Since spending a life-changing semester abroad in Florence, Italy in 2011, I knew in my heart of hearts that traveling + exploring the world would be a tenet of my life. I got a taste of wanderlust and I was hooked! I was 20 years old when I gained this clarity about the direction I wanted to follow.
While most kids my age were concerned with which job or career path they’d embark on after graduating university, I was more interested in devising a way to get myself to see the world as I couldn’t count on my parents’ financial support. I had my eyes set on Asia as the research I did in my final year of college pointed to China, Japan, South Korea as the highest-paid countries to teach English in.
I wanted to go right after graduation but I felt I owed it to my Mexican immigrant parents to get an office job and use my university degree since I was the first in my family to graduate with a Bachelor’s. I figured it’d be smart and strategic to get some “real world” work experience to have on my resume after my stint abroad. A year of working at a Chicago marketing agency quickly turned into two, but I made it to Daegu, South Korea in 2016, five years after I set that goal for myself.
And it was amazing. Exactly what I wanted and needed – two years full of intentional transformation, growth, challenges, connection, catharsis.
I taught elementary school students. I made lifelong friendships. I partied too much in questionable EDM clubs. I cried myself to sleep a few more times than I care to admit. I hung out in nature. I hosted dinner parties in my lovely apartment. I had crazy weekends in Seoul. I felt lonely, insecure, and homesick. I kissed a few Korean cuties. I hiked mountains. I self-published a book and co-hosted a launch party event. I grew more and more into myself. I gained confidence and perspective. I ate all the Korean BBQ. I blacked out a couple of times. I traveled to Taiwan, China, Japan, and twice to Chicago. To name a few.
South Korea is an amazing country I will always be fond of. I miss the local fashion sense, the sounds of K-pop, hearing Korean everywhere, their amazingly efficient public transportation system, how easy life was for us expats…
I miss having my own apartment, the skincare products, the cuisine, the absurdly accessible universal healthcare and my circle of friends.
The time I lived abroad in Korea was made special by the lovely people I met and made friends with – by our shared lived experience. While I keep in touch with most of them, it’s that specific moment in time with all of us together in the same geographical location that I cherish and reminisce about. I miss the coffee shop weekly hangs, the barbeque dinners, the nights out in the cheesy Daegu bars. All of it.
If you’ve ever entertained the thought of living abroad, I say DO IT! It will be one of the most formative experiences of your adult life. And if you’re keen to live in Asia, I wholeheartedly recommend South Korea!
Rocio Cadena (also known as Luz) is a Mexican-American writer and the founder of Life of Leisure — a movement to help creative women reclaim their time (and humanity) in the age of burnout, busyness and workism. Check out www.lifeoleisure.com for solutions, ideas + techniques to help you transcend productivity pressure and lead a more holistic lifestyle instead. Connect with Life of Leisure on the ‘gram: www.instagram.com/lifeoleisure