Teaching abroad is one of the most rewarding experiences one can involve themselves in. It is the perfect way to experience a new culture, meet new people, and learn a new language all while having a support system of co-workers that become something of a family away from home. At some point, however, everyone gets a bit homesick. Even the most experienced of travelers reach a point of missing home, whether it be the food they’re most used to eating, or their friends and family they’ve had to leave behind, or even just the familiarity of people around them speaking their native language.
For most people, the worst of the homesickness bug hits them around three to four months into their stay in their new home, and it’s harder for some to handle than others. The excitement and newness of everything starts to wear off, and you begin to fall into a work routine that’s just the same as anything back home, and you start to miss the ease of communication that comes with fluently speaking the same language as everyone around you. It’s easy at this point to feel down about this amazing thing that you’re doing, and even feel like you want to come home. The important thing to remember is that this happens to everybody! You are not alone in feeling this way! And, like any sickness, there are ways to cure it – numerous ways, as it so happens.
How to Cure Homesickness
The first and perhaps most important thing I learned about combating homesickness is to never stop exploring your new home! However temporary you plan your stay abroad to be, withdrawing from the experience will only make you feel more homesick. I felt homesick from time to time while teaching English in South Korea. There are tons of things to do in South Korea, for example, such as touring palaces and temples, going on organised trips with other foreign teachers (which you can find/learn about online), and visiting the popular shopping districts. I even went to a few Kpop concerts and musicals/plays, and had the time of my life! Reminding yourself of all the fun things that you can do in South Korea, or anywhere you’re traveling to, is a great way to fend off the worst of homesick feelings.
My second suggestion is to find the time, even once a week, to enroll yourself in a language course. I worked quite a lot, and didn’t often want to spend my weekends in more classes, but your life is so much easier when you can communicate basic greetings, and order food, and initiate basic conversation with those around you – and it is highly appreciated when you make the effort at all. Your Korean (or any language you learn) doesn’t need to be perfect, but shop owners and even people on the street are so much nicer to you when you demonstrate even a fumbling willingness to learn their language, and will be ecstatic to help you out. Even a simple “hello”, “thank you” and “good-bye” goes a long way, and it will make you feel much better as well – make you feel a little less alone in a new country – to interact with those around you. Once you open yourself to learning the local language, it’s surprising just how much you pick up. If you don’t have the time for classes, the most important thing to do is watch television shows (kids cartoons such as Spongebob are great for learning the language, but I also recommend K-dramas!) and ask MANY questions of your co-workers and employers.
There comes a point, however, when you just plain miss home, and no amount of shopping and interaction with others can cure it. You’ve Skyped your friends and family back home (there are even apps for your smartphone that allow you to call home from South Korea for free!) and maybe you’ve booked a flight home for Christmas or Summer Vacation, but you’re still feeling really down and all you want is the familiarity of home. This isn’t unnatural! You aren’t the only one to ever feel like this. So many people feel homesick, and it’s why things like Chinatown and Koreatown and Greektown crop up back home. If you happen to be in South Korea, the best place to go when you’re missing home is the American-based town of Itaewon.
It took me a little while to discover Itaewon and all its delights. My initial reaction to Itaewon was that I didn’t want to travel all the way to South Korea just to spend my time in America town, but this is probably the place that cured me best of any homesickness that nothing else could fend off. The main reason? Food and English conversation.
It takes a long time of dedication to pick up any language fluently, and if you’re like me – sociable and interested in conversing with the staff in shops I visit, and the people I meet in the street – it’s sometimes very frustrating that all you can do is comment on the weather, or where you’re from, and other such basic lines. Part of what makes Itaewon great is that nearly everyone here speaks English, to varied degrees of fluency. There’s an English Apple Store (if you break stuff constantly, like I do,) an English bookstore (called What-The-Book, and it’s fantastic) and numerous clothing/accessory stores and vendors where you can flex your haggling wings and find some really awesome purchases. And most exciting of all are the restaurants and grocery stores. There are many breakfast joints in Itaewon, and American themed restaurants (such as Outback steakhouse and Taco Bell) and a lot of bars to visit at night. If you walk down the street a bit, you can find a couple of foreign grocery stores that carry things such as Campbell’s soup, cheese, soda, North American chips, and other goodies (that are next to impossible to find elsewhere) that might be exactly what you need to get you through missing home. So don’t let homesickness or culture shock get you down – just stay positive and remember that this is a once in a lifetime experience you worked hard for, and many people understand exactly what you’re going through.
Click to read more about teaching English in South Korea.
Written by Ashley Marie Shuttleworth
Ashley is a graduate from Trent University with a degree in English Literature. She spent a year teaching English in South Korea followed by a year Au Pairing in England, and both jobs have provided some of the most rewarding experiences in her life, to date. There are many more adventures planned for her future, (India and Japan are next!) all with the hopes that this worldly knowledge will help to fuel her career as a published author.