Written by Irina Roibu, Inquiry coordinator
I’ve moved several times in my life to cultures quite different than mine. I’m originally from Romania. I’ve always oscillated between maintaining my cultural heritage and identity while engaging with local people and the wider society that I’m living in.
In South Korea, for the first time in my life, I decided not to learn the language (for several reasons, but mainly because I liked being somewhere where I don’t understand what people say; it minimizes my anxiety level somehow.). Because of my decision, however, I have had some difficult experiences when moving. For example, it was hard for me to communicate at places I went like the immigration office, the bank, and the hair salon. I’ve always been independent and liked to do things on my own, so it was difficult to feel helpless. Sometimes I wonder if this was the right choice to make.
Also, as I’ve lived in East Asia before, I didn’t experience a strong culture shock, but I was still thown off balance when some things happened. For example, my former landlord didn’t want to give me back my deposit money. It seems that this is a common practice in South Korea, but it’s not where I’m from. There have been other challenging experiences like feeling that I don’t have control, especially at university; how people behave on the subway; and sometimes being ignored during a conversation because I’m a woman.
Some days are more difficult than others. But most of the time I try to stay relaxed and remember not to take all too seriously. My approach is to observe, understand why it happens and take actions (if necessary) to protect myself, but not to stress about it and not to let it have a too big impact on my mental health.
I didn’t learn these lessons by myself. My own experience has taught me that a therapist’s expertise can be tremendously helpful: it’s taught me where to draw the line between what I am comfortable to accept, when to let go, and what is too much for me. You need time and practice to understand where to draw the line. It can be difficult to do alone.
If you need support, remember that there are a lot of foreigners here in South Korea. Let’s remember to be ready to help each other when we need it and to be there for our community.
And, if you think you really are in need of specialized support, ask for help. Our team will be happy to assist you.