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Does Moving to a Foreign Country Make You a Braver Person?

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

The thought of moving to a new country and starting over seems like a magical idea. In a way, it does feel like you’re starting a new life with a clean slate. You’re leaving behind your struggles and the plane ride to your new home will give you the escape that you need to forget about the things you struggled with at home. It’s a new place, a new environment, and a new me. At least, that’s what most of us think when we make our preparations to start our lives abroad.

The Diana that I was before I moved to South Korea was extremely unsure of herself. She was afraid to step out of her comfort zone and try new things. The idea of possibly failing at anything paralyzed her into never doing anything at all. She didn’t know how to start things and actually finish them and having more than one activity planned for an entire weekend was difficult and energy draining.

flower field
Beautiful flower field in Gyeongju.

To be honest, that Diana is still here. She shows up occasionally, like this weekend. I have been shut in my apartment since I came home from work on Friday night and will not be stepping out until I have to go to work on Monday morning. I used to think that was a problem, but you know what, I really needed the rest. I work with a lot of children all week long and by Friday night I am drained of energy and need some time away from people to recharge and prepare myself mentally for the following week.

My tiny apartment here in Busan has become my new comfort zone. Living in a country where I am not fluent in the language is scary for me. I am afraid to go out and find myself in a situation where I am misunderstood. What if I need help but I cannot communicate what has happened? This thought is enough to keep me in my apartment for a week. This, I know is easy to understand. But I am afraid of the things that I shouldn’t even be afraid of, like trying to order food at a restaurant and saying something wrong. Something as simple as ordering a coffee has given me so much anxiety that for a time, I stopped going to coffee shops altogether. My fear is coming across a person who will not be patient enough to wait for me to find the right words to communicate an order. This hasn’t happened to me, and it probably won’t because the people I have encountered have been kind and patient. A few weeks ago, I managed to communicate with a cab driver through gestures and the only 3 words I knew regarding directions, and he was able to easily find my neighborhood. So, what am I so afraid of?

As for starting things that I do not finish, well, this blog has been sitting here for almost three months without an update. And before that, it had been another three months without an update. Writing has been difficult. My workweek is pretty busy and by the time the weekend rolls around I have no interest in writing, I just want to stay in my pajamas, have food delivered, and watch BTS in the Soop for the 100th time.

When I moved here, I thought that many of these habits and fears of mine would disappear because of the new environment around me, but it’s easy to fall into a new comfort zone. I used to beat myself up for being too afraid to try something new. I felt like a failure for wanting to stay in. There is so much to see and so much to explore, so why am I hiding in my apartment?

I realized that it wasn’t my surroundings that had to change in order for me to become a better version of myself, it was my mentality.

In the past, everything seemed so big and stressful, so I started to break things down into smaller, more approachable tasks. I thought that maybe I should start with something that will make me feel good, so I decided to get my nails done. The other reason I wanted to get my nails done was because Christmas was approaching, and I would be spending it without my family. I thought a little pampering would cheer me up.

I searched for a nail salon on Naver, South Korea’s largest search engine, and I found an Instagram page that had cute nail designs that I liked. I sent a message in English, apologized because I did not know any Korean, and within a couple of hours I had a reply. The reply was in English but after a few messages back and forth the salon owner and nail technician confessed that she was using a translation app. So, we were both a little out of our comfort zones as we tried to communicate with someone who does not speak the same language. I ended up sending her a screenshot of one of the designs she had done before from her Instagram, made an appointment, and met her the next weekend. I will admit, the first ten minutes or so were awkward because we were both very quiet, but soon enough she started asking me short questions in English. I tried my best to reply in a couple of Korean words but apart from 네 and 엄마 보고싶어요, which is not even the grammatically correct way of saying “I miss my mom,” I was out of vocabulary to use. After that, we started using our translation apps. And guess what? Everything was okay. Actually, I am now one of her regulars and she quizzes me and speaks to me in Korean to help me learn. In return, I teach her English words and phrases. I think I was lucky enough to have found someone so kind. She made me feel comfortable and I will always be so grateful to her for that.

Leading up to the first appointment with her, I thought about canceling because I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and was afraid I would get lost on the way (which was impossible, the walk to the salon is a straight path why am I so crazy). When the time came for me to go, I took some deep breathes, put on my shoes, and walked out the door before I could change my mind. This may sound so dramatic to some of you, and I get it. These are things that shouldn’t be so taxing, but I struggle with some of the smaller things that other people would never think twice about. This was my first experience with a local upon my arrival, and this gave me the motivation to tackle another task: riding the public transportation.

Sunset in Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을).

I laugh now as I remember how afraid I was to ride the subway and the bus. I am from Palm Bay, Florida. It’s a very small city where I drove my car everywhere because a walk to the closest grocery store could take more than an hour. So not only did I have to figure out the transportation system, but I had to do it in a foreign country. The weekend I decided to venture outside of my neighborhood was the weekend after my birthday in January. I made plans with two friends from work. I did this on purpose because if I made plans with other people, then it would not be so easy to change my mind and cancel. Fortunately, the other girls were already familiar with the transportation system, so I just had to follow their lead. That was the weekend I finally got to explore Gamcheon Culture Village (감천문화마을).

My first weekend going out by myself was during the Lunar New Year. I decided at the last minute to go explore Gwangalli Beach and it has become my favorite place here in Busan. A few weeks ago, I finally ventured outside of Busan and explore the beautiful and historic city of Gyeongju. And a few weeks from now, I will finally be setting out to explore Seoul. In addition to these little trips here and there, I have also enrolled in online speaking courses to better my Korean, and I have made a few friends. I also joined a gym. I walked past this gym every single day on my way to work and back. Before stepping inside, I decided to send the gym owner a message through Naver to ask a few questions. Yes, I used my translation app of course and once again apologized for my limited Korean. She told me to stop by any time so the next day, I walked in and paid for my membership. Again, there was a language barrier and we struggled to communicate for a few minutes, but she was understanding and kind. All of these things have been small victories but they still count.

Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond in Gyeongju (경주 동궁과 월지).

As someone who has always been an overthinker, these kinds of things are a big deal to me. I am good at talking myself out of things or envisioning everything that could go horribly wrong every time I make plans to do anything. I am working on it. Does moving to a foreign country make you a braver person? No, I don’t think so. But maybe accepting who you are, forgiving yourself for your flaws and fears, and deciding to take baby steps to make some changes? I think that does make you brave.

The Diana that I am today is still unsure of herself. She is still nervous about everything and overthinks even the smallest of details. However, the biggest difference between the old Diana and the new Diana is that now, instead of sitting at home and allowing myself to stand in my way, I have started to commit to doing things. No more “well, maybe if I feel like it, I will go.” No. Now, I will make a decision and follow through. These are my baby steps. If I have days like this weekend, and I want to have some time and space to myself, I will lay around and be lazy as much as I would like. But I am determined to overcome my fears. I remember hearing this somewhere, and I tell myself this every time I start to talk myself out of things: feel the fear but do it anyways. I have been here since November and have worked very hard on this shift in my mentality. And even though moving to a new country doesn’t automatically release you of all that you struggled with in the past, the change of scenery does serve as a reminder to look how far you have come. I am here, working and living in Busan, and I love it.

As usual, I feel like my writing has been all over the place. If you have read this entire thing, thank you so much for your time. I hope to write another update again soon.

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06 juin 2021

I think you are very brave, what an amazing experience! You are winning those little battles everyday and I’m sure things will get easier as you grow in confidence. I wish you success and happiness :)

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