Moving to Korea Pt. 3: Settling In

As I was driven into Gumi, my excitement to get settled into my new home increased. Even though Gumi is mostly known for being an industrial city, it is actually quite beautiful (though, I feel like pretty much every city in South Korea has its share of natural beauty). I remember looking out the car window at the river and mountains and just thinking “I get to live here.”

First, I was taken to my main school, which was still very much under construction. I was told on the way there that it was a brand new school, but only upon arrival did I understand just how new it was. There was no parking lot or front courtyard, just dirt and lumber being moved around by heavy machinery. I met my main co-teacher and my other co-teacher who would be at the same school. They were both a bit shy, but very sweet. We found out that all three of us are the same age, so that helped to create a bond. They took me into the school, crossing a massive construction zone. As we walked past men wearing hardhats, I thought about how we would definitely not be allowed to walk through this back home. When we entered the building, I could see that even the inside was not finished and they still had quite a bit of work to do before school could start. The office was chaotic, but every one was friendly to me. Many of the other teachers were a bit shy around me as they were not very confident about their English speaking abilities (a common situation in Korea). Since the school was so new and many things were still being decided, there were so many unknowns for me. Rather than being upset by this situation or feeling stressed, I actually found it all to be quite amusing. I had already grown accustomed to going with the flow and living a life that is full of uncertainty. Also, I was told to expect a lot of surprises in my new job, so I thought it fitting that it should start out like this.

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Under Construction

After this, my two co-teachers took me to my studio apartment, which I had been eager to see and I couldn’t wait to start making it feel like home. They helped me carry my humungous suitcases up two flights of stairs and into my new place. It was bigger than I expected and I liked the layout of it. There was really only one big problem…well, two. There was no bed and no table. These were things that were supposed to be provided for me, as stated in my contract. My co-teachers told me that they needed to take me to buy a bed and table and chairs but had to wait for the school to receive its government funding. So, they took me to buy some bedding that I would eventually be using on a bed, but for now would be using to sleep on the floor. Sleeping on the floor or on a thin floor mat is common in Korea, so I tried not to complain too much. I knew they were doing what they could and I would eventually have a bed. We then went shopping for various things I would need in the apartment (mostly just dishes and cleaning supplies). It was fun to pick out a few things for my new home.

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After running around and helping to get me settled as well as submit my documents to become a legal alien in Korea, my sweet co-teachers treated me to a meal. We had some Japanese food that was really delicious and we enjoyed talking and getting to know each other better. I felt so lucky to have two wonderful co-teachers who I could enjoy being around and who were so kind.

In the evening, they dropped me off at my apartment and it was time for me to be alone and unpack. It felt so strange to be alone and in such a quiet place after so much time of constantly being around other people. I started to feel a little bit lonely and homesick, but I didn’t want to let those feelings stew, so I started texting one of my Korean friends (because of the timezones, it was not a good time to contact someone from home). It was comforting to have someone in the same timezone who was familiar to me. I also listened to a podcast and filled my apartment with sound as I began going through my things and started to think about how I wanted to set things up.

It was strange because it still hadn’t fully sunk in. I still didn’t feel like I was on the other side of the world. Even though I knew I had done something to change my life in a drastic way, it felt so normal to me. I wondered a bit if there was something wrong with me. Perhaps there was something that I should have been feeling but wasn’t. But I wasn’t going to try to force emotions that just weren’t there. I think my comfortability with change is simply part of God’s plan. He built this up in me so that I could move around and adjust to new situations easily.

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Anyway, I’m having trouble deciding what all to write about and what to leave out. There is so much that I could say, but i think it would take far too long and may not be so fun to read. So for now, I will leave this here and come back to tell you more soon. Thanks for reading ^_^

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Moving to Korea Pt. 2: First Impressions and Fellow Foreigners

Since I came to Korea as a native speaking English teacher, my first 9 days in the country were spent at orientation alongside hundreds of other teachers coming from various English-speaking countries. This was a part of the journey that I really didn’t think about very much prior to coming here so my experiences there were not anything I really expected. We stayed at a beautiful university in the mountains of Busan. This was where I got my first real glimpse of just how beautiful Korea is. Even being in a big city like Busan, I was surrounded by beautiful landscapes. I saw birds I had never seen before and plants that were unfamiliar to me. I got to go on a few outings and experience walking around town and experiencing the feeling of being here (something I can’t quite find the words for, so I’ll leave it at that). We also had sort of a field trip day, but I’ll come back to that later.

