One Year Abroad

One Year Abroad

Today marks the day that I left Canada to live abroad. I cannot believe I have been living abroad for one year! Time has gone by so fast. It feels like just yesterday I was having (one too many) drinks with my friends at Starlight and having pizza after the bar while watching the first snowfall of the season. I remember it like it was yesterday. I also remember the painful byes at the airport with my parents. That was definitely the hardest part. Aside from the Bosnian war separating me from my dad for a year and a half, this is the longest that I have been away from my parents. Needless to say I am so excited to see them as they arrive in Seoul in just 4 days!

Perast, Montenegro

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would spend 6 months living in Serbia followed by another 6 in South Korea, all within one year. This last year has had many ups and downs. It has helped me grow as an individual, live out my dream of spending a year abroad, and get in touch with reality. For years prior I was not happy living in my hometown of Kitchener, Ontario. Quite frankly, the city doesn’t have much to offer for those in their 20s who are not in university or college, or who are not married with children. Although there are a number of pubs and bars to go to for entertainment, after a certain age, this gets old. I always dreamed of living in a big city as I find big cities are full of life. Having spent the past 6 months living in one of the biggest cities in the world, I can say that my theory was correct. There is just so much to do! Although I miss the tranquility of a smaller city, I love the energy of a big city like Seoul. When I return to Canada in 2016, I have my eyes set on the big cities, that’s for sure!

Inside Vjecnica in Sarajevo, Bosnia

So what has this year taught me? Well a number of things. For one, I have learned to look out for my best interest. No one will do this for you (except maybe your parents), so taking the leap to follow YOUR dreams is very important. You have to do what feels right for you. Although I miss my family and friends a lot back home, and am anxious to see all of them again, being able to live out my dream of living abroad, with no barriers in my way, has been an enlightening experience. I have certainly learned not to take certain people and things from home for granted. I have also learned that I need to be confident in my decisions and stick to them. Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows how indecisive I am, so learning to go with the flow has helped me out a lot!

In Herceg Novi, Montenegro

I have also realized who my true friends are. It is true what they say, out of sight out of mind. Some people use lame excuses for not staying in touch such as “oh sorry I have been so busy”, apparently not realizing that I have also lived just as busy of a life. I may not have the same things going on, but I still have a lot happening, yet still have time to stop and say hello. It takes two to have any kind of relationship and it should be an equal split. “Oh but Andrea, you are so much better at keeping in touch than me!” Well to that I say, you can learn how to do it too. In the beginning it used to really bother me, but as time went on I came to terms to this is the reality of life and there is no reason to be upset over something so trivial. On the plus side of being abroad, I made some new life long friends. My friend Alex, for example, is one person I do not go a few days without contacting. New adventures bring new people in your life, and that is pretty great!

Alex and me in Belgrade, Serbia 

This year has also shown me how wonderful life in Canada is. It truly is! The one thing I would change in Canada is the amount of vacation time people get each year. We are a bit outdated when it comes to that. But for everything else, we have our shit together let me just say that. Yes our health care system can be improved by making wait times shorter, but at least we are covered for anything and everything under the moon and our privacy is respected. For example,  while being examined by a gynecologist in Serbia, while laying naked from the waist down during the examination, two different employees walked in leaving the door wide open. One came in to grab her purse. The other woman came in to get money from the doctor for some BBQ she was going to buy them for lunch. I was in shock! No one would ever come in like that in Canada, and certainly not before knocking. No one! To top it off, there was a group of women who were anxiously waiting outside to get in to see the doctor who would pop their heads in any time the door was open and take a look to see what the doctor was up to…ummmm… awkward! Best part: I had to pay for this wonderful service. The upside to this visit was that I was able to see the doctor within a day of making an appointment, opposed to the regular 3-6 month wait in Canada. Still, privacy is key here!

The other thing that we have going for us is the relatively cheap standard of living. Food here in Korea is astronomically priced. A watermelon in the summer was being sold for a whopping  $18! Apples are about  $6 for 5 apples, and that is when they are on sale. A lot of their food is imported making a trip to the grocery store a bit rough on your wallet.

Radojko on our first visit to the Gwangmyeong Market

I previously wrote a post about the things I learned while living in Serbia. A few people commented on how it wasn’t fair for me to compare Canada to other countries, but quite frankly I think it is important to compare them to show those Canadians who like to bitch and complain about Canada, how wonderful it is. So many Canadians, myself included, take so many things for granted. For example, here in Korea, aside from the 4 days I get to pick when I would like to take as vacation days, the other 6 are picked for by my employer. “That’s not so horrible!” It isn’t, but it does suck when you can not take a full week off without paying someone out of your own pocket if you want to visit your loved ones back home. Having worked in HR, I can say how easy it is for someone in Canada to get vacation time when they drop the word family in the mix (at least it was from what I experienced).

