Thursday, 15 August 2013

Fears for Korea

So as I mentioned before, in a few weeks (just about 3 now, to be exact) I will be jetting off to South Korea. And as I also mentioned before this is HUGE for me. Most of my friends have had at least one or two international holidays by now and have at least some experience of travelling overseas and all that entails. But I have not been so lucky to have had any experience of such WHATSOEVER. And the prospect of this big move is FREAKING ME OUT. (Yes, there is probably going to be a lot of caps in this post - be prepared.) As anyone who knows me will tell you – especially my friend Ari, who, after spending just one morning with me in my house while I was trying to get ready for nothing but a simple little weekend away, couldn’t help but noticed just how amazingly stressed I got over every little thing I had to do. I am very anxiety prone and I over-think EVERYTHING. And under situations of extreme pressure or stress I can really take it to a whole nother level. (One of my most extreme anxiety inducing times was always my exams and during university exam times I was known to just constantly spontaneously burst into tears at any moment simply at the sheer pressure of it all.) Now its not that I’m a weakling in any way (I have actually been through a hell of a lot in my time) and often I even like to be under a bit of pressure because it can be really motivational, if it’s the healthy kind. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take a huge toll on me. Now, in this situation, anxiety levels are beginning to sky rocket and the amount of things I am scared of cannot even be counted! But I am going to try anyway – count them, that is :P

From the most miniscule to the more profound, here is a list of 10 things I am scared about for my journey to Korea:

1. International flights and airports – Airports scare the hell out of me. I have flown very few times in my life and the idea that I could not check in on time, miss my flights, lose my tickets or my documents, take too much luggage, take something in my hand luggage I’m not supposed to, not see my luggage on the carousel, do something I’m not supposed to on the plane, not know where to go or where to walk or what to do and look like a complete idiot – the list is endless. I know it’s silly and that in airports there are plenty of ways to find out what you’re supposed to do and how, but it's still stressing me out to no end. The entire process feels like a disaster waiting to happen. At least I’m not afraid of actually flying. That I find quite exciting actually! Yay for cloud gazing!!

2. My initial arrival in South Korea – I am pretty good at getting around independently here in South Africa, as long as I have enough info of where to go and where. We don’t have a car at home so I have gotten very used to public transport and such, so this is not something I’m worried about here. But when I first go to a new place (especially one where most things WON’T be in English! Eep!!) I get really anxious about getting lost! When I arrive in the airport in Seoul am I going to know where to go and how to do it, how am I going to manage with money and communicating and handling my stuff?? Those initial few days I think are going to stress the hell out of me just figuring out how to get from point A to point B and such. And the money situation! Having to convert the currency in SA then again when we get to Korea and all that jazz - gosh just TYPING about it is stressing me out. 

3. Being a good teacher – Now I absolutely love teaching. I love little children and I love preparing things to teach and I love interacting with them on a student teacher level. How much I love it is something I don’t doubt. But, I am worried about being good enough in this completely foreign environment. What if my lessons aren’t exciting enough for the kids or not in line with what the principal or co-teachers expect of me? What if they don’t like my teaching style? What if the kids don’t respond to me well? What if I am super nervous and awkward? I am always super anxious about how people receive me and if I’ll do a good enough job in everything I do, and being a full time teacher is no different.

Volunteering with underprivileged pre-schoolers in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape
4. Being judged on my appearance – I have watched A LOT of Youtube videos of people in South Korea who are working or have worked as English teachers, and from what I can tell the women in South Korea are generally rather small and for the most part, rather thin. I have also heard that South Korean people, especially the children, are quite blunt in pointing out that a foreigner is ‘plumper’ than they apparently should be. And I would say I will probably fit into that category. In fact, if I think of myself as “rather plump” in South Africa, then I shudder to think how they will view me in South Korea (I’m assuming just as plain old FAT.) Now while I’ve heard that any comments made will for the most part not be mean spirited or rude at all. South Koreans just have different kinds of filters about appearance issues and what we as Westernised people seem to deem appropriate to talk about regarding them. Talking about people’s weight for us is pretty taboo unless you’re quite close. So Koreans are not meaning to offend at all, its generally just more of an observation - or so people seem to say. But it's still something that worries me because my weight has been an issue for me most of my life and it is something I am quite sensitive about. Generally here in South Africa most people who would bring up my weight in public would be people praising my rather ‘generous’ bum (something considered desirable, especially in many African cultures). And even when it was being pointed out as a compliment it still really gets to me because being overweight – even if it was in the ‘right place’ - is not something I want to be. And let me just emphasise here – its not at all that I think that women of all shapes and sizes aren’t beautiful and shouldn’t love themselves for who they are. I know that what you weigh doesn’t make you who you are and all that jazz. My weight has just personally been an issue I have battled with through the years. So it stresses me out to think that people may be pointing it out to me a lot, or worse, judging me for it, more openly than they would here.

