When I was in my 20’s I fantasized about moving abroad. I dreamed about moving to a Spanish-speaking country, spending my days at the beach, dancing my nights to salsa or bachata, and regaining fluency of the first language I ever learned. I spent so much time researching ways to move abroad. Looking for companies or people that could help me achieve my dream. I didn’t know what to look for or who to ask and I cursed myself for not learning about the wonderful world of study abroad until after college. I would start applications for jobs in the Dominican Republic, or Spain, or Colombia, but I never got around to completing them and taking the first step towards my dream.
The truth was: I was afraid to move out on my own. How do 20 years olds do that anyway? I always commend the young people I meet in my life that just go for it. I didn’t have it in me. I was freakin’ scared! I wanted it so bad, but the world of the unknown always won and I never submitted any of the applications I started. I did take baby steps in the right direction by moving around to different states in my 20’s and 30’s (VA→ DC→ NYC→ LA). Still, I never let go of my dream (and fears) to live abroad.
So what motivated me to finally move out of the US at 32? Of course, heartbreak. That’ll do it. The break up sucked and unavoidable circumstances had me reliving it for some time afterwards. I just wanted an escape. I needed time away from the places and things that reminded me of hurtful memories. And I wanted to do something great for myself. I deserved it! I deserved to be happy. So I told myself the same thing I told myself when I decided my big 2013 move to New York City, “Go. You can always come back if you don’t like it, but you WILL regret never going.” So in August 2019, I left.
I spent 13 months in Seoul, South Korea. Not at all the Spanish-speaking, salsa-dancing, beachy country I had envisioned all these years, but the graduate student loans (I hate those so much) looming over me scared me in that direction. Life in South Korea was good. The teaching job was not bad and it allowed me to live comfortably and pay my monthly student loans. I was also able to save money on top of that. I was able to visit Japan and Taiwan before Covid-19 hit. I also felt safe in South Korea once the virus did make it worldwide.
So what did I enjoy about my time living in South Korea? A lot, but here’s a few of my favorites.
I loved living in a big city with affordable rent. My studio was small (not tiny), but it had everything I needed. Minus an oven, I sure did miss having one during my time in Seoul.
I loved the convenient and reliable public transportation. Buses and trains that could take me anywhere in the city. The bus drivers scared me sometimes, but they were always on time.
I loved convenient stores with outside seating so you and your friends could sit out all night and drink cheap beers or soju (Korean alcohol) while people-watching in the busiest of streets.
I loved Korean fashion! If you want to see some of the best dressed women and men, you have to go to Seoul.
I can’t forget about the food. Korean BBQ is my favorite by far, but there is also kimchi jjigae, samgyetang, dakgalbi, bibimbap, and gimbap! You have to try them all. I probably ate gimbap for lunch every day for a month, maybe three.
The nightlife was poppin’ pre-Covid. My favorite places to party were in Hongdae and Itaewon. I spent plenty of weekends watching the sunrise with friends at bars there. And yes, I even made Korean friends that spoke fluent Spanish and danced salsa and bachata with me! Who woulda thunk it?!
What I loved most about living in Seoul were the friends that I made. The people that helped me while on my journey. The ones that got me through the hard times that come with living so far away from home. The ones that introduced me to K-Pop (no, I didn’t know about it before moving). Those I spent holidays with and traveled around Korea with. Friends that still write in our old group chats so I still feel included even though I’m no longer living in Seoul. They were the best part of my life there. I am grateful to have met them.
So, yes, I am so glad I moved to South Korea. No, it wasn’t my dream country and I realized halfway into my life there that I would not stay long-term, but I finally made my dream of living abroad come true! I did it. Even through my fears, I spent a year, on my own, in a different country. And I want to do it again! Two months into my move back to Los Angeles, and I’m still dreaming about it. Maybe it’s because I’m crazy, or restless, or bored, or any other reason that doesn’t really matter, but I want to do it again! And maybe I will! Because if there’s anything we have learned during this pandemic, it's that life is short. We’ve got to wash our hands, wear our masks, practice social distancing, and do whatever the heck makes us happy in our lives. Right now! I definitely don’t want to wait until my 40’s to do this again.
So now I ask you what are your dreams? What thing will make you happy? I say you make a plan and just do it already! Fears and all.