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A Life Changing Leap for the Whole Family

By Niki Blake

The KIS Families series shares stories from families in the school community. Here, Niki Blake shares her family’s decision to move abroad, arriving in Korea December 2019. 

When my husband approached me about a potential job opportunity in Seoul, he might as well have said it was Mars! Korea seemed a million miles away from everyone and everything familiar, and not a place that had ever sat in my scope of reality. My husband, myself and our five kids had lived in Las Vegas, Nevada (USA) for the past sixteen years; we were very comfortable with our network of friends, schools, doctors and other needs. As I thought about moving to Korea I quickly began to realize that comfort can be a tricky place. It creates security and safety in many ways, but as I pondered this decision I realized comfort can also hinder the ability to step outside of a norm. I had a lot of questions like: Am I ready to feel more stretched in my life? Am I ready for a challenge? Ready to take risks? Ready for an adventure? Am I ready to make that first step?

My husband and I had the opportunity to visit Seoul while making this huge life decision. Luckily this was pre-pandemic days when traveling was much easier with no quarantine restrictions. Our trip was short, our schedule tight and jet lag hit hard. We didn’t even eat dinner that first night, we were far too exhausted to stay awake. We saw different housing options and visited various schools for the kids. There was little time to digest much of what we were taking in but my initial reaction wasn’t positive. Everything was so different from what I was used to – nothing felt familiar. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to accommodate our large family here or navigate basic life situations. My stomach was in knots and I had a migraine. 

At that point, my husband was fairly certain I would say no. But I’m a thinker! I think, think, then overthink, and then re-think one more time just for good measure. (Is this a redeeming quality!?)

After experiencing the first wave of shock, I’m usually able to ponder and think more intricately (and logically) through the pros and cons of a situation. I’ll go through it with a fine tooth comb.  When making a decision I like to study out and weigh all the options, play them forward, look at things from every angle, read the reviews and talk to others as resources. My husband could jokingly tell you about a time when we were out shopping and I needed to buy a binder. Just a three ring binder… nothing fancy! I sat there and pondered on those binders as if I was debating between going left or right at a fork in the road. In certain situations such as binder shopping, my overthinking can get the best of me. Although while considering an international move, my overthinking made all the difference in knowing the right direction for our family.

Everyone is different. Some people jump feet first into the unknown, all in for a new adventure, figuring out the details later. Some people are more cautious and need time to gather information and think. Neither is right or wrong. I have five kids at home so I knew I needed to do my homework. The great thing about either type of personality is that they both allow opportunities for an adventure and that in itself is exciting! 

Once I made the commitment to move to Seoul I also made an equally important promise to myself. Regardless of the unknown trials awaiting me in Korea, I committed to not look back, to face every obstacle and every blessing with a forward facing mindset. My heart was fully committed to the pendulum of possibilities and risks. No doubt there are endless questions about the logistics of making a global move. At times, looking at those logistics on paper felt suffocating and overwhelming. However, once I deliberately shifted my perspective from fearing the unknown to choosing to have faith in my decision and embrace every high and low with my whole heart, I was able to not only feel peace in place of anxiety but I gave myself the opportunity to truly experience the gravity of my adventure, as opposed to just “making it through.” Things will definitely go wrong but choosing to embrace and accept what comes, and choosing to laugh instead of scream has helped me learn how to move forward.  

This experience has shown me how valuable your mindset is, specifically related to patience and flexibility. My husband and I have tried to teach our kids these lessons as they have navigated through their own twists and turns in this journey. We all have our own varying degrees of learning curves but right now as a family we’re learning how to accept “uncomfortable” as a consistent feeling, because discomfort exists in every corner of the world. When my kids experience moments of frustration and discomfort I help them to validate those feelings and let them marinate for a moment.  I believe that giving honor to a feeling is important rather than disregarding it.  After that, you can find solutions and positive ways to make those feelings improve.  The opportunity to move across the globe provided us the chance to learn valuable lessons and has given me a platform to teach my kids that exercising flexibility and patience in the face of discomfort will develop confidence and growth. 

People say that kids are resilient and I can testify to that. My kids have embraced this challenge so bravely. We explained to them that even though they would give up a lot and need to make personal sacrifices in coming to Korea, they would gain invaluable knowledge and experience that would impact the rest of their lives. 

One gain is education. Giving our kids this opportunity is a huge reason we carefully considered the move. We are so grateful for KIS. From the beginning KIS took an individual interest in each of our kids and genuinely wanted to know them. Our family has felt welcomed and supported through this transition. At KIS my kids are challenged and feel success and pride in their work.  They have excelled immensely through classes, clubs, extra curricular activities and often express satisfaction about school. Our kids are academically and mentally catered to on a greater personal level than they have ever experienced. Their teachers know them, their counselors know them and reach out regularly. It’s a highly individualized experience and as a parent there’s nothing more valuable than witnessing educators rooting for my children’s success. I have seen my children’s confidence grow as they have accomplished hard things. There has been much to celebrate! 

My youngest daughter, not yet in school, has certainly enjoyed her outings around Seoul, surprised by kind strangers giving her candy or a gentle pat on the head. Some people just break out into dance to make her laugh! She is loving all the newfound attention.

Just over a year ago, I would have never imagined that my kids would be taking the subway and bus by themselves (and that I would be the one getting lost far more often then they do!). They hail taxis, explore the city on electric scooters, navigate directions with apps, communicate with people who don’t speak their language, make friends with people from all over the world, learn more about Korean culture – the list goes on! I can’t believe how much they have grown! They have become so confident and independent and I’m grateful that despite the risks and unknowns we chose to embark on this journey together. I’m so happy we took this once in a lifetime opportunity we were given to come to Seoul because it is life changing.  

The phrase “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is so true because although my first visit to Korea was filled with fear and worry, I wasn’t able to appreciate the depth and beauty that I find here now. It’s been good for my soul to absorb a new culture with so many facets and elements that are unfamiliar to me. There is so much joy in the details and Korea is full of details! There aren’t enough days to explore all that this amazing land offers. People have been kind and gracious in welcoming us. They take great pride in their country and I am honored to be a visitor here. 

I know now that whatever life throws in my path I can do hard things, because that’s how I got here today. A favorite quote of mine is from William Feather: “One way to make the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” I’ve found this can be applied at any stage of life. With the right mindset, energy and attitude, the hardest times can become an adventure. But it’s a choice. It’s not easy, and not always fun, but we’re learning and growing everyday. Our family initially signed up for the unknown and now looking back, the one thing I am certain of is that every step we take knits our family closer together. 

Niki Blake is a KIS parent who lives in Seoul with her husband, Corry, and their five children, four of whom attend KIS.  On a weekend Niki likes to explore Korea, go to the park, or watch a movie.  She recommends you try bingsu, the popular Korean shaved ice dessert. No overthinking that! Go for it!