4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Coming To Korea

Iwas recently asked by my TESOL course instructor if I could Skype into a class and talk to a new group of students, since there were some interested in going to Korea. Of course I immediately said yes, and we worked on figuring out a time-  a somewhat difficult task given the time difference. Her e-mail brought back a flood of memories, since it wasn’t that long ago that I was also a student in her class. I got to thinking of any insights I could provide them- useful information going further than covering the obvious (no, you won’t be able to get that Timmies double-double in Korea, Janet).
I started making a list of things I could possibly say, pieces of advice I could offer these souls who were probably just as clueless and terrified as I was. I decided to transform this list into a blog post, in hopes of potentially helping other people as well.


1. It’s Okay To Be Scared (Shitless)

Moving to a foreign country, away from all things familiar to you, is a scary thing. Especially due to the uncertainty of it all. People kept coming up to me, asking how excited I must be for my big adventure. Of course I was excited, but at this point, fear was taking over, and I couldn’t keep putting on the fake smile. I ended up breaking down in front of some of my roommates, telling them everything I had been feeling. They had no idea! How were they supposed to help, when they didn’t know I needed it in the first place?

After opening up to them, my one roommate who did a full school year exchange to Ghana the previous year, shared some wisdom that honestly changed my whole outlook on the situation. I am forever grateful for that (and her!) She validated my feelings, and shared how she experienced the same feelings before leaving for Ghana. Of course you’ll be scared! It is a huge change. Talking through my anxieties really helped me through this process, since at one point I was seriously second guessing the whole thing. Putting yourself in scary situations is actually as it sounds, it’s scary. However, it’s important to remind yourself that these opportunities are also the same ones that help you grow as an individual. If we never did things that gave us some anxiety, or induced some sense of risk or fear within us, how stagnant would we be as a species?

Despite experiencing plenty of anxious and fearful thoughts, ultimately what lead me to stick with my decision, was knowing in my gut that I would forever regret it if I didn’t at least try. 

You will be scared. It’s normal to be scared. Talk through your feelings, don’t bury them.

2. Your Definition of Conservative Work Attire is Probably Wrong

That flowy v-neck blouse that you thought would be perfect for teaching? Think again. Work attire and Korean clothing in general, has much more modest standards than I anticipated. I knew showing shoulders and cleavage was a no-no, however I didn’t realize that all the female teachers at my school would be wearing tops that barely showed skin below the neck. I stood out enough as it is, I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself. Since I was trying to blend in, I ended up buying more work clothing in Korea, once I knew the standards and the norms.

Rethink those tops you’re about to put in your suitcase. What you think is conservative, is probably not.  


3. Believe People When They Say “Someone Will Help You With That”

Most of my fears stemmed from the uncertainty of things once I would get there. How would I open a bank account? How would I get a phone? How would I know how to get to school? How would I get my Alien Registration Card? Of course it is good to ask questions, and I’m glad I did (probably more than I should have). But my problem was, I wasn’t satisfied with the answers. The answer was most often “your co-teacher will help you”. I didn’t trust this. That answer wasn’t good enough. I needed to know exactly how I would obtain a bank account. What I wish I knew, was to believe these people.

The teachers and administration at your school are clearly aware that a foreigner is arriving at their school. They will help you. Trust me.


4. Embrace The Uncertainty Of Everything

Many of the questions I had, I thought they could be 100% answered during the 10 day orientation. The orientation did help ease the transition TREMENDOUSLY, however even during orientation, there are going to be things that you won’t find out until arriving at your school. Every co-teacher, school, and city, has enormous variability. There is no one answer to everything. “It all depends”. It was almost like an ongoing joke the whole week! We would have so many questions, and more often than not, that was the answer. You would have to wait and see. Although it can be frustrating at times, try to embrace it. Eventually you will learn to laugh it off, and soon enough you will realize this is a general trend in Korea. Nothing is set in stone, and things can change pretty quickly. I learned pretty quickly to just laugh and brush things off, without getting too stressed about it. People who know me might be a little shocked at this, since I generally like to know EVERY possible detail. But I think Korea has allowed me to become less stressed and more easygoing. So, embrace the uncertainty! Soon enough you’ll be having those “Oh, Korea” moments.

This is what you signed up for. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

– Laura

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