We did a lot of research before coming to South Korea, and we felt pretty confident that we were prepared and that nothing would go wrong. First mistake.
Feelings of confidence always have a tendency to be knocked down a peg or two by the cosmic balance system. We moved to Korea with our two cats, Artemis and Kit. As soon as we stepped off the plane, they were quarantined. We were told they couldn’t come into the country and would have to be sent back to the states. We were picked up by our director, and had to leave them behind at the airport with a vague explanation that they would be held.
In the meantime, the apartment we were given had no hot water in February. In Korea, hot water running through pipes under the floors is how most apartments are heated. We had to sleep in our winter coats as our apartment reached temperatures of 9 degrees Celcius. We had to take cold showers and live in frozen misery for a week, huddled for warmth.
In order to finally get the cats sent back to the states, we had to borrow our Head Instructor’s cell phone during breaks in our training to call the holding facility. They were in quarantine for over a week and it cost us a pretty penny to get them out and on a plane back to the states.
After the cats were back in Oklahoma and the hot water was fixed in our apartment, we felt a bit better. About a week later, we were informed late one night that we would be flying out the next morning to Japan to get our visas. That was all that we were told. Not how to get to the airport, how to get to the Korean Consulate in Japan, and there had been no effort to reserve a hotel for us to stay at while we were there for two days. We were told that another teacher would be going with us, Andrea. The three of us stayed up almost all night trying to figure out all the details of the trip and caught an airport shuttle at five a.m. the next morning.
And who could forget the North Korean threats of ‘bringing a sea of fire’ down upon Seoul last year when we first moved here?! We were not yet used to such threats, and it took some time for us to become accustomed to the DPRK’s idle instigation.
So, how did we not lose our minds???
There are some basic things we had to learn fairly quickly.
- Things rarely go according to plan, so be flexible. There will be many things that will simply be out of your control while living or traveling abroad. We thought we were easy going and quite adaptable before moving here, but boy were we wrong! Every country has its own way of doing things and you will have a much better experience if you are willing to accept that over which you have no control.
- Stop making so many plans! Learning to go more with the flow while living abroad has really helped us both. Before, we would plan and work really hard to ensure that everything worked out perfectly. So when plans would change last minute, which happens a lot here in Korea, we would get stressed after all the work put into making said plans. We eventually stopped making such rigid plans and instead learned to decide on a few particulars and then roll with the details and schedule. Many times we go to a new city or country with one or two basic requests and just see how the rest plays out. The added benefit of relaxation and spontaneity cannot be downplayed.
- Don’t panic! This is the surest way to ruin your time spent living abroad or traveling. No matter how uncomfortable the situation may be, it is important to keep a cool head. Our first month in Korea was pretty stressful, but nevertheless, we managed to deal with problems as they arose, and we learned a lot about ourselves in the process. There will be bumps along the way, but one of the biggest lessons we have learned is to accept these as part of the amazing adventure we’re on.
Have you ever been in a less than desirable situation in a foreign country? Do you have any tips of your own for when the sh!t hits the fan? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.