Look people, Korea is different. There is no other way that I can say that. It is something that I find quite difficult to explain other than just saying, it’s different. It’s different food, different people, and a completely different culture to what you know as a South African. I am someone who can adjust to a new environment quite quickly, that’s just how I was raised, but I have no problem admitting that this was particularly difficult.
Only when you are thousands of kilometers away from home, you truly find a new appreciation for the small things. Like the food, our culture, because let’s face it – you can only really be coloured in South Africa. Anywhere else in the world, no one really knows what that means, or how proud we are of our “colouredness”. What it means to speak Afrikaans, a language so dear to my heart (and a lot of my blog will be in my Mother tongue).
My first two weeks to a month here were the hardest. I really struggled to adjust. I moved into my apartment, which I really like. Koreans like to sleep on the floor, so I had no bed, just a thin mattress. That was the first thing where I said, oh hell no. If there is one thing I will not compromise on, it’s sleeping comfortably for the next year. My body is like a chocolate soufflé. If it does not warm up at the right temperature, it will fall flat. So I asked my school for a bed. Other than that, I had a TV, washing machine, more than enough closet space, a one plate stove and a fridge. Everything else I had to buy. I didn’t mind, because I felt it is my place and I am going to make it my own. So I set out to buy furniture, a microwave, an oven, and other little things I thought I might need and really made my place my own. I also felt that I have so much to be grateful for, I have been blessed my entire life. The previous teacher in my place, Christine, prepared me so well because she was still here when I arrived. Even after she left, we still keep in touch and she checks in that I am okay (the kind of people I like to surround myself with!). She showed me around Yeongsan, left me all her bedding and many other things, and so I figured, I can leave everything for the next teacher too. Thanks Christine, without you I am not so sure how I would have survived my first couple of days here!
But really settling in to my new environment and adjusting to my surroundings I found very hard to do. The culture shock was nothing I could ever prepare for. My fellow expats who have moved to South Korea will understand what I mean when I say this place is “different”. The “Korean Surprise” for example, is a real thing. If you are a person who loves to plan ahead, South Korea is not the place for you. Nothing gets told to you until the last minute!
When I used public transport in Korea for the first time, naturally I was nervous. I was headed to Miryang, about 40 minutes from where I live. Lucky for me, the Koreans seem very considerate to my brown skin and understand that I am not from here, so until this day, I could swear I heard the Korean guy who works in the station come out and yell “Ek sê! Miryang!” while pointing at the bus when it arrived. I could be wrong.
If you know me, you know that shoes are my weakness. At my school (as is the case at several others) you have to wear very plain, basic shoes. When have you ever seen me wearing boring shoes? This was an adjustment. You also don’t wear shoes in your apartment, you leave them at the door. I bought colourful socks to walk around with in my apartment. I will get my way, somehow.
The food was also something I struggled with in the beginning, I mean, how much rice can you really eat? But I have grown to absolutely love Korean food! It tastes very different to what I know, but I have learnt to really appreciate the differences. What really helped me was my one colleague, Ms Son, who I now also consider a friend. She teaches me so much about life as a Korean, and every Tuesday, she and I slip out for lunch to try out a new restaurant. Every week gets better! I also live in a very small town where there is very little to get enthusiastic about, and it can get really lonely, but when I am anywhere else for too long, I actually find myself missing my little town and my own space, and calling Yeongsan home. That took a while.
I guess my point is, that I soon realized it really doesn’t matter how little I know about the transport or where to go and how. It doesn’t matter that I absolutely hate kimchi (mostly because I don’t do cabbage) or that the soup is more broth than soup (something I have grown to love). It doesn’t matter that I don’t get to wear my favourite shoes at work or that people don’t always understand me. Nothing matters besides you growing as a person. Because if you are an expat getting lost in a city, or finding yourself experience things you have never experienced before, it is what is shaping you into a better, stronger human being. Also, I am me, and I will survive.
Before I end off today, I want to thank you, my South African people, whether I know you or not (most of you I don’t know), for keeping me entertained every day. You have helped me in this adjustment process. You see, I follow South African news online (News24, Netwerk24 and my favourite, Die Son), and the ratchet comments that some of you make on there really keep me going. There really are times where I have to remind myself that I am the daughter of a King and it is not princess-like to climb through the computer back to South Africa to tell you – no, to plead with you, to please, PLEASE, for the love of all things internet, STOP SAYING DUMB SH*T. But thank you, South Africa, thank you for keeping me going.
You are still my people and I miss you and all your crazy.
See you next time, and thank you for taking the time to catch up with me!"Arriving in Korea: Adjusting to my new environment",