How I've dealt with the loneliness of living abroad so far / by Shelby Robinson

Loneliness can mean so many different things. It can be a desire for closeness, for intimacy. An achy feeling for familiarity. A desire for company. Maybe we're dealing with something that we really don't want to face, or maybe we just miss a person or a place a whole lot. Maybe we're living in the past. Maybe we're surrounded by people and still feel alone.

In the mere month of being here, I can't tell you how lonely I've felt. (Mom, family, I promise I'm fine!). Most of my days consist of going to school to teach students who speak basic, basic English, then to the supermarket for groceries or a cafe for tea, and then back to my apartment. Back to a timezone that is totally different from everyone and everything I'm used to. To a place that is still so new and so foreign to me. And more often than not, I'm alone. A lot.

Now don't get me wrong, I've always been one to really enjoy solitude, to need it. But my alone time back home consisted of an hour-and-a-half yoga class or an hour in a coffee shop every day. And then the rest of my days were filled with my big family and my awesome friends and my social job. Here, I don't have that. Here, I have scarce late night Skype sessions and brief Kakao conversations and 3-second Snapchats. Here, I have once-a-week meetups with other foreigners in Korea. Here, I have my big apartment and taped up pictures of late nights and morning coffee and snuggles with my pets back home. Here, I have myself. And it scares the hell out of me.

Before moving to Korea, I knew there were going to be heaps and loads of adjustments. Loads. I knew all of this and honestly... I wanted this. I just didn't know what those adjustments were, or how to prepare, or what to expect. ~ But I suppose that's life. You can plan and plan and prepare and worry and still, it will never go the way you expect. Everything is in a constant state of motion: the things around us, the Earth, our bodies, our minds. You can't predict what will happen five minutes from now, one day from now, one month from now. You just have no way of knowing. Everything is always changing. And yea.... there's beauty in that.

So I've been trying. Trying to explore the feeling of loneliness and getting to know it rather than avoiding it or trying to mask it. And here's what has helped me deal with the loneliness so far:


I can't tell you how important this has become to me: a daily (often twice daily) affair with my journal. It gets my thoughts and feelings on paper, calms my mind, puts me in a relaxed state. It's so great to see the progress I've made and the realizations I've reached and the patterns I've noticed, too. And I love how raw and real and honest every word is. It's even allowed me to become more honest with myself. Plus, it's so flippin fun to go back and read old entries.


Before I left, I went to the used section in Schuler's Books and loaded up on good reads. Books to get lost in, to make me think, to bide my time. (Special thanks to Lindsey for the recommendation to read This Is How You Lose Her, I am in love.)

Embracing It

This has to be the hardest, most important lesson of all for me. To realize that being lonely goes hand in hand with being uncomfortable.... something that I'm not used to. But in the discomfort, comes growth. How are we going to learn and grow if we stay in the same place, doing the same thing, seeing the same things? I've learned to welcome loneliness with non-judgment. To notice it, accept it, and to allow space for it. Even though it's a bit uncomfortable, it must be felt. It's all part of the process. And things always get better.


Amidst the scariness and the loneliness and the homesickness and hurt, I have grown. I have learned to take things one day at a time, confide in friends and fam back home, and mostly to trust myself. To trust the process. Trust my journey. Because there is meaning and purpose in all things. And I'm still struggling and learning and growing. Always. But allowing and accepting all of my feelings makes me feel just a little bit lighter.