5 Life Skills I Learned While Living As An Expat


I have been living and working in Korea for two years, and although I'm returning to America in the fall, I'd do it all over again. I would recommend to anyone putting down the books and learning from life in this way.

1. Humility

I hate asking for favors. My dad always told me, "If you want it done right, do it yourself." (Later I learned he was quoting Napoleon.) My life in Korea sometimes seems like being a crying (literally), helpless little baby. While in America, I very rarely made a special order in a restaurant. Here, I can't even make my own dentist appointments.

2. Privilege

Speaking of privileges, white privilege exists in exaggerated levels even in this wealthy nation where Caucasians are a clear minority. I'm sure that's really obvious to you, but some European-descended expats themselves forget this. Even though being given special treatment by strangers in a restaurant comes from genuine intentions, it sometimes makes me uncomfortable. The celebrity treatment I receive is inequality of the highest form. While I'm unpacking the Zimmerman verdict from afar, I'm also packing in a lot of information I need to bring home with me.

3. Identity

With the privileges I receive, I do pay the small price of being taken as a representative of my race in daily life, as many Americans already do when they live abroad. For the first time in my life, I can clearly see the occasional scrutiny of what I wear, purchase, eat, and drink. While I've tried my best to assimilate, I still cross my legs if I'm cold, even in the presence of an elder. I have to accept that I'll never been seen as a Korean person.

4. Language

The Korean alphabet is regarded as one of the "most logical" alphabet systems. Still, the grammar makes Korean one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn.  I would very strongly encourage tourists and expats to learn as much language as they can, but language shouldn't be a barrier to travelers. The beauty of being human is our ability to communicate without language, speech, hearing, or sight. With what I've learned about language also comes trust and humanity.

5. Patriotism

Did this one surprise you? I spent my first American Independence Day away from home last year. That day, I explained to each of my middle school classes that it was America's birthday, to which many students responded, "Congratulations!" While endearing, it seemed something wasn't right. Later, I struggled to laugh when my Canadian friends refused to celebrate a "meaningless" holiday with me. I've certainly held cynical views about the U.S. before, and couldn't explain my defensive feelings about these comments. I guess absence really does make the heart grow fonder.