Moving to a new country that speaks a different a new language and espouses a different culture is never easy. I cannot lie. I was scared during the week leading up to Asiana Flight 211 from San Francisco to Incheon. However, as I now approach six months, I feel incontrovertibly happy about my life here. While I undoubtedly lucked out with my work and life situation, I also think adopting the right mindsets is crucial.
Granted, my living situation has not been fraught with difficulties. In fact, compared to many others’ stories I feel quite privileged. I live in a bustling suburb next to a decent-sized city. My apartment is in relatively good repair. Most things I need are within a 15-minute bike ride or at worst a 20-minute bus (including my place of work). These factors certainly influence my wellbeing here.
Moreover, I am grateful to be at a very accepting school in which staff and students treat me very well. This is a hard causal link to untangle. On the one hand, I understand that each Korean school has a different staff that have varying attitudes toward native teachers. I may just be lucky in that regard.
On the other hand, I believe having the right mindsets and attitudes begets positive interactions which in turn produces a positive work environment. While I certainly don’t believe that my mindsets and attitudes can change a workplace culture, they can influence my responses to others, which in turn can either produce a subjectively pleasant or unpleasant experience.
My voracious interest in psychology and self-help inspired me to start a new miniseries of posts about mindsets that I believe help adapt to life in Korea and build a strong foundation of wellbeing.
I learned this mindset by spending one year actively participating in improvisation classes and workshops at the Sacramento Comedy Spot. Improv comedy is a form of entertainment in which actors perform scenes extemporaneously. In other words, it is unscripted, raw, and unpredictable.
The principle of “yes, and” means one should accept the circumstances placed before them and build upon it.
“Wow! I can’t believe we snuck onto this spaceship.”
“I know. Look out the window. Earth looks beautiful from up here.”
“We need to hide. I think I hear somebody coming,”
In improv, each actor accepts the piece of information brought forth by their teammates (yes) and helps elaborate upon that information to construct a world (and).
The idea of accepting the circumstances placed before you is not unique to improv. Schools of thought such as Buddhism, Stoicism, Taoism, Christianity, and countless others all have similar iterations of this idea.
When moving to a new country, one will encounter challenges and unfamiliar situations on a daily basis. The key to a successful transition is a willingness to sit in the uncertainty, accept it as true, and try to fit within the world.
Whether that means greeting my coworkers with a bow, handing store clerks money with a hand on my chest, or receiving money with two hands, I acquired each habit by refraining from judgment, accepting the way things are done, and playing along. When in Korea, do as the Koreans do.
The same mindset comes in handy when adapting to the speed of life. Sometimes schedules change so frequently that they do injury to the very idea of schedules. Inclement weather (blizzards currently come to mind) slows down my commute. Classes get canceled. Classes get added. Each vagary activates my “yes, and” reflex. As a result, while life here certainly keeps me on my toes, I never feel truly stressed. I just need to take a deep breath, say “yes,” and move towards an effective “and.”
This mindset brings the famous Serenity Prayer to mind:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
While I do not identify as particularly religious, these are some powerful words to live by. If one finds the good-ole G-word off-putting, one can make an easy substitution.
I will strive to find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Psychologists, philosophers, and theologians alike consistently slashed away at the idea of free will until many doubt if we have any at all.
As an expat, I am well aware that many things exist outside of my control. My language skills are subpar, my legal status rests on the tightrope of an E-2 visa, my legal rights are far inferior to those I enjoy in the United States (mostly to do with my foreign status, not any kind of government oppression).
While I believe that free will doubters make legitimate points, the realm in which we exert the most control lies beyond our eyes. We may not control our external circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts and reactions to those circumstances.
In the case of “yes, and,” we have the choice to either accept the situation before us and pick our next move accordingly or waste energy and willpower griping about things that are “unfair,” “not right,” or “frustrating.” Our attitudes can either exacerbate or soothe our vicissitudes. Regardless, the choice is ours and nobody can take that from us.
I have never seen a menu so vulgar. It also helped me learn how to say. “I have to shit” in Korean. This may come in handy someday.
Gamcheon was definitely the highlight of my trip to Busan. The terraced neighborhood, redolent of Southern Italian villages or South American favelas, was a sight to see.
The King and I explored a Buddhist temple in Gamcheon. I was floored with peaceful vibes.
I promise this will be my last shot of Gamcheon, but I couldn’t resist the urge to do a panoramic.
I had a good day with some good company.
I really felt the love.