Here's the second part of all the lessons learned since moving abroad to live and teach English in Korea. If you haven't seen the first installment, check it out here.
6. You are your own best friend.
As I've mentioned in the past, the people you surround yourself with is an integral part of your future success and happiness. Take a second to ponder this question: who is the person you spend the most time with? Everyone's answer should be the same: yourself. This might not be the first answer that comes to mind, but regardless, it's an accurate statement.
Learning how to accept yourself and become more in tune with who you are is particularly difficult, at least it has been for me. While living on my own here in Korea, I've had ample time to grapple with my own insecurities and self-doubt. By no means has it been easy, but it has been a valuable lesson. Even though I still have a long way to go, I feel that I'm trending in the right direction. There are many people out there who haven't taken much time to figure themselves out. This is a vital aspect of self-development and growth. It's a bit ironic that spending more time discovering and listening to yourself ultimately helps you have better relationships with others.
7. Don't trust your expectations.
Expectations. As humans, it's part of our thought process to think about or plan for the future. This can create many issues in our daily lives. Attempting to turn off or at least ignore our expectations can often feel like an uphill battle.
As I got everything in order to move to Korea, of course I began envisioning what day-to-day life would be like. This simultaneously excited and worried me. The fact of the matter is the reality was completely different from my expectations. Nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience, especially not my expectations.
What we imagine happening in our minds is often vastly different from what actually takes place. One way to combat our expectations is attempting to stay in the present moment. Our expectations or future plans become less apparent in our current state. As many of us know, putting too much focus on the future causes anxiety. Even if our expectations are still in the forefront of our thoughts, we can learn to distrust what these thoughts are attempting to tell us. It's funny to realize that what sets us (humans) apart from other organisms (consciousness/ability to predict the future) can also become a major hindrance.
8. We are so &$!%ing lucky.
After being away from home, somewhere I was dying to get away from, I realized how lucky and fortunate I am. Living in a foreign country does that to you. Think about it. If you were born in a middle-class family in America (or another western nation), you essentially already won the life lottery. Just being born in a place like this automatically gives you vastly more opportunities than most people in the world.
Since being in Korea, I now understand just how global the English language has become. If English wasn't my native language, I would have been completely out of contention to apply for the teaching program that assisted me in getting hired here in Korea. The fact that I was born in this place at this time is completely by chance. When you start thinking like this, your mind is opened to just how many opportunities are out there to be seized.
In addition, I'd like to also point out that America, as a whole, is much more progressive on social issues and injustices. South Korea is a nation that has, in recent years, seen rapid growth in infrastructure and technology, which has stimulated the economy to be one of the most productive in the world. It's astounding to see 50 million people living in this tiny country that has completely rebuilt itself after being decimated by The Korean War. This growth, however, has its costs. Korean society imposes enormous pressure on students, who attend school for up to 12 hours a day between regular classes and after-school "academies". An extreme importance is placed on exams, especially the Korean version of the SAT, which students are conditioned be believe will decide their entire future. Korean society also places a major emphasis on physical beauty, causing many Koreans to feel insecure about their appearance. This has resulted in a huge industry for cosmetics and plastic surgery (see my friend's blog post about plastic surgery in Korea). Moreover, much of the elderly population of Korea live at or below the poverty line. It's not uncommon to see an old Korean man or woman with a hunched back collecting cans and bottles for money. All these factors contribute to a sky-high suicide rate here in the land of the morning calm (see my friend's blog post about suicide in Korea). Seeing the dark side of Korea really puts things in perspective.
Indonesia is another place that has shown me just how lucky I am. I traveled here back in July during my summer vacation from teaching. While there, I was struck by both the beauty and the widespread poverty. Every day we encountered young Indonesian children trying to sell us bracelets or other inexpensive items. It was difficult to to turn these cute kids away. Something that was even sadder was the fact that they were reciting specific lines that someone was obviously teaching them with the goal of selling to foreigners. The nine months in Korea and the short time in Indonesia opened my eyes to how truly lucky I am. My level of gratitude and appreciation has grown like never before.
9. No one will do it for you.
This a valuable lesson, and I suppose it's one that I've been slowly learning over the past few years. This is related to #6, but I think this deserved its own part. With all the big steps in my life, I received help or assistance in some way or another, but the most important part has been the willingness to take action and fully commit.
This idea was certainly applied to my decision of moving to Korea for one year following college. This was the biggest risk that I've taken thus far in my life. I knew virtually nothing about Korea. I'd never even been to Asia. While applying for employment over here, I wasn't 100 percent certain I was even coming. Of all the decisions, ideas and paths I've taken, this was one that was completely on my own accord. I made it happen, and that was an empowering feeling. Sure, someone can persuade or guide you in a certain direction, but sooner or later you have to take the reigns. If you want to be a better person, you have to pursue it. It's on you.
10. We're too afraid of the future.
You hear it all the time. Someone sacrificing the here and now for some undetermined time in the future. We're all guilty of this. I know I am. It's a sad place to be. Now, I'm not saying that we should ignore our future plans or goals. I'm just saying that we should realize that putting too much faith into something that doesn't even exist yet is just madness.
One of my favorite quotes is at the end of the movie Blow (2001). Johnny Depp's character, George Jung, is reflecting on his turbulent life of crime and drugs, as he finds himself old, alone and in prison when he says:
"Life passes most people by while they're making grand plans for it."
This quote does a good job of summing up my thoughts on this topic. This is why, while being in Korea, I've really tried to use meditation as a way to appreciate and value the situation and life that I'm living right now. Essentially, I'm attempting to teach or condition myself to put less stake in the future. To me, it seems like the only rational decision. Ironically, thinking about death or the end of your life puts everything into clearer focus. What a shame it would be to realize at the moment of your death that you had fretted or worried about things that never happened or that didn't matter.
All of these lessons have culminated into one main takeaway: As long as I'm alive and breathing, my thirst for knowledge about myself and the world around me will never be quenched.
Break Your Boundaries.