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The Hardest Things About Living Abroad

The realities of a life overseas.

If you’ve been keeping up with the rest of my series, you might be starting to feel (and rightly so!) that my blog posts seem to be all over the place—up one month and down the next, switching from topic to topic. Perhaps the unpredictability of my writing reflects what living abroad can really be like? That sounds like a good explanation to me, anyway, so I think I’ll stick with that.

My last post was all about my battle with homesickness. Now over nine months into my contract, I seem to be over the worst of it, or at least this wave of it. There’s no telling whether it will be back—or how hard it might hit again. However, now that I’ve had some more time to think about it, I’ve become much more aware of some things that might be behind it.

Here are some of the hardest parts about living abroad for me:

The time difference: Moving to Korea from Canada for the year also meant moving ahead in time more than half a day. While it certainly isn’t impossible to work around the time difference, being on a completely opposite schedule from loved ones at home can make it difficult to connect. While I’m getting ready for bed, they’re just waking up. (It can be kind of fun sometimes to say “goodnight” while your parents or friends are saying “good morning” on the other side of the world, though).

Missing important events and celebrations: One of the hardest things about living abroad has been being away from family and friends on birthdays, special occasions, and major holidays that have, for me, always been family-oriented. While traveling, I’ve missed the birth of a new family member, the funeral of one 95-year-old grandmother and the 90th birthday celebration of my other grandma (though not all during my time in Korea).

Knowing these things will never happen again, and that I’ll never have the chance to experience them is difficult. I know these are some of the sacrifices you have to make when you decide to travel, but this knowledge doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to be the one missing out.

The communication barrier: Living in a country as wired as Korea, you might be surprised that this one is on my list. I don’t mean to say that communication with people back home isn’t possible—it just requires more effort, and sometimes also careful planning.

To put it bluntly, staying in touch with friends and family can seem like work at times. I can no longer just pick up my phone and send a quick text or make a call. I don’t know how many times I’ve done exactly that, only to remember that it definitely isn’t going to work using my non-smart Korean cell phone. Suddenly, meeting up for a quick coffee or meal to “catch up” seems like a thing of the past.

Here, if you actually want to stay “caught up” with people, you have to either be willing to send lengthy emails or Facebook messages back and forth, or plan Skype dates at least somewhat frequently. And though it may sound easy enough, I’ve realized that it usually isn’t.

Everyone is busy. Everyone has a life to live. When you move someplace new, it’s almost as if you create a new life for yourself in a way. You get involved in new things, meet new people, and can easily get caught up in your new surroundings and schedule. Staying connected to your roots, while also embracing your new home can almost seem like a balancing act sometimes.

I know I haven’t mastered this one yet—I’m still learning how to combine both lives so I can live the best one possible.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Allison Burney

A small-town Ontario native, Allison Burney studied journalism and human rights at Carleton University in Ottawa. Volunteering in Guyana sparked her desire to keep travelling and learning about different cultures. Interested in teaching ESL? Perfect! Allison lets us in on her experiences teaching in Korea.

Website: allisonburney.wordpress.com/

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