We asked 2nd Dan black belt, Ali Wittenberg-Scott, how her karate training has helped navigate the trials of relocating to a foreign country. Here’s what she said:

This is a blog post about uprooting to a foreign country in the middle of a pandemic, with zero knowledge of the language or the culture. Because what could go wrong?

Most of my time in South Korea has been wonderful. The locals are incredibly welcoming, and I’ve had the opportunity to explore fascinating places and experience the ideas, customs, and social behaviours of a different society. I’ve been well cared for by both co-workers and complete strangers. (As an aside, I’m now starting an umbrella collection – I consistently get rained on, and random passers-by kindly shove umbrellas into my hand. I now have four. Between you and me, I’ve yet to have one when it’s raining).

I’ve also had quite a few public transport mishaps, like missing the last train home, or taking the wrong bus and getting stranded in a random parking lot. Or, in one case I read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) incorrectly and almost landed up in the wrong city. However, it’s always ended up okay and I’ve made my way home safely (although sometimes very wet).

It’s not easy to pinpoint exactly how my karate training has helped me adapt to living in a foreign country, but based on my experiences so far, I seem to deal better with stressful situations than some of the people I’ve traveled with. Missed your last train home? Tough luck, figure something else out, quick. Booked a ticket to the wrong city? Find your ride home ASAP before the buses stop running. No time for a breakdown.

I suppose the word that comes to mind from my training is “grit”. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting being stuck or lost in a foreign country, but luckily, I’ve had years of training to stay focused, knuckle down and get through it, even when my travel buddies are having mini-meltdowns.

It’s also helped that whenever I’ve (almost) had a freak-out that I’d be marooned in a completely foreign city with no way home, I heard Sensei Bruce somewhere in the back of my head yell, “FOCUS, Ali”, which continues to be a very effective way of snapping me back to reality. For that, and for all my years of training, I’m grateful I have the mental determination to overcome obstacles, whether in foreign countries, with new languages, or simpler things closer to home.

So, armed with four umbrellas and years of karate training under my belt, I’m convinced living in East Asia is about to become infinitely easier.

OSAAA, always.