There is something inherently glamorous about people that live abroad from their home countries. I know that I put my friends and family on a pedestal because of it. How can life be difficult living in Paris or Seoul or Tokyo?
Well… Life is life wherever you go. You might leave your country but not who you are. People often think living abroad is a way to escape their problems back home or a way to reinvent who they are. While its true that becoming an expat will change you, it will not change key traits in your personality. Rather, it will enhance them. If you are a loner, expat life will turn you into a hermit. If you like to party, expat life might turn you into a homegrown version of Lindsay Lohan. Expats need to be careful about the choices they make in the first few weeks and months of their transition. If you don’t prepare yourself, life will get really hard very quickly.
For me, the past 10 months have been a roller coaster of changes, experiences, and personal growth. I’ve struggled with severe homesickness brought on by not one, but three cases of food poisoning and the loss of a key friendship in my host country. I also have been very lucky that I’ve developed a network of friends to help me through the difficult times.
Initially, I was on vacation mode. This lasted around three to four months. I went out almost every night. I did not cook at home and ate food that was not part of my normal diet e.g. fried, fatty foods and lots of alcohol. I also found myself sleep deprived. I stayed out late and got up early. I was exhausted and didn’t know it. Around mid fall I stated getting sick, a lot. I had cold after cold along with several bouts of food poisoning. I gained weight and was out of shape. In short, I was a mess!
I left Korea for three weeks but my party-party life style continued. To make matters worse after two bouts of food poisoning, Europe was the perfect excuse to eat all the food I had been missing in Korea. How can you avoid carbohydrates and alcohol in Europe? And why would you?
In March, I joined a MeetUp group for a visit to Sokcho and Seoraksan National Park for a three day exploration of the area. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be my breaking point. The trip started out great. I highly recommend this part of Korea. The people are always friendly and the food interesting. I had more than my fair share of seafood, most of which was delicious. Seoraksan was breathtaking. I cannot express the beauty of the Korean landscape. The mountains still had lingering snow coupled with beautiful, crisp sunny weather. Saturday night, it all fell apart.
One of my trip mates, a girl from the Czech Republic, and I found ourselves violently ill by Saturday night with severe diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. To this day we are not sure which culprit sent us into our downward spiral. The three suspects are: homemade gimbap, Korean sashimi, or one, yes only one, raw oyster. Regardless of blame, I ended up in the doctor’s office twice. My symptoms lasted well over two weeks. Two rounds of antibiotics, an IV, the Korean version of Pepto-Bismol, Smecta, and various other medications could not alleviate my symptoms. The damage went beyond the physical. I could not eat Korean food. Psychologically I was damaged.
Yet, out of the darkness comes the light. This was the wake up call I needed. Since my illness I’ve slowed my life style to a normal pace. Most meals I cook and eat at home. I started walking to work and joined a yoga class. I also avoid going out on school nights and limit drinking to one to two days a week. My body is thanking me. Slowly I’m getting back in shape, but most importantly I am feeling normal. I’ve also learned to value the friends that matter and let go of the ones that don’t.
Life is not a roller coaster of adventure anymore. This expat is no longer on vacation. She is here to live and work and looks forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning. Life is not glamorous but it’s livable.
Now, about my upcoming trip to Vietnam and Cambodia…