Growing up as an only child, I was very lucky to have a mother who did a lot for me. Pretty much everything, really. She washed my clothes. And made my doctor appointments. And cooked my dinner. And even took care of my student loans.
However, after making the move from New Jersey to South Korea to teach English about five months ago, I’ve finally had to learn to do all these things (and more) on my own. Sometimes, the smallest accomplishment (like not eating ramen for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) makes me want to proudly fist bump into the air. Other times, having to do things (like pay a bill written in a language I can’t understand) make me sob into my hands and go back to bed.
Either way, I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of this “being an adult” thing.
1. How to take care of my living space.
My apartment in Korea is the first place I’ve lived that I’ve truly been able to call mine, complete with upholstered chairs I stole off the street and fairy lights the last tenant left. Living on my own also means that there’s no one else to Swiffer my floor, make my bed, and take out my garbage. Since moving in, I’ve also single-handedly slaughtered swarms of fruit flies with nothing but apple cider vinegar and plastic cups, rigged a laundry line from one end of my apartment to the other (mostly because I’m too cheap to buy a drying rack), and successfully unclogged my drains on several occasions. I also trapped a cockroach under a tupperware container about a month ago, but I’m still too scared to get rid of it. Baby steps.
2. How to manage my finances.
I was pretty cheap before I got here, but I think I’ve actually managed to become cheaper. This may or may not be a good thing. In Korea, employees get paid on a monthly basis. After my money gets deposited into my account, I actually wire about half of it home to take care of my loans and other expenses. After that, I don’t have a lot to play around with, so I have to be very careful. One way I save money is by taking out an allotted amount of cash for the week and not using my debit card. I also put any coins I’ve accumulated into a container at the end of the day. Additionally, I take out about $100 from my paycheck each month and hide it for emergencies (read as “travel fund”).
3. How to get un-lost when you’re lost in translation.
I began teaching myself hangeul (the Korean alphabet) about two months before I got on the plane to come here. If you plan on moving to another country to work or study, I feel it’s very important to make an effort to learn the writing system and a few key words and phrases. Many signs in Korea are in “Konglish,” and if you take the time to read them, you’ll find out that they actually say “hamburger” or “Thai massage.” And then you’ll be so proud of yourself that you could actually understand what the heck you’re looking at and it’ll feel awesome. Also, I have Google Maps, Daum Maps, and the Korean subway app on my phone for when I have absolutely no idea where I am (it happens more often than you’d think). Maps are lifesavers. Always have a map.
4. How to ask for help.
I hate asking for help. I think a lot of people do. However, when you’re in a new country where you don’t know your way around and aren’t fluent in the language, sometimes you just have to suck it up. Your mother isn’t here to do it for you anymore. I’m very lucky that the city I’m in has a large expat community with a very active online presence. Since coming here, I’ve asked how to open a bank account. I’ve asked how to pay my utilities bills. I’ve asked which bus to take to meet my friend at that place. I’ve even asked where I could go to buy a hula hoop and how I could purchase tickets to local arts events. And you know what? People gave me the answers I was looking for. Why? Because they were in the same position as you once and not everyone out there is as mean and scary as you think they are in your head. So just ask.
5. How to be grateful for what I’ve got.
I get homesick sometimes, sure. I miss my mom, my friends, Brooklyn-style pizza. But then I remember that I made the decision to get on a plane and fly halfway around the world to take a job that will undoubtedly change my life and my future for the better. I am grateful for the support I’ve gotten from the people who mean the most to me. I’m also grateful for e-mail, Facebook, Skype, and FaceTime, which make it so beyond easy to keep in touch. Furthermore, I’m grateful for the new people I’ve met here and the experiences I’ve had and will continue to have. I’ve seen one of the best fireworks festivals in Asia, been served a whole live octopus, marveled at ancient palaces and temples, and learned why you shouldn’t drink too much soju the hard way. Sometimes, you need to remind yourself about how you’ve gotten to where you are now. It hasn’t always been easy, but you made it. And life is freakin’ good.