I am slow to anger and quick to forgive, but I was not always like that. In my teens through my late twenties, I would feel my blood boil at the first sign of injustice. This may have only been a slight infraction of someone cutting me in line, or better yet, cutting me off in traffic. I would stop what I was doing and begin swearing under my breath, well, who am I kidding, I would let the words fly. When I was a teenager, expletives that could make a truck driver blush would gush out my mouth. I was more interested in shock value than the quality of rhetoric and what better way to than to see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed young woman swear. I reveled in the looks of surprise from people who thought I should be prim and proper. Screw them.
Many experiences later of inserting my foot into my big mouth and wreaking havoc when a simple conversation would have sufficed, I began to change my ways. Slowly. The more unnecessary drama I found myself in the middle of, the more I began to wonder if there was a better way to live my life. I took a step back and began to listen more. Then I stepped outside of myself to ponder the direction of my life. If I was to correct my life and live it more fully, I needed to make some changes.
Before I could change my mind, I signed a contract to teach English overseas in South Korea. At the time I was in a relationship where we had gone from talking about marriage and kids to suddenly finding myself single. After four years, he still believed that he was not good enough for me and no amount of talking, swearing, or arguing could change his mind. To this day, I sometimes wonder, “what if,” but then I would not have had the amazing life and career that I have today, all thanks to that first move to Asia.
In my first overseas stint, I learned how to advocate for myself. It is one thing to stand your ground in your home country when you know the rules and can speak the language. It is another situation altogether when you are the guest in a foreign country, do not understand the rules of etiquette, and do not speak the language. Everything became a learning experience and with it, a test of patience.
I have heard many people remark, “There are stupid people everywhere.” That may be true, but at one point or another we are also one of those stupid people. I had to learn through trial and error that I was the ignorant one in a country where people believed I was the person who just ‘did not get it.’ My Korean co-workers were also hoping I would say “yes” to every request because Americans are polite, and it would allow them to save face.
Through each of these moments I breathed. When another issue popped up, I breathed some more. When I was told that all my paperwork had to be duplicated because the first set had been “misplaced” (aka ‘lost’), I closed my eyes and envisioned the situation righting itself. Additionally, because I had heard stories of this happening to other teachers, I had brought multiple notarized copies of all my documents and re-submitted them an additional two times! Eventually, the situation was corrected. However, when one situation was resolved another would inevitably arise.
There were many times when I wanted to scream and yell and tell the people I worked with where they could stick their documents, but instead, I took deep breaths. I learned how to meditate. I took walks, and I studied the culture and language. I began communicating in Korean and discovered that a little effort goes a long way. The more I spoke, the more people were willing to listen and the less frustrated I felt. I am sure the feelings were mutual. Over time, communication between myself and others improved.
There were still plenty of times when I wanted to scream, yell, and swear, but instead I smiled. I saved the bad language for my journal entries, which I would later edit out before posting them on a blog. Yes, I had one long before this one, on Blogger. It may still exist, but I can no longer remember the name of it. Why not you ask? It was in 2007 and I was not very good at keeping track of things like I am now. Like everything, I had to learn when to speak, when to listen, and when to be still.
Since then, I have lived in many countries and traveled to many more. I met lifelong friends in South Korea, my soulmate in Thailand, had my heart broken, and then moved to Saudi Arabia. With each of these experiences I have deepened my patience and understanding and now find humor in our differences as people and compassion in our similarities.
Life is a series of choices and compromises. I chose to live my life overseas and it is from these experiences that I have learned what it means to listen and be patient.
Any grammar and mechanical issues are the responsibility of the author, and even though she’s an English teacher and does proofread, there may be some errors.