Living Abroad: Celebrate the Small Victories

It’s funny how living in a foreign country can change your perspective on your accomplishments. Back home, buying groceries or successfully taking a cab back to your house is a mundane task that probably deserves zero recognition. However when you are immersed in a new culture, these small tasks become huge accomplishments. Simply put: living in a different culture requires you to re-learn all these things we take for granted, almost like you are a small child again who needs the help of an experienced adult (my amazing co-teacher!). Today, was a day filled with many small victories. This made me reflect on my previous small victories since arriving in Korea. Now, it’s time to brag!

1. Getting My Glasses Fixed

After a week of walking around with glasses that kept falling off my face because they became loose after an intense group hug (true story), I knew I had to do something about it. This was in the back of my mind the whole week, but I had yet to plan out how exactly I would go about it. It happened on one of my walks around the neighbourhood, where I stumbled across a glasses store- which are abundant here. To be honest, I walked by two or three other glasses stores before I had the guts to actually go into one.

When I finally mustered up the courage, I greeted the shop owner with annyeonghaseyo and proceeded to show him how loose my glasses were. He had an “ah-ha!” type reaction, and whisked away my glasses to a back room, only to come back 2 minutes later and have them perfectly snug again. I gave him the two thumbs up to indicate a good job, and then whipped out my Korean phrasebook to ask “how much is it?”, which I now know is igo ol-ma-ye-yo. (In Canada, something like this would generally be free of charge, however I did not want to assume). As soon as I said it, he started to rapidly shake is head back in forth and put his arms in an X formation, indication no, free of charge. I left with a huge smile and a big kamsahamnida (thank youto the shop owner.

2. Signing Up For A Gym Membership

I knew I would need to find a gym eventually. I started to look at the foreigner Facebook group for my city, but all the gyms seemed to be in a different area. So, I asked my co-teacher if she knew of any gyms in my neighbourhood. I was prepared to bus to another area, since I assumed there would be none close by. HOWEVER, it turns out, there is a gym about a 15 minute walk away from my house. So, today my co-teacher printed me off a map (in Korean), and I decided to head down there right after work.

After 15 minutes of searching, I finally found it! I walked in, and was immediately impressed by the huge swimming pool. I said my usual Korean greetings, and somehow managed to speak to someone who spoke a little bit of English. I asked, “Gym membership? Sign up?” and she understood, phew. She directed me to the price list by month, and I agreed to a 3 month membership. But first, I wanted to see the other facilities. We somehow managed to understand each other (possibly by my frantic pointing around to the gym), and she guided me upstairs to the big fitness room (machines, free weights, etc.).

It looked very similar to a Western gym, except it had those machines where you put a big elastic on your butt, legs, or any body part, and it “jiggles” the fat away. That was different! There were also lots of sauna rooms, since they are very popular in Korea. So, I paid the 3 month fee directly from my *new* Korean debit card, she took my picture for the membership, showed me how to check in to the gym (the last 4 digits of my *new* Korean phone number), and that was it! I was on my way. I left feeling proud.

Between these two small victories, buying groceries, taking public transit, and generally surviving in a foreign country, I think it’s safe to say I am on my way to adapting to Korean culture.

I think it’s important to take any ounce of courage or bravery you feel, and just run with it. There is so much fear that holds us back in this world, and I think it’s time that I (and others out there), start using this to propel ourselves forward. I was definitely scared to come to Korea, but realizing this was a good fear (with the help of my friends and family- big shout out) helped me get my paperwork together, and ultimately get on that plane. On that note- I am so glad I am here. These small victories were moments of small courage that transformed into something much bigger. I am so excited for the many more to come!

-Laura

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