Living in both Serbia and Korea has taught me how to live a more minimalist life. For one, there simply isn’t enough room to hoard, making it stressful if you own too many things. Here in Korea, Radojko and I own a total of 3 bowls, 2 forks, 2 spoons, 4 knives, one set of chopsticks, 5 cups, a cutting board, a pot, 2 pans, and 0 (yes zero) plates. And you know what? It is enough for us. Back home I have 3 sets of plates and bowls (each setting holding 4-8 of each), a number of glasses and cups, in addition to other kitchen supplies that I probably don’t need. Totally unnecessary! Quite frankly, it is easier to keep your home tidy by having less, so if you ever feel stressed when it comes to cleaning, I highly suggest getting rid of things. Many, many things.

One of the most rewarding experiences of this one year journey was spending time with my extended family in Serbia and Bosnia. I loved it! It was so nice to get to know everyone on a more personal level. Because of the war in Bosnia, I was separated from a lot of my extended family at an early age. As a result, I never had the opportunity to meet or get to know them on my short 2-3 week visits. 6 months in the Balkans sure helped to make it possible to build a stronger relationship with them, and I am forever grateful for that!

Having some fun with my cousins in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

Aside from the lessons learned, I feel like I have been on an adventure since I left. I have visited some amazing places and met some awesome people along the way. In this past year alone I have been to Barcelona, Budva, Kotor, Herceg Novi, Milan, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Seoul, and Jeju Island. Each place had something unique to offer, but yet my most two memorable visits were Barcelona and Jeju Island. Barcelona offered a different side of Europe that I had not seen before, while Jeju continously surprised me with its natural beauty. If I ever decide to live in Korea again, Jeju will be the place to be!

Radojko and I in Barcelona, Spain

All of these adventures and experiences would have not happened had I not fallen head over heels for Radojko and taken the leap of faith to move abroad to be with him. A lot of my friends from home have yet to meet him, but those who have heard the stories I have shared about him have all commented how they can notice a difference in me from how happy he makes me. He truly does! All my life I looked for someone who would be supportive of my (sometimes crazy) ideas, who is up for an adventure, and who is not afraid of the unknown, not to mention who is open and not afraid to express his point of view. He also manages to bring me back down to reality when I start daydreaming (mainly about all the places I want to visit), and reminds me of the things that need to get done, like schoolwork. All of the things that I have experienced in the past year, especially the times that brought me down, I couldn’t have made it without his love and support. I cannot wait to come back to Canada so all my friends can finally meet him!

Radojko and I enjoying a beautiful fall day in Seoul, South Korea

So what does the next year have in store? Hopefully more adventures! We have two weddings to attend in Europe, in addition to ours in August. We are trying to figure out when we can squeeze in a trip to China, and are contemplating going across Russia via the Trans Siberian. But, in all honesty, I cannot wait for the day that I step foot on Canadian soil. I will be the person at Pearson International Airport kissing the ground as I get off the plane.

So would I do this all over again? I would only if I had more vacation time to go home more frequently, but in all honesty, I am perfectly happy with Canada and would consider living in another part of it just to see what that is like, before even thinking of jetting off to another country to live. Every place is different as a tourist than it is if you stay and live there. You get to see a lot of the good, the bad, and the ugly when you spend more than a couple of weeks or months in one place. Your perspective changes, not only for the new place where you are living, but life as a whole. I just enjoy the comforts of my family and friends more than I do being gone for months at a time. It took me leaving Canada to realize this, but I would have never known had I not followed my dreams to live abroad.

Osaka, Japan

So what does it feel like to be living abroad for a year? Surreal! There are some days that I still cannot believe where I am and what I am doing. But really, there is a wave of emotions that come over me. Sometimes I think “This is so random,” “What was I thinking?!?” “This is amazing!” and “Life is beautiful!” Each day is different, and if you move abroad it is important not to judge your experience based on one day or one event, but your experience as a whole. There will be good days and there will be bad days. Both are perfectly normal. But with time, it gets easier, despite missing your friends and family more and more. I was lucky to have Radojko by my side, and quite frankly, I would have never changed any of that for the world!

Happy Travels!


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