I have come back to the Netherlands last Sunday, and realised that I forgot to upload the other parts of this series… Guess it’s time to continue with part 2!
You know that expression “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone”? Yeah. I have never really felt homesick before. Last semester, when I was still doing my internship in Hilversum, I felt bored and really lonely at a point, and missed my old place and my friends a lot. However, the main drive for that was that I didn’t feel happy with that situation, and longed for an environment where I felt at ease. Here, in Seoul, I’m constantly surrounded by people, mostly lovely and fun people, or else just people in general, considering I’m in a huge and crowded city. I rarely feel alone. Next to that, I bump into new or simply fun experiences on almost a daily basis. From karaoke to going to dinner and trying new food, from having interesting discussions in class to spontaneous trips to the beach. On top of that, homework needs to be done, exams need to be studied for, and class attendance is valued highly. I don’t think it’s even possible to get bored.
I quickly started missing food that I know. Or the freedom of riding my bike instead of taking the subway and cab all the time. Yet, these things are not things that made me feel extremely sad. It’s too bad, but no disaster.
What I missed was a sense of safety.
Back in the Netherlands, I know exactly how to get from A to B, where to get what I need, and which words to use to get them. I can call my friends or my mum whenever I need to, and I know exactly where to go when I feel down. Here in Seoul, I don’t.
The thing with homesickness is that you long for a place where you feel home. This isn’t necessarily a physical location. It doesn’t have to look similar to anything at all. As long as it makes you feel safe, and loved. For me, an added factor is being in control. I felt cared for from the start, since I live in a flat with a bunch of other exchange students. You develop a bond quickly with people, who are in the same situation as you are, with similar experiences. However, for me, real friendship is much more difficult to establish than “friends for fun”. Therefore, “feeling loved” is too much to ask for in just two months. In that moment, when I felt homesick, I didn’t feel safe enough to talk about my negative emotions with anyone. Next to that, it’s quite difficult to be in control of what happens to you when you don’t understand anything of what is going on around you, because it’s in a different language, and people have different customs that you’re used to. In that case, you need to let go of the need to be in control, and just go with the flow. You’ll figure it out eventually. Easier said than done, of course.
A small display of the people that made Seoul feel like home:
As most things, homesickness is temporary. At some point you get used to the situation around you, and you learn to not just to cope, but to use it. Enjoy it. Fall in love with it. I have to admit, I fell in love with Korea to an extent. However, I also realised (again) how lucky I am to be a Dutch citizen. All of a sudden, I became slightly patriotic. We complain about our country a lot. Damn, there is so much left to improve. Yet, maybe it isn’t too bad to be proud of it as well. Proud of all the improvements that have already been done. Proud of the language (it may not be art, but I will remain to think of it as more beautiful than German), proud of the level of education, and proud of our freedom. People always recall how much is allowed in the Netherlands. How much freedom we have. Yeah, it might be too much sometimes, or in some eyes in general. Still, I’d rather have all the choices and the chance to do something wrong, than have limited choices and be stuck. Go Dutchies, you’re doing well!
[Addition: As I said before, I just came back to the Netherlands. I am already starting to miss Seoul. Another type of homesickness maybe? There is always something to miss. Especially the few amazing friends I’ve made during my time there. Still, honestly, when I look into the eyes of the people I love, I got to say: Damn, I’m glad to be home.]
– Katrin –