How to Cope With Depression Abroad

Let’s face it: life is a continuous series of ups and downs. No matter how often and well you channel the most positive aspects of your own being and surroundings, there are going to be days when you feel extremely down.
I recently started to feel extremely down on a more frequent basis here in Korea. My bad days turned into weeks and before I knew it, I was rock bottom in a three month rut that I just couldn’t seem to climb out of. I didn’t feel like doing anything, I stopped making an effort to make plans with friends and I just sort of learned to embrace the dark cloud that hung over my head on a pretty consistent basis.
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While this is the textbook definition of depression (and it is), there is a reason these types of emotions tend to come up more frequently in Korea than they ever did back home: culture shock. 
cul·ture shock
noun
 
  1. the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes.
Experts say there are typically about four stages of culture shock:
  • Honeymoon stage: Where one feels elated about their new surroundings, foods, cultural norms and cannot contain their enthusiasm for their new home.
  • Rejection stage: Where one feels frustrated and has a lack of understanding for their new home and meets it with criticism, resentment, and anger.
  • Regression/Isolation stage: Where one feels frustrated with everything about their new home. Whether it is the food, the people or their new culture, the person going through this stage of culture shock will be quickly propelled into the Regression and Isolation stage. During this stage, the person affected puts their home country on a pedestal and views their experiences, friendships and relationships back home as superior to those of their current environment.
  • Adjustment and Adaptation stage: During this stage, one must personally employ a few tactics to get through the Regression and Isolation stage, otherwise they may continue to feel isolated in their new environment. While it’s up to the individual’s unique coping mechanisms as to what will work for them, I always try to have a sense of humor, open mind and empathy when I find myself feeling isolated from Korean society.

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While it’s natural to ride the culture shock rollercoaster for a few months, some people don’t realize  that culture shock is not always over and forgotten about within a few months. It is a continuous cycle and tends to be a dark, ominous cloud that follows some around longer than they’d like, leaving the victim unsure as when it will strike again. However, what happens if the feelings of isolation don’t go away?

Depression abroad has been the most tormenting and confining experience of my life. Although living in a foreign country is an exhilarating and wonderful experience each day, negative emotions often tend to be magnified.

As an expat, life is akin to a continuous revolving door.

Friends you meet, connect with and share pieces of your life with move away. Working in a foreign environment can be frustrating and exhausting. Not speaking a language with fluency can bring confusion and annoyance to just about any situation. While all of this is going on, your family and friends are half a world away in a completely different time zone. It’s no longer easy to pick up the phone and call the people who know you best when you need your batteries recharged.

Though the majority of my time spent in Korea has not been the greatest, I do not regret moving here. I’ve met some amazing people and have learned so much about myself that I really don’t think I could have  discovered otherwise. The famous phrase, “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” really resonates with me. To me, Korea is my tunnel.

I’m not sure why I feel so uninspired and uncomfortable in Korea, but I know for certain I am not alone with this sentiment. I know a great deal of people who have either gone through this period of darkness or are currently in a rut as well. However, everything is perspective and that’s what I must focus on during my next few final months here.

 

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Tips for fighting through the culture shock blues:

  • Focus on the good things

Not everything in Korea is bad. In fact, there are quite a few perks that come with living here. As a teacher, I’ve been able to live comfortably as my apartment is paid for, the cost of living is relatively low and I can walk to my job. In addition, the public transportation here is absolutely incredible as is the topography. It’s not always easy to focus on the good, but it’s completely and utterly necessary if one wants to remove themselves from a rut.

  • Find people you connect with

Find a circle of people who you connect with. It doesn’t matter the size of your friendship group, it matters on the quality of trust you have with them. Being alone abroad doesn’t always have to feel so isolating if you have a loving group of humans to surround yourself with.

  • Meditate

Meditation is something important to me and has helped me sort through my emotions over the years. With that said, it can take a lot of effort to take the time to sit each day to calm my mind. However, I’ve found this to be the most helpful thing I can do for myself.

  • Revel in the fact that you’re here

Moving to Korea or abroad in general takes guts, man! Make a mental note that you’re a badass and will prevail through any hardships. As much as I cannot connect with the culture in Korea, it’s still been an amazing stage of my life thus far. I need to just accept the fact that it’s not for me and move forward. No matter what the experience, it will end up being a mind-opening, life changing one – so try to make the best of it!

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18 Comments

  1. August 13, 2015 / 6:25 pm

    I just connected with you on Girl vs Globe but I wanted to reach out on your blog as well. Learning the language is basically the only way to really reach that level of comfort in culture shock. As expats, we don’t really feel the need to study because we’ll return to our homes eventually. But you know, I felt the same way in Korea. I can’t really say why. Just want you to know you’re not alone in feeling that way. Reach out to me any time if you’d like to discuss further. 🙂

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 13, 2015 / 10:02 pm

      Thanks so much! I am taking Korean lessons, I’ve tried to immerse myself in the culture as much as I can and I try really hard but… I just don’t like it. I really wish I did but I can’t put my finger on what it’s lacking. I just need to focus on what is good for now because I don’t want to leave the country having some sort of chip on my shoulder. Anyway, thanks so much for reaching out! I really appreciate it =)

  2. August 13, 2015 / 7:40 pm

    Great post! I’ve had the same problem. I’ve been traveling non stop for the last year and fell into a rut recently. Even questioning if I should be traveling this long. But, I got over it by trying new things out of my comfort zone and meditation.

