My first night on Boracay, I sat with a friend on a white sandy beach, beer in hand, waves gently coming in a few feet away. The air was warm, and we listened to live music from a nearby restaurant.
I had just finished my second year of teaching in South Korea and was taking the long way home to Canada. The small island in the Philippines was the first stop during about a month of travel, and it had drawn me in for the same reasons it appeals to most tourists: white beaches and relaxation. But the thoughts that began running through my mind were far from relaxing.
A jumble of worries quickly became more specific: I wasn’t employed in Korea or Canada. I was moving back home after more than two years of living overseas, where I had been financially stable, competent at my job, and free to travel around Asia whenever I had time off work. I had about upcoming commitments to normal people things: weddings and family reunions, big decisions on the horizon, and a crap-ton of important yet tedious tasks looming, like reinstating health care and paying taxes on foreign income. Things that are hard to process when you lead a weird, Peter Pan-esque lifestyle.
Earlier this month, I celebrated my 5 year Coming Out-iversary. I remember that first day very clearly, because it took 3 years to get to that point. I was 24, and had never had a significant relationship. I’d never kissed a girl! I didn’t have any close gay friends. I’d watched pretty much all the lesbian TV shows and movies I could find – and that was challenging, before Netflix! The L Word was my world.
I really really wanted my life to start.
Finally, I gave myself an ultimatum: I couldn’t leave the country until I came out. Not surprisingly, that worked! I set up a meeting with a Peer Mentor through a university Pride Centre, and told my biggest secret for the first time ever.
Turns out, coming out is as weird as it is wonderful. I thought so much about the day when I would finally have the guts to say the words that I didn’t really think about what would happen next. I didn’t consider all the ways that I would change.
Moving to a new city is hard. It’s easy to pretend you’re brave and adventurous, but while you’re telling people how excited you are, it’s likely that your actual thoughts about the whole ordeal are an anxious mess. Leaving your life behind, the move itself, and the settling in period are stressful and emotionally draining. For many introverts, there’s an additional worry: how am I going to make good friends?
This problem isn’t exclusive to introverts. But in order to make meaningful friendships, you usually have to give yourself lots of opportunities to interact with people. Extroverts are generally able to create more of these opportunities.
The options for settling into a new city may seem pretty grim for an introvert: either give up your downtime to small talk with strangers, or be a happy recluse. Honestly, the second option is always the most tempting, but it turns out that having friends is awesome. So how do you get from Point A (reluctant acceptance that hermitdom is not the answer) to Point B (having consistent and meaningful social connections)? My suggestion is to fake extroversion. Just for a little while, I promise. Here are some tips for becoming a short-term, extroverted introvert:
It’s a new year: a time for new beginnings, and new seasons of my favourite TV shows! I have some life goals in progress right now, so rather than set resolutions for the future, I thought I’d look to the past for inspiration.
Six years ago, I’d recently come home from my first long trip. I had spent 13 months working and travelling in Australia and then visiting Southeast Asia. I was having trouble adjusting to being home, and I desperately wanted to write about travel so that I could continue to feel immersed in it. The letter that I came up with is the closest I’ve ever come to time travel; I ended up writing a letter to myself in the future! Some of it makes me cringe, but I’m going to include it anyway, in the interest of vulnerability (with minor edits for comprehension):
‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through Korea People were freezing, due to winds from Siberia; The passports were placed by the front door with care, In hopes that Leslie Teacher soon would not be there; The children were sniffling and picking their noses, I even had one kid throw up on his clothe-es!
First, let me say that this post is loaded with privilege. Not everyone has a good relationship with family, or positive holiday experiences, and on top of that has the ability to be overseas missing them. I’m very grateful for my family and for the opportunities I’ve had to travel long-term. Also, it’s a very Christmas-oriented post, but feel free to replace the C-word with your holiday or non-denominational celebration of choice!
Whether you’re working on the other side of the world without the means to go home for a visit, or choosing to take advantage of days off to travel, it can be tough to be away from home for the holidays. Here are some ways to ease the ho-ho-homesickness:
One of the best ways to relax in Korea is to strip down and spend a day at the jjimjilbang, or public bathhouse/spa. If you’ve never been before, it can be a little overwhelming to figure it out. Namely: when should you be naked and when should you not be? (Coincidentally also one of life’s greatest questions.) Here are some guidelines for your first time.
I’m a major introvert. I like meeting new people and hanging out with friends, but need a good dose of alone time afterwards to curl up in the fetal position re-energize. When travelling solo, I will almost always choose to spend time touring around on my own, rather than with a “new friend” (i.e. person I just met who I have to make small talk with).
When I visited Japan, I was feeling particularly introverted. I hadn’t travelled across the Pacific to get there; I’d come over on an hour-long flight from Seoul, where I was living at the time. I really just wanted to see all the cool things during the day, and read or Skype my then-girlfriend in the evenings. I was a little worried about whether I would be missing out, but it turns out Japan is a great destination for solo-travelling introverts!
Whenever someone asks me how I enjoyed living in South Korea, I will inevitably start talking about the food.
e.g.: “Oh you lived in Korea?! Did you get homesick? What was it like??”
” Nah, Skype’s pretty great and the food was amazing!”
No matter what the question is, food is always the answer. Why?
Ok, enough preamble. Here’s Part One of the Korean food series: Korean Meats.