What I Miss Most About Korea (and I’m still here!)

I have been living in Korea for exactly four years now. It’s an amazing experience that has helped me to grow as an individual in many ways. Living in another country has forced me to break many of the mental molds I once had as an American.

I’ve learned that there are many different versions and translations of the bigger picture. What I once thought I fully understood about Koreans has proven to have been a preconceived notion as I look back.

Learning a new way of life, a new profession, a new view on life stretched my heart and mind in ways too countless to list here.

This sequel to my life is proving to be better than the original. It’s incredible to see how all the dots from my past have connected and my new direction makes sense to me now.

Growth as a person is no different than growth of a muscle. The more pressure and resistance you subject the muscle to, the bigger and stronger it will become. The muscle’s endurance will also increase.

If you don’t apply pressure and resistance to the muscle, it will atrophy. So goes the growth process of human nature and personal growth.

When I first came to Korea my life was a dichotomy of circumstances. The thrill of being in a completely new environment was at a peak. Conversely, the sticking points and stumbling blocks of trying to understand the rhyme and reason of everyday Korean life was no less than defeating at times.

When I mixed these two worlds together I received growth. Just like one would feel when looking in the mirror after a workout realizing the struggle to make all those workouts is finally paying off. I look back and see that, because of those pressure situations, I have new muscle.

But life in Korea is a doubled-edged sword.

I have been here for four years. This is my home. My place to rest my head. My apartment is my sanctuary – and a nice one at that (finally). I know exactly how to get around. I have my job under wraps. I know what my schedule is like week in and week out. Life is good.

Over the past several months though, I found myself getting restless. Not discontent, but wondering. Something is wrong. Is there struggle in all this comfort? The double-edged sword is sawing deeper and I realize something now.

I miss the pain.

Other than only speaking English, is my life all that different than the Korean to my left and right? No, it’s not. We’re walking to the bus together and riding it to our jobs. We’re going for groceries, going out to eat, doing our weekly activities without a single thought. Kind of watching the time go by.

It’s like when you first started with the push-up routine (if…you ever did push-ups before!). At first it was only ten reps, then six weeks later it was fifty. Enter Rocky theme music. Then, over the course of the next six weeks it was…fifty. The struggle to get to the next level was gone.

Whether it’s uprooting my Korea situation or seeking a new environment altogether, one thing is for sure. I need the fresh struggle back. The pain.

I often tell people that if teaching abroad ever became about money, I would quit and go back to my old life. Being abroad is really about the struggle. Finding a way to process pain and make a victory out of it.

When Vince Vaughn was young and skinny, he was in a comedy called “Swingers”. A movie about a bunch of young comedian wannabes in LA trying to make it happen and their lives in between. One of the dramas taking place in the film was with a character, Mikey, who moved to LA to get away from a recent breakup back in New York City. He obsessed over it.

In one scene Mikey is speaking with a friend who apparently had a similar situation in his life. He asks his friend how he got over it.

The friend tells him that, basically, as time goes by it hurts a little less and then eventually it just goes away. But then he found that he missed the pain.

“You miss the pain?” Mikey asks in amazement.

The friend responds, “Yeah. For the same reason you miss her. Because you lived with it for so long.”

As much as I despise it when I think about it, I also miss the pain now.


  1. Sometimes the feeling of wanting something more creeps up and you just need to strike a fire under your butt!

    Restless happens; I know that feeling all too well. lol

    • That’s my conundrum at the moment. Do I find a new way to spice up the old situation, or do I embrace the experience and move on to the next one. It’s a tough call.

  2. Just discovered the “diaries”. Really enjoying your commentary! I grew up a military brat and traveled to Osan many times. I remember those trips very fondly. My parents were focused on culture more than shopping (thank god). I look forward to seeing more of your entries.

    • Thank you. And that’s a very cool story. I imagine it must’ve been quite a unique and interesting experience to be able to travel around as you did.

  3. Loved your thoughts on growth being a muscle because that is why I am embarking on a similar life experience in December. Discovered your blog today and now joined your newsletter. I remember your video I watched a few months ago on reasons NOT to come to Korea stuck with me. I am excited to learn more from your blog. Thank you in advance for teaching me an abundance!

    • Wanted to also expand on the growth being a muscle. I found myself in corporate America staring at a computer screen for 10 hours a day. I was hanging out with the same people I always have and my comfort zone was shrinking. For reasons not yet fully explainable yet I felt this was the only way to grow and learn more about myself.

    • Thank you for joining. My first newsletter will go out at the end of this month so stay tuned!

  4. Damn, this is the constant nagging feeling I have every day. I don’t disagree when people tell me to appreciate what I have. I just wonder, “Is this all there is?” But I also ponder on whether it’s worth shaking up this nice little life.

    • That is the question, and it’s a tough one to answer for each person. Teaching abroad is not for everyone. It is an exceptional experience for the short-term and even a great long-term endeavor as well. If you did do it, when you return home very little will have changed, so why not?

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