It’s been 6 months since I landed back on American soil. A lot has happened in those 6 months. My taste buds have been reunited with American cuisine. I’ve been able to use a grown-up sized towel instead of one most of us are used to using in the kitchen, and I’ve been able to communicate.
I’ve gotten an array of questions over the last 6 months. Questions like, “Were you able to communicate with the natives?”, “What was the most exciting thing you did?” and the oh-so-popular “Did you eat dog?” But one question has definitely been the most popular. Increasingly popular the longer I’ve been back.
“Do you miss living in Korea?”
At the 6-month mark, my answer has yet to vary: “I don’t miss living in Korea as much as I miss living abroad.” While Korea definitely has its perks—amazing shopping, adorable children, cheap and good tasting food—I feel I experienced most of what the country had to offer.
While I know some ask this question because they want to live vicariously through my experiences, few ask because they have always desired to take the leap to live abroad and have yet to do so.
To those who have ever considered living abroad, my advice to you would be DO IT. Embrace adventure, take a risk, jump off the cliff (well, the metaphorical cliff, not an actual cliff).
Here are a few of the not-so-obvious reasons I think you should live abroad.
It helps you understand how to relate to immigrants in your own country.
Signs that read “FOREIGNER” in Korea might as well read “The only person in our office who speaks English.” Any time I had to visit the doctor or the bank or the tax office, I was forever grateful for the one person who, in their best attempt, tried desperately to speak to me in a language I could understand. Feeling insecure in my lack of ability to communicate in their language, I appreciated the process: Collectively we would piece together the English they knew with the limited Korean I knew and try to solve the presenting problem. Hand gestures never helped; more often than not, they just confused those around me. Each experience left me more exhausted than the last, but with a greater compassion toward those living in America who don’t speak English. It is incredibly difficult to live in a foreign land, confused and desiring assistance, without a way to express what you are feeling, and it helps you better understand how to have compassion for those you encounter in your own land.
It gives you the opportunity to meet people from all over the world.
Living abroad has become an increasingly popular thing among the younger generations. The desire to travel and “experience life” is appealing and exciting. And for some, the lack of employment in their own country has forced them to seek a living elsewhere. During my time in Korea, I met people from all over the world. I met people on mission from England, Melbourne and South Africa. I met teachers from New Zealand, Canada and the Philippines. I met graduate students from Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan. The list goes on. I can’t even recall all the new countries I learned about as I met and interacted with new friends. It was a wonderful opportunity. And I’ll tell you a secret: People who travel are the most fascinating people you will ever encounter.
It increases your dependence on the Lord.
At the point in my life when I was toggling between going to Korea or staying in America, I realized something about my faith. There had never been a moment in my life where I was standing on the edge of a cliff about to fall, and my only choice was to trust that the Lord would catch me. There had been moments when I was tested, when I was shaken to see if I would be obedient, but I was still desperately seeking to control my own life. I hadn’t surrendered myself 100 percent to God. When I made the decision to go to Korea, I sold all my belongings. I even sold my car and consolidated my entire life into two suitcases. I stood at the edge of that cliff, knowing without a doubt in my mind that God already had everything planned and was ready to show me just how much He could do in me and through me once I released myself to him. He has done and continues to do abundantly more than I could have ever imagined.
It spurs growth in your relationship with God.
Prior to going abroad, I attended a mega church in Dallas with thousands of other believers on any given Sunday. But the church I called home in Korea consisted of about 25 people, and only 6 spoke English. The church dynamic was night-and-day different. The teaching was different. The worship was different. I was completely out of my comfort zone, but God used that experience to mix things up. He pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of. He spoke to me in new ways. My faith was challenged. My knowledge of the word was challenged, and each of those things connected me to Him more and more. It created an intimacy I had never experienced before. And after having tasted it, I continue to long for more.
It exposes you to a different way of living, teaching you grace and patience for those who are not like you.
With an expectation that I would have some culture shock to adjust to, I definitely wasn’t prepared for just how different things would be. As you learn how to adjust to the way another culture lives, you will also learn how to be patient in understanding their point of view. It will force you to have grace in accepting the differences, and even when you don’t understand something, you will learn how to be patient through the transition.
Living abroad will give you the opportunity to experience many new and exciting things. If you’re brave enough, you’ll eat crazy food, sleep on the floor with random strangers and live life on edge, but it will also gift you with things that will mature you as a person, strengthen your depth and shape who you are.