Hello friends and family! It has been a while since you last heard from me, and there is a good reason for that: I have been preparing for my move to South Korea!
I have been accepted to the Korean Language Program at Seoul National University and am so excited to spend time in my dream country! My flight leaves next week, so now that I have all the logistics figured out, I’m left with a lot of time to think.
And as anyone with major anxiety knows, time in your own head is not always a blessing.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my last adventure abroad. How I was so excited and thought I was prepared, but had spent only a few months in France before becoming horribly sick, dropping out of my language program, flying home early, and spending time in a wheelchair. Despite how depressed this all made me, I gained a lot of insight from this experience that I know will be helpful to me as I prepare for this next chapter.
Things that were unhelpful:
I was going to title this ‘things I did wrong’ but these were not necessarily wrong choices, just ones that did not help my physical or mental wellbeing.
When I first started feeling sick and having problems in France, I told absolutely no one about it. I didn’t share that I was struggling with my family back home, my friends in-country, or any of my teachers and advisers at the university. I isolated myself because I felt embarrassed and disempowered. If I didn’t tell anyone, it couldn’t be that bad, right?
I also kept to myself physically. I didn’t leave my dorm room often, I didn’t talk with anyone on my dorm floor, I mostly stayed in bed and read books or watched tv. While I’ve always known I’m an introvert who needs time alone to recharge her batteries, I also know that extended periods of time without human contact can be a recipe for disaster.
You know the phrase ‘when in Rome’? Well, I certainly didn’t follow ‘when in France’. I learned a lot about the culture in Southern France and was happy to do so, but I didn’t speak much French. You heard (read) me right: despite the fact that I was in France, where they speak French, and where I was taking classes to continue learning to speak French, I did not, in fact, speak French. It’s not to say that I never spoke French. I exchanged pleasantries with my friends and teachers, was able to ask for directions and buy things at the market, but I didn’t really practice anything I wasn’t 100% sure about. I am a perfectionist, which has often contributed to my anxiety. In my brain, sometimes I feel that it’s better to not attempt something at all unless I am sure I can do it perfectly.
Reality check: perfect does not exist. Even Jesus wasn’t perfect! (Like that time he cursed a fig tree because it wasn’t bearing fruit out of season. I like to think that was His angsty, teenager phase.)
It became this deadly circle of ineptitude. I was afraid to practice French because I couldn’t speak it very well, but I couldn’t speak it well because I didn’t practice, and I didn’t practice because I couldn’t speak it well… you see where I’m going with this.
So these past few weeks while I’ve been applying for my visa, starting to pack necessities, and researching all the foods I want to eat once I arrive in South Korea, I’ve also been reflecting on my trip to France and brainstorming ways to help myself more this time around.
Things I will do instead:
First, I will go out and socialize. In South Korea, going out with friends to eat, dance at a club, or just getting coffee, is quintessential to the culture. Nightlife in Seoul is happenin.
While some things I would like to do will have to wait until there is a widely available vaccine for COVID-19, there are plenty of options for me to choose from to keep myself social and happy. While I will allow myself time to rest and recharge when needed (because, let’s be real, self-care is key) I will not just sit by myself in my dorm room. I will go out with my classmates, eat with my Korean pen-pal, and even get drinks with my language teachers! (Once again, drinking culture is very prominent in Korea and it is common for of-age students and professors to get drinks and food after class.)
I will also continue to communicate with my family and my doctors about my physical and mental health. These past two years have given me time and resources to create and build my Chronic Illness Survival Toolbox. I know what works to help manage the day-to-day pain, what to avoid on bad days, and what to do when the pain keeps me from being myself. I will talk to my teachers and program advisers, I will be open and unashamed, and most of all, I will utilize the resources the on-campus health center has to offer. Living in a different country, even a country I love as much as South Korea, can be difficult and exacerbate physical and mental illnesses. I have done a lot of research into what is covered by the university health center and will make appointments with the English speaking therapist and acupuncturist as necessary. (I am also really excited to go to a Korean sauna and spa- 찜질방, pronounced jim-jil-bahng- and melt my stresses in the hot water baths.)
I will also practice my Korean whenever I can. I can read basic Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and know greetings, but I still have much to learn! I know that my Korean can only improve if I practice, and even if I make mistakes, that just proves I am trying and learning! If I want to become fluent, I must practice, and luckily, I have many people who are willing to help me.
This next chapter of my life is something I have been dreaming about for years! I am so excited and grateful to have this opportunity!
I am determined to enjoy myself, and most importantly, take care of myself while abroad. Because I cannot change what I did in the past, but I can use what I’ve learned to help myself in the future.
And boy, does the future look bright.