There are a lot of great things about living abroad, but as you know, there are also downsides too. One of the hardest things that I dealt with while living in Korea, was loneliness. I was in a huge city, and constantly surrounded by people any time I set foot outside of my apartment, but I was lonely. I was on my own. The only English speaking foreigner in my neighborhood, and I lived alone. My Korean co-teachers spoke English, but it was still difficult to communicate with them. Most of the time, (especially during the working week), I was alone with my English thoughts.
During my time in Korea, I had a serious injury to my ankle/foot, had to have surgery on my thumb, and was often sick. I had great friends who took care of me, but it was difficult to go through those things while living alone. Without my friends, I really have no clue what things would have looked like for me.
Of course I made great friends, and did activities to keep myself from feeling as lonely, but I’ve never experienced loneliness as intensely as I did during my time there. I know many of my other friends also felt the same way. One positive to this, is that your friends become family. People you’ve met a few months ago, become your closest allies. The downside to that, is that most foreigners in Korea come and go like a revolving door. Great friends you meet today, can be gone a few months later.
Not fully being a part of society also made me feel lonely, (although it was great not being fully aware of things like office politics, and gossip). I studied Korean while I was there, and did my best to speak the language, but of course I was far from fluent. Despite the rise in foreigners living in Korea over the years, it is still very much so a homogenous country, that can be skeptical of foreigners. This type of separation makes friendships all that more important.
It is difficult being away from everything familiar, and going to a new country. Loneliness is something that you can’t fully avoid, but there things that can be done to help alleviate it. I often met with friends after work for dinner, (beats eating alone for days on end), went to church, joined language exchanges, Korean classes, and joined a gym. I’m sure there are other things that I did, but these I can remember off of the top of my head. As I said at the beginning, I was surrounded by people, but still felt lonely. Having great friends made it more bearable. They understood what I was going through, and we could help each other out.
Everyone is different, and will have different experiences while living abroad, these aren’t blanket statements, simply some of what I went through. Through this, I’ve learned that I am much stronger than I thought!