“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
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I had many.
How can you not be consumed with fear when contemplating a move abroad? It’s inevitable. Even if you’re a seasoned traveler, there’s bound to be something that shakes you.
Fear restrains; it holds you back from untapped potential and greatness. It’s important to 1) acknowledge your fears and 2) break them down so you can live freely and embrace experiences, such as living abroad.
Based on my and others’ experiences, I’ve developed a list of some of the most common ones and dissected them one by one. Let’s dig beyond the surface! Whether you’ve made the decision or are still in the decision making process, hopefully this will help calm your nerves.
Although this article is specifically formulated around a move to South Korea, many of the fears apply to living abroad anywhere in the world.
Here we go.
Fear: Isn’t North Korea like right upstairs?
Yeah, so I thought I’d start with the most obvious one. It’s entirely normal to feel anxious about this. We’re exposed to Western media, which tends to blow the situation out of proportion quite often. This was probably my number one fear because…how could it not be?
I had two options, I could be fearful about this and allow it to heighten my anxiety while remaining uneducated about what it’s actually like to live here or I could educate myself. So I decided to educate myself. I messaged a couple people who had written reviews for the consulting company I went through for EPIK. In other words, these were all people who had successfully completed the program themselves. And let me tell you, they immediately put my mind at ease. Additionally, I talked with some Korean friends and they also provided me with reassurance that my safety would not be a concern.
I actually had some family members challenge me on this, as I’m sure you’ll deal with as well. And the most ironic part about their unwanted and unwarranted opinions was that they’ve never lived here themselves. Heck, they’ve never even been to South Korea! What’s even better about ever having been challenged about North Korea and my safety here in general, my complacent attitude aside, is that I moved here to find out that everyone I spoke with wasn’t lying…this country is honestly one of the safest places in the world. Certainly much safer than the United States.
So just trust my word and reach out to anyone you know here or strangers who have done the program themselves and I’m positive you’ll feel much better about North Korea’s proximity to South Korea.
Side note: The DMZ tour is actually very common among tourists, expats, and Koreans alike. If you follow all of the guidelines, it’s not a life-threatening nor dangerous tour in any conceivable sense. Check out my article if you’re interested in going on a tour yourself or learning more about it.
Final note: Just remember what many Koreans have told me and will likely tell you too if you ask. The North Korean dictator is equivalent to a child throwing a temper tantrum. No joke. I mean, it’s your call on how you want to perceive and assess the North/South situation, but I hope you take my word on this.
Fear: So I move to Korea, teach for a year, and then what?
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If you didn’t go to college for education, it can be a particularly big deal to think about putting your current career path on hold to teach English. I feared taking this step because I was afraid of the unknown. What if a year away from business prevented me from getting a good job when I returned home? If you’re having similar thoughts about whichever field you’re in, then again…it’s normal!
In fact, I ran this fear by the same individuals I spoke with about the North Korea situation. One girl told me that she left her job, moved here, returned home, and then picked up right where she left off. After hearing this, it no longer seemed like as big of a deal as I had initially synthesized in my mind. And I knew that whichever way my life unfolded, I’d be able to figure it out.
In the end, moving here created a whole new reality for me and opened my eyes to this brilliant world we live in. I’ve been able to soul search and identify the next best step which, at this moment in time, has nothing to do with business. But it’s clarity and that’s all I needed.
Final note: Try to avoid putting such a huge emphasis on the future. Take it step by step, day by day, and have faith that you’ll know what to do and where to go when the time comes.
Fear: But what about my cat?
Or any pet for that matter. If you’re like me, then you’re extremely attached to your animal. It’s difficult, not going to lie! But a year is only a sliver in time. And hopefully you have a family member or close friend who can watch your pet while you’re gone.
If you anticipate being away for longer than a year or can’t find anyone to watch your pet, then perhaps your best option is to find a new owner for your pet altogether. I actually have a couple friends who did this. It’s obviously not ideal, but it’s always a possibility. Personally, I don’t think I would have been able to give my cat away before leaving. But if you’ve exhausted all other options, then maybe this is the most feasible alternative for you.
Final note: Don’t let your pet stop you from making this move. Remain mindful of how nice you’re being to your mom, dad, sisters, brothers, etc. and pray that one of them will be able to take care of your beloved animal while you’re gone.
Fear: I’m going to be all alone in a foreign country?
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Yes, you are. But it’s not as daunting as you may think. Technically, you’ll be living alone, but even if you’re placed in the smallest, most rural town in Korea (like I am), it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be the only foreigner. In my town alone, there are four other native English teachers.
So you won’t be completely isolated and if you are, then I’m sorry I said otherwise. I mean, there are obviously going to be times when you’re lonely and miss home, but it’s improbable that you’ll be lonely alone (if that makes sense). And if you go through a program such as EPIK, then it’s guaranteed that you’ll meet a plethora of foreigners at orientation upon arrival.
Final note: Being lonely sucks, but it’s also empowering. With any experience of this nature, you gain tremendous strength and independence. And when push comes to shove and you need support from others, you’ll find it.