 

Being at orientation was such an interesting experience. I met so many people from around the world who had made the same crazy decision that I had and were far from home just like me. I met people from South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and of course some fellow Americans from various states (and a few from California, my home). It was such a cool experience to meet and befriend so many people from different places and different backgrounds and who had different reasons for making the same decision. It was fascinating to me to be surrounded by different accents and dialects of my mother tongue and to even at times feel like my accent and diction were changing all on their own. I had an awesome roommate while I was there who I am so glad to have met and am so pleased to have as a friend. Though orientation did feel a bit like a bubble – a comfort zone of English-speakers – I think it was a nice way to ease into living in a different country. It’s nice to have that companionship and to have a network of people to give support and to relate in a way that nobody else can.

 


Orientation served many purposes – giving us many connections with others, allowing us the opportunity to learn from more experienced educators, and giving us an introduction to this lovely country. As mentioned earlier (I told you I’d come back to it), one day of orientation was spent on a field trip. We were taken to a restaurant first where we had bibimbap and then we were taken to the UN Memorial Cemetery where we were shown a documentary film about the Korean War and the memorial before walking out to see the actual cemetery. I didn’t expect to have such an emotional reaction to it, but toward the end of the documentary, I started to feel a lump form in my throat and tears well up in my eyes. When we walked out and saw the graves, I completely lost it. I think it was a combination of being very familiar with grief myself and having known and taken care of war veterans as a caregiver and hearing their stories that really made this place hit me with a flood of emotions. I felt a little embarrassed crying in front of everyone, but thankfully most people either seemed (perhaps pretended) not to notice or they tried to comfort me. I felt that I shouldn’t be crying as I did not lose anyone to this war, but I felt the weight of loss as I walked past the grave markers.

After this, we went to Nurimaru APEC House (google it) and to Haeundae beach. It was so beautiful there, I couldn’t believe it. It was such a relaxing way to spend the day and I am looking forward to going back there someday, hopefully in the near future. This is best described through pictures rather than words, so have a look:

Since things moved so fast and I was so busy right away, it was hard to really process and take it all in. It was strange though, I did not feel like I was so far from home. I felt comfortable here right away and it didn’t feel like a strange place at all. Perhaps this is because I am already used to my life changing over and over and having to adjust to new homes and new normals frequently. Maybe the fact that I had already studied and knew a lot about Korea from the start has also aided me to that end. Really the only reason I get really homesick while I’m here is that I miss my friends and family and I miss being able to talk to pretty much anyone I wanted without dealing with many language barriers.

On the last full day of orientation, it was finally time to find out which city I would be in, how many schools I’d be teaching at and which grade level I’d be teaching. I was so excited to finally find out where my new home would be. I finally met my employer and was told that I would be living in Gumi (구미) and would be teaching at two elementary schools and one middle school. I was pleased to be placed in Gumi because I knew someone who was from there and I already knew about the place. It’s also nice because it is situated toward in the middle of South Korea, so places like Seoul and Busan are only 2 or 3 hours away by train. I was also happy to be placed at multiple schools and to be teaching more than just one level because I wanted to gain as much teaching experience as possible in my first year teaching and I also enjoy a life that is in constant change. Once I knew my placement city and the names of my schools, I looked up where they were on the map and started looking at pictures of where my new home would be. I couldn’t wait to be shown to my apartment and introduced to my co-teachers the next day~

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Gumi ^_^

To be continued soon… ^_^

Moving to Korea Pt. 1: How did this happen?

