As our days in Korea get shorter and we plan for our move to Kyrgyzstan in August, I’ve been getting more and more stressed. There’s the normal anxiety and annoyances of moving – packing up the house, deciding what to take and what to leave, organizing the logistics.
Then there’s the bigger things that come with an international move – learning the basics of a new language, arranging clearing customs with a doggy in tow, or preparing for paperwork for visas. It can become so overwhelming that I often realize I’ve forgotten why it is we are moving to a new country, or even staying abroad at all.
The reasons we moved to Korea in the first place were varied. The biggest spur to head to a new country was the feeling that we weren’t doing anything special or exciting in our lives in the US. We were working but weren’t sure what we were working towards, and wanted to live a little differently.
On top of that, my student loans were set to take ten years to pay off and with debt hanging over our heads we were happy with any solution that would have us paying off our loans quickly. Korea was a destination that friends had worked in and had visited. On top of that, the job market was wide open and, with teaching experience, we knew we could get well-paying jobs in Korea. So, we packed our bags two months after our wedding and moved away.
After two years in Korea, the next big decision was what comes next. We have vacillated so much about our future plans, but know that we will stay abroad for at least the next few years (if not permanently). Some of the reasons we’re staying abroad are the exact reasons we moved, while others have revealed themselves along the way.
Money is certainly still a factor. Within a year of living in Korea my loans were paid off, which released a giant stress from our shoulders. However, we do have the goal of being very independent (Ryan likes to throw the term “retiring” around) within another five years.
Working abroad, we are able to make the same salary that I was making as a teacher in Denver plus be reimbursed for housing and some annual travel expenses. This leads to saving at least double what we would save in the US. We are saving over $40,000 a year working abroad, something that would be damn near impossible in the US as teachers.
Slow travel is my absolute favorite part about living abroad. I’m really not a great traveller. I like to visit new places but then I like to stay there and become familiar with them. I like to explore the restaurants and cafes and stores and parks and normal things that make up the everyday of the location. I like to set up a routine in a new place and feel a little like I belong there. Ryan likes to run to get the feel of a place, and explore the different paths. I’d prefer to stay for weeks or months if possible. Well, living abroad gives me years to get the feel of a place. I still feel like I haven’t gotten to see all I want in Korea. Slooooww travel is where it’s at.
However, we can’t live for years everywhere if I want to see as much of the world as I’m dying to see. Living in Korea has set us up for much more international travel than we would be able to afford or budget time for from the US. We’ve been able to travel to Japan and the Philippines from Korea, and are looking forward to a change of base. From Kyrgyzstan we’ll be able to head to Turkey, India, Nepal, and China with ease, and find quite affordable flights to Europe.
Living in Korea has given me unique learning experiences. Acceptance and patience is sometimes a daily practice (struggle?) that would be much more infrequent living in the US. Sometimes I do things that are silly and mortifying and I’m embarrassed to be a representative of human beings. The other day I was in a taxi with a Korean friend (hi Hazel!) and the cab driver was joking that the only word foreigners know is jik-jin (straight). So I said “sorry” in Korean. Then I found out that they term for sorry I used was the informal version that you would say to children. It’s the worst to say sorry inappropriately. There’s no way to apologize! I had to deal with the feeling of shame and humility. And learn how to say sorry for real.
Then again, other times I rock the smallest situation – like remembering to grab toilet paper from the bar before walking into the restroom – and feel like I’ve won at life. Either way, I’ve become more ok with not doing things well or right, and I’ve learned to celebrate the smallest steps forward.
The best part of living abroad is the regular presence of mind that right now is amazing and awesome.
In my memories there are distinct moments that I can recall so clearly. I remember well the brightness of a full moon and the feeling of freezing cold lake water and the smell of the seaweed from trips to Michigan when I was 7. Stored away so vividly is a moment when I was 12 walking to the park. It was nothing special; I just remember how green the trees were and how the wind sounded as it blew through the leaves. Our trip to Ecuador was full of little moments that are so fresh in my memory – the lilt of spanish mixed in with the car horns and blaring music, or the view of the jungle flying above me and the sky beneath me as we ziplined through the jungle.
As I’ve travelled more I’ve noticed that these vivid moments are more frequent when we are abroad. Even after two years of living here there are moments that I instinctively note: This is special. Remember this.
Life anywhere is miraculous and beautiful, but something about the newness of these experiences abroad suits me.
All these little things add up to our life here. There are hard things – so many hard things. It’s difficult sometimes to remember why we are here when things are hectic or a bajillion times more complicated than they would be at home. It’s good to remember.