5. Learning the language – Now, generally I have been known to be pretty good at learning languages. In school I was always top in Afrikaans (one of SA’s indigenous languages) and I studied French, which although much harder, I still did pretty well in (although having not spoken any for so long, I can barely remember most of it now). But Korean – especially the Hangul (the Korean alphabet) - is completely different to anything else I have encountered. And even just having started, I am struggling. And there is a big difference between studying a language and actually having to communicate in it and use it to navigate through a place. This I have not ever had to do, so I know its going to be a great challenge. I really hope that I will be able to take a class while in Korea (on top of what I learn through self-study) to be able to properly become fluent in the language. And despite it being difficult, it is a challenge I am certainly up to because not only do I obviously want to be able to effectively communicate in the country I'm living in, but I am one of those weirdos who, once they’ve hit their mature years, would really like to be able to just off-handedly say, "Well yes, I’m fluent in 5 languages and have the basics of another 3..." – or something like that :P

Present from my book store manager brother Greg - McGraw Hill's "Read & Speak Korean for Beginners" ^_^
6. Communicating well with my co-workers – I have always felt anxious in work situations, although I may not show it that much (or at least I hope I don’t!). I worry about saying the right thing, phrasing that right thing in the right way, following the correct protocol for the work environment, being proactive enough without being too overbearing etc. etc. And this environment being so new to me will make these things even harder to navigate. 

7. Making friends – Again, this ties in with my fear of people liking me. Now, while I have always been lucky enough to be blessed with a LOT of amazing friends, I do suffer from a lot of social anxiety, especially amongst new people. This would surprise most people because I am super sociable and love being around lots of people – and probably even come across quite confident to most. This confidence is quite a farce though – used to try and quell that awful anxiety. Despite this though - I am definitely a social person though and through. I certainly need lots of friends and don’t really like being alone at all, especially not for extended periods of time. And another thing I have heard a lot in the Korean teacher videos is that being a foreign teacher, especially in the smaller towns or more rural areas, can be quite a lonely experience at first, with you having a lot of time to yourself. I think this will be a good lesson for me for the future because I am sure it will be an environment a lot closer to real life than I have experienced so far (going from high school where I had my super close friends close by to university where I had hundreds of friends, a lot of whom were literally metres away from me at all times.) But I do hope I meet and make friends with as many people as possible and get to be super sociable like I love. (At least I will always have the confidence of having my beloved Claire just a couple of hours away though, which does reassure me a lot!)

One of my first nights out at university - Street Party 2009
8. Messing up – Now though there are many ways in which I could, and probably will, mess up – I am talking in particular here about culture wise. There are a lot of small, very particular things which are major no-no’s in South Korea and so things which may not seem at all rude to me, may be perceived as incredibly bad-mannered there. For instance, speaking too loudly or not bowing (or not bowing deep enough for a person of high stature) or not taking things with two hands – or even sticking your chopsticks upright in your bowl of rice. I hope I will learn all the little customs quickly and won’t make too much of an idiot of myself!!

9. Enjoying the food – I wouldn’t really call myself a picky eater – I can eat most things really. But there are a few things which I just really don’t touch – most of them things I term “burny” (including raw onion, ground pepper, green peppers and excessive chilli). Now, I do hear that a lot of Korean food can be pretty spicy. And their food really is going to be something completely different to what I have experienced before – not even ever having had much Asian food at all (aside from sushi that I love, of course), never mind Korean! But I am open to anything (except dog of course!) and am sure I will find things that I love.

10. Putting on weight – This one may seem silly but like I mentioned before weight is somewhat of an issue of mine. And after starting to lose weight properly this year (so far I’ve lost 7kgs and would like to reach my goal weight by the end of next year.), I would really like to maintain it. I am known to go rather off the program with my eating and exercise habits when I am thrown into a new or foreign environment. So I really hope its not gonna be an environment where I start putting weight on again! This is one of the things I do have quite a bit of control over though, so as long as I keep myself disciplined I suppose I should be ok! :P

And that’s just the tip of the great iceberg that is my anxiety for this upcoming adventure. I am sure I will be writing about a lot more, but for now wish me luck and peace of mind!

To all you lovely souls out there I wish you love and joy and lifetime supplies gummi bears!! <3 

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