Before I left to go teach English in South Korea, I had every intention of updating my blog regularly to help friends and family and anyone else who is curious see a little glimpse of my new life here. Well… I’ve been here for two months and as you can see, I’ve not lived up to that. I knew that my life here would be quite busy right away, but I didn’t anticipate how busy… not that I’m complaining. Busy is good. I’ve also been trying to keep close friends and family updated as much as possible, which includes writing many long messages on a somewhat regular basis which then makes it harder for me to sit down and write a blog post.

Anyway… I’m going to attempt to post a few different posts within the next week or so, partly because I need to force myself to sit down and think and process it all and partly because I know there are some who would like to read about it. I’ll start with how this all began, in case anyone is interested… So here goes – here is part 1:

So…a few years ago I made a crazy decision. With an interest in traveling, a desire to fully experience other cultures, a love of language and desire to help those who want to learn my mother tongue and the realization that I am still quite young and untethered, being able to pursue any path… I decided to go back to school and earn the proper credentials to teach English abroad. I specifically had my eye on South Korea to be my starting point and then maybe Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, and possibly other Southeast Asian countries. There were many times during the process of going back to school that I thought maybe I wouldn’t end up here. Maybe none of this would go as planned and I’d be doing something else entirely.

One big thing happened that caused me to think maybe it wasn’t something I wanted to do anyway, but once that thing was no longer in my life, I realized that in my heart, I still desired to take this path (could go into more detail about this, but it would take a long time and frankly it would be unkind to share too much). It was surprising to me, a bit strange even, how confident I then became that this was exactly what I wanted to do. I still had doubts that it would all work out, but I was not afraid of taking the leap, which given my history with anxiety, is frankly quite astounding. In general, I hesitate to say that God placed a desire in my heart for something as I don’t want to put words in His mouth and there have been things I’ve strongly desired in the past that were not to be. But I know that God has me on this path for a reason, as nothing is outside of His control. I know that at least part of it will be in struggle and hardship and probably even disillusionment, though I like to think I have come prepared and knowledgeable about the potential downsides of my decision.

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This was the first time I got my passport…it started to feel a little more real at that point…

After I finished my Bachelor’s and started going through my TESOL program, everything began happening so fast. My life was very busy and hardly ever slowed down, which increased my perception of how fast everything was happening. A little before I finished the program, I applied for a teaching position in Korea which would be starting only a few months later. That’s when it all started to feel real. This was really happening. I was really going to leave everything familiar behind and move to the other side of the globe for a minimum of one year. There were times when I was really excited, and times when I felt as though I was being ripped in half, but still the feeling at my core that this was what I wanted to do, this was the right direction for me, did not waver. It’s such a strange sensation to feel the heartache of not wanting to leave your friends, family, and home country behind, while also feeling like it is something that you strongly desire and must do. I am no stranger to feeling two or more opposing emotions or sentiments at once, but this was something new to me entirely.

 

The month before I was to leave, I made as many plans as possible with my close friends and family and tried to soak in their love and companionship and general amazingness as much as possible, knowing that I’d regret it if I didn’t. I also ate a lot of food and visited a lot of places that I knew I’d be missing. I filled up my schedule to the brim while also trying to get all the details and preparations in order, continue working as a caregiver, and trying to maintain my sanity and emotional stability. I think when I originally had planned to make this big move, part of me was doing it as a means to escape some things that I didn’t want to deal with anymore, but by the time I was actually leaving, I realized I no longer had anything I truly wanted to escape from. This is definitely a healthy and good thing, but it made leaving much more heart-wrenching. My life tends to be filled with bittersweet situations and this was certainly one of the more intense ones. I was so excited and eager to start this new adventure, but I was heartbroken, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to just go meet up with my close friends at a cafe or head over to my dad’s house for dinner. I was leaving knowing that I would miss so much back home, but that I would be experiencing a great deal of new and interesting things abroad.

