In no particular order…
1. The language barrier. It’s not even that it’s necessarily an issue in getting around or getting what you need, but now I’ve been in Korea for 3 months, I feel incredibly ignorant at not being able to have a proper conversation in this language.
2. Establishing your friends and family. While some people will embark on a similar teaching experience in a group, or with an organised activity/ training early in their stay, I came to my hagwon (private school) with no contacts, and an awareness I was the only ‘Westerner’ in the institution. I was super lucky when I met my best friend here as our bosses organised we go for our medicals together. There’s nothing like bonding over urine samples and blood tests!
3. Realising that not everyone you meet will be as cool as you want them to be. I guess I had a crazy idealised view of what my time in Korea was going to be like, and that every person I met was going to be incredibly interesting. Mainly because they made an active decision to leave their homes too, so we would have an automatic common point of interest. Unfortunately, I was being naive and really, often that is where the commonality starts and ends. I’ve met some weird people. And some unkind people. And some sleezy people. And some people who are really impressed with themselves. HOWEVER, I’ve also met some of the best people I’ve ever known, so I really can’t complain.
4. Missing home. I never saw myself as one of those people that would. But to be honest, sometimes I miss that bed, and the bath, and the comfort of knowing those people around you truly love you. I like to claim that I am NOT materialistic (although I miss my wardrobe!), and I’ve never really missed a place so much in my previous travels or university years, just the people that make that particular time and place special.
5. Food and drink. With my very sensitive geographic tongue (which refuses to consume any spice without some swelling) moving to an Asian country was always going to an interesting leap. This problem teams rather well with that language barrier, as you will rarely see a menu with a description in English. And while I can ask ‘is this dish spicy?’ ‘i-um shing maem na yo’ (이 음 직 맵 나 요 I think…) the Koreans idea of ‘not spicy’ still burns my tongue off. I have consumed about 10 tons of bread since my arrival.
6. Clothing sizes and availability. Well, I never thought I’d be classed as big, anywhere in the world. I don’t profess to be a skinny-minnie, but the sizes here don’t half make me feel huge. I cannot even purchase a bra.
7. Understanding a new and very different ettiquette. Bowing. Handing over anything with your left hand touching your right elbow. Receiving it with two hands. Waiting for the oldest person to eat before you can start, and stopping eating when they do. I am constantly learning new ways in which I can be offensive completely by accident.
8. Having to work for a living. I know this is just a shock for me, and it would be a universal problem no matter what country I was in. But being a teacher is exhausting, it truly is. And practically speaking, it’s not easy to sort out any work-related problem when no-one else speaks your language.
9. Missing out on EVERYTHING back home. New bands. My close friend’s baby’s birth. Friends going through tough times and good times. Nights out and wishing I was in the pictures when I see them on facebook. It really can be tough.
10. Christmas. I don’t really know what to say about this, as I have no idea what will happen. It’s approaching though, and I am aware it will be a low point for many of us, here. I’ve never been TOO excited about Christmas and at home we’ve never gone over the top. Nobody wants to spend Christmas without their nearest and dearest though. So we’ve vowed to be together, a Korean family ^^