Fear: I’ve never been to a non-English speaking country before, what if I can’t overcome the language barrier?
Valid fear. However, I promise you that you can overcome it! The only thing that would ever prevent you from doing so, is your own self-deprecating thoughts. What’s helpful is that many signs are translated into English. If you come across a sign or menu of sort that’s not translated, then there’s always Google translate. Although, full disclosure, you will encounter bad translations from time to time. But it’s nothing groundbreaking that you can’t manage.
Speaking of bad translations, funny story. My friends and I were at a restaurant and were attempting to order our food. The waitress translated something on her phone and the English text read, “the alternative is death or submission.” Rest assured, we got a good laugh out of that one.
Anyways, back to the language barrier. Knowledge of the English language is only continuing to rise and possessing this skill is highly sought after and valued. Most shop owners know words here and there, which allows for smoother transactions. Plus, it forces you to learn some Korean! I mean, it only seems fair to at least learn the basics and meet the locals halfway considering they are putting forth effort with English.
Final note: If a Korean came to the United States with no knowledge of the English language and tried communicating with you in Korean, you’d likely get pretty frustrated, not understand how to help them, and mutter some ignorant phrase under your breath such as, “don’t you speak English?” or “I don’t speak your language.” If you need perspective, just think about it in the reverse.
Fear: I’m going to miss out on celebrations with family and friends!
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I know. This one is tough. My dad has taught me from a young age that everything has trade-offs. You stay home and get to partake in all of the celebrations with family and friends, but then you miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity…trade-off. Conversely, you travel to Korea for a year and have this eye-opening experience, but then you can’t attend any birthdays, anniversaries, parties, etc. that happen while you’re away…trade-off. Honestly, the latter sounds better to me…but it’s probably because that’s the avenue I chose.
If, for some reason, you do have a close family member getting married and it’s absolutely essential that you attend, but it conflicts with working days, it’s not impossible to get the time off…however it’s fairly difficult and complicated nonetheless. At orientation they’ll teach you the Korean way to communicate and advise you on the best strategy for this situation. It involves being as indirect as possible and smoothly easing into the topic in the hopes that your school will understand and accommodate.
Honestly, if you’re well aware of when the wedding is prior to arrival, then perhaps you’re better off aiming for a later intake starting date that doesn’t interfere with the wedding.
Final note: Why let FOMO get in the way of an incredible experience? You can have your cake and eat it too! Come explore the unfamiliar and have a blast and then go home after a year, or however long, and you’ll have the rest of your life for celebrations with family and friends. It’s only as complicated as you make it.
Fear: What if I lose friends due to distance?
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Distance strengthens some relationships and puts a strain on others. You’ll quickly learn this for yourself. Without steering you away, some friendships will falter and it’s okay to let these ships sail, figuratively and literally. Not all friendships are meant to last. But if you approach the experience with an open mind, think about all of the new ones you’re going to create. You may even find yourself in far more meaningful friendships than you’ve ever had before. And if you are truly and genuinely open, I think you’ll find yourself leaving the country with diverse, lifelong friendships, many of which you never would have expected.
Final note: I hold the friendships I’ve made here very close to my heart. These people are seriously so cool and have some of the most beautiful, lively spirits I’ve ever met. They come from all walks of life and have endless fascinating stories to share. I can only hope you experience the same. And again I emphasize, as long as you’re open, you should have no problem making friends.
Fear: Life is going to go on without me!
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It will. And after your first month or two, you may even feel forgotten or like any trace of you has faded. You’re not forgotten. But it is disheartening, in a way, because you leave home to embark on this crazy adventure and everyone that you leave behind falls back into their normal rhythm of daily life. In Korea, you really don’t have any obligations outside of work. So you’re left with boundless free time and all you want to do, especially in the beginning, is share your experiences with loved ones. But it’s difficult because there’s not only the time difference you’re working against, there’s also the fact that people at home do have obligations and they’re, believe it or not, quite busy with their own lives. And it’s fairly easy to lose sight of that here.
If there’s one thing I can humorously say, it would be the fact that you’re going to become a pro at calculating the time difference. No offense to people back home, but don’t expect anyone to do it for you. When planning times to chat, most people, except for maybe your parents, will only ever list out times and dates according to their local time. So if you ever want to actually nail down a time to talk with someone, know that you’ll likely be doing the heavy lifting.
Final note: Once you settle in and fall into your own daily rhythm abroad, I think you’ll see that your life is happening right here, right now. And if you blink twice, you could miss it all. So don’t worry about what’s going on back home and enjoy what’s in front of you right here, right now.
Wrapping it up: At the end of the day, all of this reassurance and advice I’ve provided on how to overcome these fears isn’t going to mean much if you aren’t willing to alter your perspective. Nobody else can do it for you. Ultimately it’s your choice on how you tackle your fears; it’s you and you alone. Living abroad is arguably the best possible thing you could ever do for yourself. I wish you the very best of luck and hope you’re able to overcome any fears and go, go, go!
This article was created for EPIK e-Press.