool and there are a multitude of ways that you can do it. Letting that be the reason you're afraid to go abroad is underestimating yourself and the people you might encounter in your travels.

A trilingual (Spanish, English & Japanese) party I went to recently at La Frontera Hostel here in Santiago

So perhaps the most important thing when you're getting ready to go to another country for an extended period of time, is to relax. Learn as much as you can about the place: its language, history, culture, social norms, etc. The more knowledge you have, the less strange and "foreign" everything will seem when you get there. And don't underestimate your ability to communicate, even with very basic language skills. You would be surprised how much you can convey just with hand gestures or simple vocabulary.

Understand that there will be moments of frustration, of culture shock and maybe even loneliness. Be ready for those moments by knowing that they're normal, and that they will pass. And most importantly of all, be ready to enjoy the adventure! Living abroad has made me a better person in so many ways, and I will be forever grateful for the experiences I've had so far.

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