Life as an Expat, Living in Korea

I Am Not A Tree

homesickBeing homesick sucks. Some days when I wake up in the morning, I roll over and hope to magically find myself back in my own bed. Or, as I’m shuffling through the line in the lunchroom, I take one look at the food in front of me and wish like hell that I was about to eat a hamburger. Harder yet is seeing new pictures on Facebook of friends and family from home as they continue to live their lives…without me.

I knew this feeling was coming. It was inevitable. But that hasn’t made it any easier to deal with. What has helped, though, is when I:

  1. Get off my butt and do something. Sure, there are days when it’s nice to close myself off from the outside world and engage in a shameless Netflix binge. But more often than not, spending too much time by myself in my apartment tends to trick me into thinking I’m more isolated than I really am. So whenever I feel the walls closing in, I go on a walk around my neighborhood, head out on a bike ride around the city, or hop on a bus without caring where I’m going, and immediately I’m relieved of that sensation. With minimal effort, I go from being a prisoner in my own home to a fearless explorer.
  2. Take daytrips or weekend trips. Perhaps the best distraction, going away for the weekend requires a good deal of time and planning. During the week, I don’t have time to wallow about having missed the latest home football game because I’m busy researching hostels, intericty transportation and things to do at our destination. And once I’m on the trip, my mind continues to be fully occupied 24/7, as I figure out how to navigate bus and subway systems, look for places to eat, and take in the sites. Traveling is also just plain fun and exciting. So even in moments of downtime on the road, I’m more inclined to just enjoy where I’m at and who I’m with, instead of moping about where I’m not or pining after who isn’t there.
  3. Write a blog post. Here, the benefits are four-fold. First, I get the cathartic release of unleashing all my thoughts, feelings, and observations about this strange new world of mine. Second, producing good content can eat up an entire day, if I want/need it to. Third, blogging allows me to reflect on why I’m here in the first place and gets me to remember all the cool, kick-ass stuff I’ve been doing (whenever I feel a wave of homesickness coming on, usually it’s partially because I haven’t posted something in awhile). Finally, sharing what I’m up to with friends and family back home not only helps them stay in the know, but also prompts them to comment with words of encouragement and admiration, which always keep me going during the low moments.
  4. Reach out to the local expact community. Ulsan and most other cities in Korea offer a pretty extensive variety of groups and activities for foreigners, all of which are great for meeting new people and exploring uncharted parts of the city/country. It’s with my fellow expats that I’m able to vent my way through periods of culture shock and mourn the absence of good Mexican and Italian food. By sharing a story about what happened in class earlier that day and recounting personal anecdotes about our friends and loved ones from home, we’ve begun to make a new little family of our own; which, of course, is no substitute for the real thing, but it goes a long way towards providing a sense of comfort, familiarity and belonging in a world that other times seems to be full of discomfort, unfamiliarity, and looks of wait,-you’re-not-from-here.
  5. Stick to a routine. Similar to the above point, establishing a rhythm to my days and nights gives me a taste of normalcy. I don’t adhere to a strict schedule or do exactly the same thing every day, but there is an overall flow. It took some effort and it didn’t happen right away, but I’m starting to hit my daily-life stride. Now, when something changes or doesn’t go as expected, I’m less and less inclined to hop on the next plane home because I still have the rest of the day to rely on.
  6. Skype or text via Kakao Talk with friends and family. Not a day goes by that I don’t talk to someone from back home. Ok, fine, it’s usually my mom. Call me a wuss or a momma’s boy if you want, but I won’t apologize for loving my mother. I also talk frequently with my sister, dad, and a handful of friends, which makes me feel like I’m not totally out of the loop and re-emphasizes the fact that they really are just a text or phone call away.
  7. Immerse further into my new surroundings. Ironically, sometimes the best cure for a bout of homesickness is to sit down for a meal at the nearest Korean restaurant, not at Pizza Hut. By exposing myself to more Korean food, language and people, I find myself learning more about the culture and seeing greater possibilities for how I really could call this place home for the next year. Korean people are always quick to validate and applaud my efforts, too. I may not deserve their praise most of the time, but I take it nonetheless and save it for later use as a homesickness antidote. ‘Funny…sometimes we have to run towards the things that scare us the most.

Being homesick sucks. And I can easily see how the feeling would eat me alive if I were to let it. But I won’t.  I can choose to change my attitude and improve my mood anytime I want by deploying one or several of the above strategies. Some smart-alic person once said, “If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.” When I’m homesick, I don’t like where I am. I agree that am clearly not a tree. I can move. So I will.

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