May 2, 2012
4 Ways Expat Life Will Change You
Hello ladies and gentlemen. How are you all doing?
As you probably know, at least if you read my blog fairly regularly-ish, I’m an expat. I even write about being an expat occasionally and the challenges, frustrations, and obvious lifestyle changes that are associated with being a British guy living in South Korea.
I’ve been doing the whole expat thing since June 2009, and plan on doing so until March 2013, when I’ll embark on my round the world trip. After the trip? I’ll more than likely become an expat again – and more than likely do so in South Korea once more.
Three years in Korea is pretty long to have been in the country, considering that a lot of folks quit after a year. As such, I occasionally get people asking for advice on what they can expect as an expat.
I mean, you’re bound to go through some personality changes and personal growth if you just up and move to a new country on your own, right?
1. More Adventurous
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned being an expat, it’s that you don’t get anywhere if you constantly say “no” all the time. I’d be living on a diet of pizza, miming absolutely everything and just sitting in my own apartment night after night if I never tried anything new.
Being an expat teaches you how to be more adventurous. It teaches you how to start saying yes, how to expand your horizons, and you’ll do things that you’ve never, ever done before.
|Always say yes to abusing children’s playground facilities.|
Because I’ve opened myself and said “yes”, I’ve eaten intestines, sang my heart out at karaoke (believe me, if you’ve heard my singing voice, that was one major – and justified – fear to conquer), climbed mountains, experienced life with a normal Korean family and spoken to strangers in a language that I’m nowhere near fluent in.
Luckily I’ve yet to have someone try and pop a cap in my ass.
2. More Confident
Confidence is a quality that ties in closely with adventurousness. Most confident people are fairly adventurous, and vice versa, at least in my own experience.
Before coming to teach in Korea, I’d never really interacted with kids before. Well, not since I was one myself. The youngest person in my family is only six or seven years younger than me, so I never really had the experience of having a little cousin, brother or sister that I would take care of.
After a couple of years teaching and doing something that initially scared the daylights out of me, I’ve gotten a whole new level of confidence I’ve never had before – and it’s all from doing something that’s completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve upped and gone on solo trips that would have been mere fantasies before. I’ve travelled to Turkey, Lithuania, Taiwan, Australia, Poland, Malaysia and the Czech Republic solo as a result of the new found confidence I’ve gained with my expat life.
|Inside a super modern mosque in Malaysia’s Putrajaya City|
I can talk to strangers more comfortably, and I’m not afraid to stand up for myself either. The confidence I’ve gained from my expat life will no doubt help me when I’m on the road next year.
You also need a level of confidence if you’re to survive and, you know, not die living in a foreign country – a challenge often faced by Sally of Unbrave Girl, another funny lady living in China that looks rather ravishing in pink pleather.
3. More Patient
If there’s one thing that you need oodles of when you’re an expat, it’s patience. I’ve had classes of kids that have been pulling me in all directions and trying to rip out my arm hair before, yet I’ve barely broken a sweat about it. There have been crossed wires with my boss, and times when I’ve been denied services that Koreans get simply for being foreign.
“You want that bank card? Sorry, no. You’re foreign. It’s a magic bank card reserved for wizards and Koreans.”
At least that’s what it felt like.
|There are days when you’ll feel just like this poor penguin.|
A large part of why I’ve become more patient is that I’m nowhere near fluent in Korean. You try getting angry or shouting at somebody in a language they don’t understand. It’s completely and utterly pointless. If you were to yell and start getting demanding, it’s more than likely that nobody would have a clue what you’re talking about or why you’re so mad.
They’ll quite possible just smile and cuss you off through their teeth.
So why get bothered in the first place? Take a deep breath, put it down to cultural differences, and then go and bitch about it later with a few friends who’ve had the exact same thing happen to them whilst stuffing your craw with delicious food and drink, and forget it the next day.
Or you can do what Spencer and Maggie of Destination Exploration did and just relax, enjoy nature, and count yourself lucky that you’re essentially a very well-paid babysitter for a bunch of little cutie pies.
Well, if you’re teaching English to little kids, that is.
4. More Tolerant
You can assume a lot of things about a place until you go and experience it yourself. The same was true of me when I lived in the UK.
I assumed that Americans were all loud and obnoxious. I assumed that Korean students were all extremely polite and studious. I also assumed that I would tower over the average Korean in terms of my height. I’m 173cm and slightly shorter than average here.
I don’t know if it’s the expat lifestyle, or being a teacher and being confronted with a lot of ignorant things that kids say out of sheer innocence, but I’ve found that I’ve become a lot more tolerant to different kinds of people.
|Fried chicken solves ALL problems. Never forget this.|
That’s not to say that I still can’t bitch with the best of them. I mean, there’s no “ism” associated with hating on somebody’s awful fashion sense, right?
You’ll meet people from all over the world and, unless you open your hearts and minds to them and throw your pre-conceptions out of the window, then you’re going to be living a miserable, friendless existence.
After all, if things aren’t going the way you want them to, all you need is some tasty food, a couple of drinks and some friends to laugh about it with. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
So there you have it folks! Now I want to hear from you! Are you or have you been an expat before? What do you make of the points that I’ve raised here? Are there any you’d add? Let us know in the comments below, or shout out on Twitter or Facebook.