Eight months ago I took a decision that would change my life irrevocably. I left friends, family, and my partner to move from South Africa to South Korea. Instead of pursuing a career in the advertising industry, I chose to venture along the well-worn path of teaching English in Asia. My reasons revolved largely around freedom – the financial kind, as well as time freedom. I knew that if I wanted to see more of the world it would require a monumental life shift; something which was nerve-wracking but exciting at the same time.
So far, the experience has been nothing short of fascinating. I’ve travelled to more places in 8 months than I probably have in the past 8 years, learning more about myself than I ever thought possible. This isn’t to say that living abroad has been without its challenges. After the honeymoon phase of my move had passed, I was left to deal with a wave of culture shock which I hadn’t fully braced myself for. Routine tasks as simple as getting a haircut or going grocery shopping became a source of frustration due to what seemed like insurmountable language and cultural barriers.
While I’m not a full-on digital nomad, there are elements that come with being immersed in foreign cultures, which make daily life very interesting. Fortunately, I am now able to more confidently navigate a lifestyle which has upended my old routine. In many ways, this is my new normal. The key to thriving in a new environment is to realize that some days will be agonizing, while other days will be eye-opening, insightful, and everything you could hope for from living and working abroad.
Just a couple of weeks ago I tweeted about how fleeting moments of intense loneliness and isolation are tempered by the realization that all this is part of a bigger plan. As a nomad, it’s important to keep your end-goal in mind if you find the going tough; this helps you to stay the course and get through the tougher days. It’s all about playing the long game.
With the festive season approaching, the stark absence of friends and family back home becomes apparent. It’s completely okay to feel a little despondent during this time that you would normally spend with your loved ones. But in my view, holidays aren’t that much different from any other time abroad. Instead of lamenting on time lost with family, I see this as a time to make genuine connections with new friends and revel in the novelty of celebrating the holidays somewhere other than home.
If you’re looking for practical tips to get through this holiday ‘slump’, here’s some advice that’s seen me successfully get through 8 months being based in a small Asian town. The first thing I do is plan out exactly where I want to go, what I want to do, who I want to see and how I intend on getting there. As an obsessive planner, it helps to know where I’m headed. It also builds anticipation and excitement – two emotions which run counter to the anxiety and worry that come with spending holidays on your own. Of course, if you have the luxury of getting away on a whim then, by all means, explore to your heart’s content. There’s definitely something to be said for the spontaneity of travelling.
The second tip to get you through the holiday time is closely related to the first. As a digital nomad, I am intentional about how I make my plans. To really get out of a rut, it helps to be clear and intentional with how you manage your time. South Korea may not be a huge country, but there’s so much to see and do that it’s easy to find something interesting to do – not to mention the fact that it’s a short hop to most other East Asian countries if I’m looking to make an international trip. I like to be clear about where I’m going and what I want to do while I’m there. This helps to maximize my travel experience.
The third and final tip for living abroad during the holidays is to stay in touch with friends back home. For me, it’s particularly jarring seeing all my friends and family spending December at pool parties and braais (those are South African barbecues, by the way.) while I deal with the frosty climes of Korea. But being connected with them through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram provides a sense of belonging that I yearn for every so often. One of the major ‘dangers’ of being a lone traveller abroad is that life at home doesn’t stand still, and you might be worried about what you’re missing out on. To an extent, social media cures that FOMO and provides a two-way channel for you to share your own novel holiday experiences with friends back home.
Perhaps you’re nervous about spending a time which is traditionally associated with family, alone. What you’ll learn is that there’s nothing to be worried about, and you’ll be fine wherever you find yourself. If you’re feeling especially reluctant about traveling on your own, reach out to communities and forums related to the places you’ll be headed and use your trip to make new connections and friendships. Once you’ve got that sorted, all that’s left to do is soak up the experience of enjoying the holidays in a completely different setting.
Written by: Stuart Hendricks