I’m certainly not the first person to ever write about how traveling changed my life, and I definitely won’t be the last. When I first decided to move to Korea in 2013 I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I had spent the previous year in a deep depression, grieving and turning to food and alcohol as a crutch. Within the short span of nine months, I’d lost my brother to the deplorable drug known as heroin, my grandma to a terminal illness, a long-term relationship and eventually my job. I had totally and completely lost my mind, and, to be quite frank, I was running like hell away from my life.
Deciding to Travel Long-Term
You see, I’d always wanted to live abroad. Throughout college, I researched countless volunteer opportunities which unfortunately never came to fruition. I’d spent hours browsing Pinterest, Instagram and blogs for travel inspiration, making lists of places I wanted to see and envisioned a life of travel. The only problem was the fact that I had no clue how to properly manage my funds and I was never exactly in the position to pick up my life and move to a new country on a whim.
Something changed when my brother died, though. I’m not sure whether it was the fact that our family had to collectively decide to take him off life support or the fact that I witnessed someone so close pass away, but I came to the realization that this life we are all living is extremely precious. Somewhere in the booze-filled days and nights that masked my pain, I knew this, but I just didn’t know how to make it happen and certainly didn’t have the inner strength to do anything about it.
My depression snowballed into oblivion and I truly believe that I lost my mind at some point. The turning point, however, was the break-up. I no longer felt trapped or broken, and this is when I really felt good enough to attempt to turn my dreams into a reality. Three months and half a mended heart later, my life kicked me back down on the day I found out I lost my job.
“Is this actually my destiny?” I thought.
How traveling changed my life
Determined not to let this setback affect my quest for a better reality, I refused to see the job termination as a negative. To this day, I still believe losing that job was fate and will eternally be grateful for that unforgettable moment. Tapping into my childhood memories, I remembered a mantra my mother has continued to tell me my entire life: “Laura, you’re the best problem solver I know.”
I started applying for new jobs and in the meantime used my newfound freedom as an opportunity to start running, practice more yoga and meditate more frequently. During the quiet times in my mind, I’d realized I had absolutely no desire to return to Corporate America. I reflected on all those times I’d wanted to work abroad and decided to take life by the horns. I started obsessively Googling everything I could find about teaching abroad and studied all the different packages countries offered. I enrolled in a month-long TEFL practicum in Chicago and signed up to tutor Burmese and Iraqi refugees on the side. This pipe-dream of mine had finally turned into something real and attainable – and I was doing it all by myself.
The visa application process for Korea was complicated, long and expensive…but totally worth it. I moved here in 2013 with a hefty bucket list, a grieving heart, absolutely no expectations and an intention to stay for just one year. Well, it’s 2016 and I’m ready to embark on my next journey: backpacking South East Asia for several months before living and working in New Zealand with my boyfriend.
Why running away from my life was a good decision
My life in Korea has been overwhelmingly rewarding, challenging and gratifying. I haven’t always liked living here; I’ve actually come to the realization that I don’t like living in Korea. One thing is for sure, though: I’m eternally grateful for all of the memories and relationships I’ve made here along with the once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
I’ve managed to regain my sense of self, open my mind and lose 30+ pounds in the process. I’m at peace with my brother’s death and have learned to deal with my emotions constructively rather than destructively. I’ve managed to teach myself how to create a budget and stay well-within it. To some, these may sound like minor victories, but to me, they’re remarkable.
In all honesty, running away from my life and choosing to find myself through travel and expat living was the best decision I’ve ever made and I can only hope for what’s to come in my future. After all, as David Mitchell once wrote, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”