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 13, 2015 / 10:04 pm

      Thank you for reaching out. I have just never had this many periods in my life where I feel so utterly alone and isolated from any sort of world that seems to make sense. I am bound and determined to work through this, though. Meditation is truly the best thing a person can do for themselves and I am glad you agree!

  3. August 14, 2015 / 8:02 am

    Such a great post. Thanks for all the useful tips!

  4. August 14, 2015 / 9:21 am

    Thank you so much. This is exactly what I am going through right now. It helps to know I am not alone. You were ban on in every aspect!

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 14, 2015 / 10:09 am

      I’m happy to know I’m not alone as well, so thanks for commenting! Keep your head up =)

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 14, 2015 / 10:10 am

      I’m happy you came across this, then! It’s difficult NOT to feel like you’re going through it alone – that’s something I struggle with often. However, just keep your head up. We can do this =)

  5. August 14, 2015 / 10:10 am

    I felt the same way when I first moved to Japan. It took me nearly a year before I decided to go out and make actual friends. From there I still have days where I just hate being here. But I do say I wouldn’t try the opportunity for anything.

  6. August 15, 2015 / 12:09 am

    I know depression well. It is something I battle with because of my illness. I live in America; so, I can only imagine the isolation you feel. I like your tips. They are on point. Focusing on the positive is a good start. I try to focus on my writing and accomplishments. I also focus on the love of family and fun times. Do you have a hobby other than blogging? I love photography and when I am blue, I go on a photo hunt. It always cheers me. I love looking for butterflies lately. Thanks for sharing your tips for dealing with depression.

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 15, 2015 / 12:17 am

      Thank you for reaching out! I do yoga and also love photography as well. Looking for butterflies is such a great thing to do! They are so beautiful and peaceful, so I can see why you are drawn to them. I am thankful this post has reached people who are able to relate. Just remain thankful and hopeful and the rest will come as it’s meant to. Be well, Mary!

  7. August 17, 2015 / 9:47 am

    It’s hard moving to another country, I even experienced massive culture shock moving to London from New York. It’s also being able to quickly accept that it’s not going to be like where you just left and comparing everything is a bad trap to fall in. It’s the attitude I adopted when I moved to Singapore and it helped. You gotta see the silver lining and with time, you’ll make friends you truly connect with and before you know it, Korea will feel like home!

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 17, 2015 / 9:52 am

      I’ve lived here for about two years so it has felt home for quite some time now. I’ve made lifelong friends here in Korea, but unfortunately many of them have since left the country and are onto new adventures or moved back home. It’s a constant revolving door living here as I highlighted, which is the most daunting part. It’s a bit difficult, but I’m lucky to have my boyfriend and friends who are currently still here as they keep me grounded.

  8. August 18, 2015 / 12:07 am

    Hi Laura, it’s so nice to meet you. This is such a great post and clearly heartfelt. I envy those who have the opportunity to live abroad.

  9. Edward Uche
    August 19, 2015 / 10:20 pm

    I liked reading your post, very insightful and articulate with emotion. Thanks for sharing. I’ve visited Korea just recently for 2 weeks and really enjoyed myself. A HUGE part of that was because my girlfriend is from the country, she was always with me and guided me. This leads me to my question. Have you dated while out there? Not to be intrusive, but I felt that if you have a partner in which to share time with outside of teaching, you’d feel a little better.

    By the way, I’m totally looking forward to teaching English in Seoul and would love to ask you more questions. In due time : ) Best of luck, wishing you the best.

    – Ed

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      August 19, 2015 / 11:20 pm

      Yep, I have a boyfriend. He’s amazing and supports me through everything. It’s still easy to feel lonely abroad regardless if you have a partner in crime or a large group of friends as I have. It’s different once you’re removed from everything you know and fully immersed in a culture. As great as Korea is, it can be quite isolating. Thanks for stopping by and feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like!

  10. September 15, 2015 / 7:35 am

    Girl, I can’t even begin to explain how much I resonate with this. I had a horrible bout of depression last year when I moved here and have only just been able to kind of come out of it. I do think a lot of that was culture shock though I never experienced a honeymoon phase because of crappy events that happened during my first few days here. Learning more about the way things are done here has definitely helped me climb my way out of it, slowly but surely. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% myself here. There’re a lot of things that I disagree with but now I just stay silent and live with them, as much as it kills me.

    It also doesn’t help that so many other foreigners here either hide it really well or don’t seem to feel this way at all. It makes you feel so lonely when you’re surrounded by people who’re all having the best times of their lives and you’re struggling and know that if you open your mouth about it, you’ll just be seen as a negative person with no understanding of other cultures.

    • lauranalin88@gmail.com
      September 15, 2015 / 7:51 am

      I totally agree. There are more people who feel this way than you know, however. Where are you located? Are you in Seoul or elsewhere?

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