Homesickness hits everyone in different ways. For myself it’s shortly after I move somewhere new. A crushing panic usually when I’m alone late at night about whether or not I’ve picked the right path to be on and why on Earth did I move so far away? The difference in smells and sounds usually keep me up so I toss and turn and regret everything. But by morning I’m able to pull myself together and head out into the world. It was awful my first couple of weeks in college with the sounds of the CTA outside my dorm room, being in a city for the first time, having a roommate for the first time. It was a lot. But I adjusted. I threw myself into everything and stuck it out and I had an amazing experience.
I’m an introvert. I like listening to people and I don’t like loud clubs or bars where I can’t hear anyone and I’m not a fan of large groups. I’m a person who can spend three hours at a cafe catching up with a single friend and that’s a delight for me. I think knowing someone nearby can be a huge help when moving somewhere new. When I moved to Chicago I knew my aunt was in the suburbs if anything bad happened and she gave me the number of her best friend who lived closer. When I moved to South Korea I knew a couple people in the country who I’d gone to school with. But I didn’t rely on only these people.
I threw myself into events, in college we had a week of welcome event programs in my building and at my school where I could meet other freshman, and then I joined and attended clubs which allowed me to meet and get to know people outside of my classes and major.
Once I was in South Korea I attended the teachers party that Korvia offers at the beginning of the semester. I was introduced to teachers that lived in my area (or as close as you can in the boonies) and it’s where I met Nathalie. I’ve attended every party since I’ve arrived in Korea and nearly without fail I meet someone new who I click with and am more than happy to go visit. I also attended orientation and met a ton of really cool people there who live all over Korea.
Korea works very well with facebook, nearly every area of the country has it’s own facebook group. Larger cities can even be broken up into smaller groups. There’s hiking groups, tabletop gaming groups, pokemon go groups, tea groups, foodie groups, tour groups all sorts of places and opportunities to meet new people and make friends.
When you move somewhere new it’s an amazing time to try new things and to experience a new culture. Even if it’s within your own country. Chicago’s culture was vastly different from the culture I’d grown up in. Chicago had so many different things to try, there were so many different festivals, places to go and events I was almost never bored.
South Korea was brand new to me. I’d known practically nothing about it before I left, other than maybe a single K-drama I’d watched with a friend and k-pop that was no longer in style and a few types of food. I studied the alphabet before I left so I was able to slowly stare at signs and try to sound out what they said. Everything was a new adventure. There was so many new foods to try. Half of which seem inexplicably spicy to me. But others I’m glad despite their titles I tried. Like pigs feet (jokbal) is something I’ve had no interest in eating at home but in Korea really love. (The difference between the two is huge, in the USA they’re usually pickled and floating in a jar like a weird science experiment and in Korea they’re sliced so they don’t look like the foot and smell faintly sweet of cinnamon and brown sugar). I love going on teachers trips to new places and going to festivals or visiting friends in their city in Korea. In my rural mountain town getting around logistically is a pain, but now that I’m moving to a city again I’m so excited. Everything is going to be new, it’s a place I’ve never been before and there’s so many new restaurants to try, cafes to visit, events to attend and I’ve already joined the new Facebook group.
Holidays can be the hardest. When I was in college they were easier. I was able to get Thanksgiving and Christmas off to go home. I’d spend Thanksgiving cooking up a storm with my aunt and cousins and Christmas with my parents. My birthday was easier too. I could decide what I wanted to do and let my friends know and they’d join me on an adventure or invite me out to some special one on one high tea. In South Korea it’s much harder. The holidays I get off are different and I don’t get the ones that matter to me off. I can’t go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Thanksgiving doesn’t fall anywhere near any Korean holiday and Christmas is a day where I only get the 25th off. So usually I end up celebrating with people on the nearest weekend. I’ll go somewhere where someone has cooked up something. Several restaurants offer holiday meals and depending on the day I want to go they might have availability for a friend and I. Or a friend or group might be having a get together and I can go and help cook. This helps a lot.
As for birthdays…birthdays are important to me. Some of my friends go all out and throw big parties where they plan out every detail like I use to do in Chicago and invite everyone out. But my birthday falls around vacation season so there’s a good chance my friends are leaving the country, just got back or busy. And where I lived it was a bit awkward, students and coworkers asked when my birthday was many times but my birthday fell upon the end of the semester and thus would be the one birthday not celebrated at school. Which can be a bit rough. For the last two years I’ve been stateside with family which has been a nice difference then singing to myself in my apartment over a cake that’s not nearly as good as they are back home.
Here’s what I suggest you do. Go out and celebrate or have people over to celebrate. There’s nothing worse then everyone forgetting your birthday and spending it home alone, same for your favorite family holidays. See what’s going on around you and join some event, meet new people or invite people over to you. Everyone will be much happier celebrating together than being at home and you’ll feel better for it. I love Halloween so I focus on making it a fun cultural exchange with my students and they always love everything I prepare.
If you want to make this work you can’t allow yourself to wallow in the oh woe is me moments. Get out of the house, go for adventures, do your hobbies! If you see something that sparks interest in you then go for it. Take dancing classes, language classes, learn something new. No matter where in the world you are there’s going to be something you can do to help fight off FOMO (fear of missing out). My rural village made it hard to get out, but I played badminton with my coworkers once and week, met with a friend nearby to eat and catch up, met with another to study Korean (I’m a good student but unable to actually use it in practice ), and I got a ton of reading, writing and watching TV shows I wanted to watch. I also played a ton of video games because I had the time and would get out and about on the weekends.
Don’t go home a lot. In college I moved far enough away that I couldn’t get home easily. I still could throw in the towel and book a bus or plane ticket home, but it just logically didn’t make sense. In Korea it’s even harder. You’ve got to stick it out to get through your homesickness. My friends that dropped out at a higher rate were the ones that went home every weekend and didn’t do anything in college. My friends who’ve cut their contracts short and ran home didn’t put any effort into finding reasons to stay and gave up because they couldn’t get over that first bump of culture shock. Give it a try, challenge yourself to stay the year if you can and throw yourself into being an active member of a community that you’re interested in. Who knows, by the end of the year you may have forgotten all of your homesickness.