This is sort of difficult to write about because its always harder to write about things that are bothering you. Which is why I haven’t brought it up before now. In the months leading to my arrival in Korea I did a bit of reading about culture shock, homesickness, and emotional resilience. As a kid and teenager, I was lucky enough to experience many different cultures and even move to a whole new country at 16. Culture shock is not a new feeling for me, and I knew that if i could handle it as an 11th grader in high school then I could definitely handle it as a 26 year old adult. And while I may miss my family and friends, homesickness is something I learn to deal with because it is understood that we all have things to do and accomplish in our individual lives. As far as my physical home, Its probably been about eight years since I’ve been there. Its something I’ve accepted.
Emotional resilience was something that I hadn’t heard before, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past week. It seems simple enough: the ability to handle situations of anxiety, turmoil, or stress on your own. So maybe I wasn’t too worried about homesickness, but I was worried about my ability to do my job well, and my assimilation to Korea. Will I have people around me also going through the same thing? Will I be able to understand what is expected of me at work? How will I pay my bills? What if I need to go to the post office? What would I do for fun? What are all these weird vegetables at the supermarket? How many times a week is it recommended to eat noodles? If Koreans don’t wear deodorant does that mean I don’t have to either? These are all serious questions.
This past week was the first time that Korea caught up with me and I felt completely overwhelmed. I think the worst aspect of being here is that things that normally would be so simple end up being complicated just because “its Korea”. Communication at work is where I’ve struggled, because there is always a difference between what your coworkers say to you and what they actually mean. They will most likely not say “No” to you, or give you any kind of bad news. Instead they will agree or say “Yes” just to keep things pleasant, but they actually mean no. Its been hard to never know whats going on and have your teaching schedule rearranged 5-6 times in a single day (that happened to me last week) I spent 8 hours planning my lessons for the next day only to be told in the morning that half my classes were cancelled and the others rearranged due to a science fair. This sort of thing has happened already several times, and its bothersome because you feel like your classes and efforts are not valued.
On another note, If you think you are going to get yourself a bag of hot cheetos as a nice comforting snack, you are in for a rude awakening because Korean hot cheetos are not hot, OR cheesy. They are sweetish. They aren’t even orange. They’re like a whitish color. So no cheetos to make you feel better. Also, eating rice at least once a day is 1000% unavoidable. Probably twice. Learn to accept it. Actually same goes for kimchi but I really like that, so no complaints there 🙂
I think all of us newcomers in Korea are now about to finish the “Honeymoon Stage” of this adventure, and slowly things will start losing their initial excitement and freshness. We will get tired of the food, and we will get bored of the routines that we made for ourselves. This is when we will realize that WE ARE IN KOREA FOR A WHOLE YEARRRRRR OMMMGGGG and we will need our emotional resilience to work its magic. One of the advantages I have in this situation is that I am an artist. How does this help you may ask. As an artist I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about my feelings and actions. I have to in order to explain to people what my art is about. I know what will give me anxiety and more importantly I know HOW to make myself feel better. That is probably one of the most important lessons I learned with my Art degree.
Anyway, I’m just saying that this adventure has been really fun, and I can already sense myself changing as a person. But there is a lot of work and confusion involved. And I do sometimes feel like I just catapulted myself into outer space. BUT, in a couple weeks the hardest part will be over and it will be summer and everything will be beautiful and green. And I can wear shorts again and sit in the sun, which is what I want the most. The bottom line is that I got black paint, I got brushes, and I got paper. I’ll figure it out.