 

My last month in America was a whirlwind. I had a lot of really good times with friends and family and I had so much preparing to do every day. I don’t think I have ever been more social and productive in my life! I should also mention that at this point, a lot of things were still up in the air. I didn’t know for sure that I would be going in February (and this was January) or if I’d be a late intake in March or April, and I also knew that there was a slight chance of it not working out at all. I found out about half way through January that I would be going in early February and about a week later I found out I’d be in the province of Gyeongbuk (or North Gyeongsangbuk-do), but wouldn’t be told the exact city until I after I arrived in Korea and completed the orientation. I also wouldn’t be told how many schools I’d be teaching at or what age group I’d be teaching. I truly believe that the only reason this didn’t completely freak me out was that God had prepared me for uncertainty and had given me a peace that was beyond my ability.

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The day I found out I’d be placed in Gyeongbuk

Before I knew it, I was all packed and ready to go and my dad and stepmom were dropping me off at the airport. After a tearful goodbye, I made my way into the very confusing and daunting place that is LAX with my giant suitcases that were almost too heavy for me to manage (packing for a year living in a place where you may not find clothes and shoes that fit you is a difficult task). I checked my bags, wandered through the airport, got myself some coffee and a snack and texted with my friends and family. It didn’t feel real to me. I couldn’t believe any of it was happening.

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Stopped crying momentarily to take this photo with my dad at the airport ❤ (also featured: my giant suitcases and my wonderful airplane attire)

My flight was 13 hours long. Thankfully most of it was during night time, and I had a whole row to myself so I was able to get some sleep. I was in somewhat of a daze on the plane. I didn’t feel nervous or worried, I felt a little bit excited but mostly just calm. I still had no doubts about whether I was doing the right thing, and I wasn’t afraid of making such a big change in my life.

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My Looooooong Flight

My plane landed in Taipei around 5am local time and I sleepily walked to the gate of my connecting flight to Busan. There were only 3 other people there when I first arrived and I slowly watched more and more people trickle in. My ears were filled with the Korean language and it was the first time I really started to feel like a foreigner, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. I tried to listen to what people were saying and see how much I could understand as I had been studying Korean for a few years before that, but had gotten quite rusty and was no where near fluent.
The flight from Taipei to Busan was only 2 hours, so it felt like nothing compared to the flight I had just been on.

At the Busan airport, I met my recruiter and a few other English teachers who had just arrived. I instantly felt comfortable with them and was excited to meet more teachers in the coming days.

This post is getting quite long, so I think I will end it here for now. I’ll be back with part 2 when I get the chance to sit down and write it. Thanks for reading~ ^_^

A Little Unorganized Reflection

I can’t believe I’m here. The last few years have been a series of drastic changes in my circumstances, sense of home and security, relationships, life goals, overall path, and even in my personality. There were so many times when I didn’t know what I was doing or where I would end up. There were quite a few times when I didn’t know where I was going to live or who I would have around me. I’ve had to adjust to new normals over and over again to the point where I don’t really have a strong sense of “normal” anymore, and it doesn’t bother me. I’ve moved and adjusted so many times that my sense of “home” is something that I’ve learned to carry with me and manifest outwardly wherever I am. I’ve taken so many scary leaps of faith, learning to feel the fear and just keep moving forward, trusting that the Lord would get me through. And you know what? He did. He always did. It has been even more solidified to me that God will use many different unexpected means to take care of me. I’ve learned to let go of so many things that I held so tightly. I’ve learned to take each new challenge as it comes, looking to the future, but focusing on today. I’ve learned that just because I’ve been a painfully shy introvert for the majority of my life, doesn’t mean I can’t learn to love being in a crowd and talking to strangers. I’ve learned that I (and any introvert), in fact, can be part extrovert and that labels are really only useful if they are removable and changeable. I’ve learned what an amazing ability humans have to adapt and adjust to the unfamiliar. I’ve learned that every setback is a blessing, no matter how painful it is (and perhaps the more painful ones carry weightier blessings). Even in loss, there is always gain.

