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… ^_^

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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.

Anxiety 

Anxiety wakes me up when I’m just falling asleep even though I’m completely exhausted. It sends pains all over my neck and arms and legs and head. It makes my hands tingle and my feet go numb. It tries to convince me that I’m dying, that I’m having a heart attack, that I’m having an aneurysm. It tells me that I can’t breathe even though I’m taking long, deep breaths. It convinces me that I’m totally alone and that I’ll never get through this. It tells me that I’m not normal and that I am pathetic and that I should be able to just go to sleep like everyone else but I can’t. It tells me that if I do fall asleep, I’ll either be tormented by awful dreams or never wake up. 
I want to be well. I must conquer this. I will conquer this. 

The Something of Doing Nothing

I’ve come to a point in my life where I am not as creative nor am I as in tune with my own thoughts and feelings as I used to be. This has greatly increased my anxiety and depression as well as made it painfully difficult at times to deal with everyday situations. Writing has been, for most of my life, the main outlet for my thoughts and emotions. I have often said that I don’t know what I really think or feel about something until I’ve written about it. Since I’ve had more and more to occupy my time and have opened my journal less and less, I feel like I have lost something, I feel like I am barely holding together even though many things in my life are going well. Even when I sit down and try to write, try to unblock those rivers, my mind is cloudy and I can’t really focus; I can’t really get much more than a few drops out. I’ve realized (I’ve known all along, really) that one of the main things holding me back is the fact that I am always doing, even when I’m just relaxing. I’m always doing school work or running errands or reading something or watching videos or listening to podcasts or making plans or organizing or researching or spending time with people, etcetera. None of these things are bad, it’s just that there is something very important that I’ve stopped doing: nothing. I’ve stopped staring out of the window and letting my mind wander. I’ve stopped moving my pen aimlessly, drawing unidentifiable shapes as I explore my own thoughts and memories. I’ve stopped sitting down to write about nothing in particular, just to get it out. I’ve stopped laying on the floor and praying about anything and everything that comes to mind. These are the things that used to keep me sane. These are the things that helped me to reflect and to understand what was really going on in my head. These are the things that kept my creative juices flowing and my fictional characters breathing and my head on relatively straight. I somehow adopted the idea that it would be a waste of time to do such things, that if I was going to just sit and relax, I might as well be watching, reading, or listening to something, or I should be going somewhere. I forgot that I have to stop to really think – even if I’m afraid of what I might discover. Many, if not all, great writers and thinkers take time to do nothing, to just stare, to just think. Great minds understand the importance of spending quality time alone with themselves. I think many of us focus so much on the importance of community and of spending time with others and the importance of productivity that we forget that it is equally important to spend time in our own minds, even if only for a few minutes in our busy schedules.

PS – I have been trying to write about this for a while now, but have had trouble writing it just the way I want it. Then I saw this video talking about pretty much the same thing and figured I should just get it out, no matter how much I disapprove of the way I wrote it. Anyway, I thought I’d also share said video. Though the writer of it is not of my worldview, I agree with most of what is expressed there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lz-qrVUecE