It’s so strange and wonderful to look back to who and where I was just a few years ago in comparison to who and where I am now. I was scared of so much, I felt the need to spend countless hours alone, I had no real goals for my life and often felt a sense of panic, crisis, and even doom. But one scary step in a difficult and uncomfortable direction led to another. And another. And another. Until I no longer recognized where I was and the fear of the next step was greatly diminished. Now, while I won’t pretend to be fearless, I have much less fear and anxiety in my life and much more peace. Now, I enjoy and do need some alone time, but my love of being around others is equal to my love of seclusion and I often even find myself being energized by others. In the past year, I’ve strengthened old friendships and made so many new ones that I never knew I had the capacity to gain. I made goals to go back to school, earn my bachelors degree and my TESOL Certificate, and this past year, I’ve reached both of those goals and am on my way to reaching my next one. Even as I am never quite sure what the future will bring, I am no longer in crisis and I have a sense that everything will go exactly as it should. That old sense of doom is nowhere to be found. I never expected any of this and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I won’t pretend for a moment that any of this is my doing. I could not have come all this way without the Lord’s intervention and the wonderful people He has placed in my life. I am so thankful for all of it and I can’t wait to see what is to come.

Ramblings About People

Human beings are so beautiful. They are so complex and interesting. They are ever-changing yet constant. They are all the same yet all unique. We are all connected while also being separate. We feel the same things but we feel them differently and often for different reasons.

I have struggled most of my life with a fear of other people. This is in part (a big part) because of my own pride – my own “shyness” which is really a manifestation of my desire to be liked and even loved by everyone. I think I missed out on getting to know many people because of this fear. This small form of social anxiety often kept me from even simple things like going to the store or making important phone calls.

I’m not sure exactly when or quite how it happened, but I eventually started to realize that other people are AMAZING and I miss out on so much by being so focused on myself. God did a work in me, reminding me that all of us are of inherent value because we are disigned as mirrors of His image. That is the bottom line and that is what drove me to desire more to reach out to others than to be liked by others. The funny thing is, learning to stop caring so much about whether everyone likes me (though I will not pretend for a second that I have totally conqured this) and to just really enjoy people and find ways to connect on deeper levels has brought me more wonderful friends than I ever thought possible or even thought I had the social and emotional capacity for. Sure, there are times when I leave myself vulnerable for someone in an attempt to connect and am shot down, but after meeting and connecting with so many wonderful people, it’s definitely worth it.

Part of being made in God’s image means that we are all complex beings. Certainly not as complex as God, but complex enough that even knowing someone for a lifetime is not enough to know them fully. Though I am a very introspective person, there are times when I feel that I hardly even know myself. My personality is always changing, my taste changes, my desires and my dreams change – sometimes faster than I can keep up with in my ever-swirling mind. I think about how complex my own mind is and I wonder at how complex the minds of others must be too. This is why I think people are wonderful. There is always so much to discover about a person and it is so special when a person allows you to do so. What a privilege it is for another person to let you behind the gates.

At Ease

I haven’t felt like this in a while and I’m so happy, I’m on the verge of tears. I feel inspired, I feel enthralled with the beauty of language, of music, of storytelling and memories, of human creativity and the reflections we are of the One who created us whether we believe in Him or not. 

I am captivated by the sounds and the air, the soft light coming through my window. 

I feel at ease again after weeks of inner struggle, sleep deprivation, and disproportionate amounts of stress.

Life can be hard but God is good and beauty is everywhere and I know that everything will be just fine.

After Failure and Repentance

Lord, you are so tender.

You see my heart as I sin against you. You see my filth, my defiance, you feel the whips and the shards of glass, the thorns crushed into your skull, the nails piercing through your hands and your feet, the agony as you struggle for breath, the cold darkness of isolation. Lord, you bear it all even as I doubt your love for me. Even as I blame you for my sin.

And you never change your mind.

You watch as I run from you and you chase after me, calling my name in the sweetest tone. And you never stop chasing me, no matter how far I run. No matter what choices I make, you keep loving me, you keep chasing me, you wait for my return, my surrender.

And when I finally turn back, you fold me into your arms and kiss my brow and not a harsh word is on your lips.

Lord, you are so kind. You are love. You are grace and mercy.

I’ll never deserve you, but I’ll always have you.