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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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.

Home is Where I Think it Is

Home is not a place. Home is a feeling.

I’ve heard the phrase, “home is where the heart is” all my life, but I didn’t really internalize it until I went through a series of changes that forced me to adjust to new normals and new places of living, over and over again. I always thought of home as just the place where my stuff was, where I slept, where I showered. Home was just the place I left from and returned to more often than anywhere else. When that physical place of home became more and more inconsistent, I had to revisit and reconstruct my idea of what ‘home’ really means.

It’s weird to hear other students living on campus talking about “going home for the weekend.” It throws me off because this is home for me. This is where I live right now; this is the only place I live right now. There is no ‘home’ for me to go back to over the weekend or over winter break. There is no bedroom with my furniture set up, waiting for my return. If I’m not staying here, I am a guest in someone else’s home. I can see that my life is made up of frequent adjustments to my ever-changing normal. My ever-changing sense of home. And I’ve gotten good at it. Adjusting. Making a place feel like home instantly because I need it to be home for me. Holding loosely to things and to my station, knowing it can be easily lost or changed at any moment. I never thought my life would be like this and I certainly never imagined I’d like it so much.

The more unstable my physical place of residence is, the more I see that home is something I can take with me. Something I must take with me – must create for myself – if I want to stay sane. Home is wherever I choose for it to be. Home is that feeling of belonging, that comfort and security of knowing where you are and not ever needing to ask or answer the question of why you are there. That feeling of home can be in a number of physical spaces. When I visit those little places I used to go with my mom, I’m home. When I’m having dinner at my Dad and Stepmom’s house, enjoying the sounds of my wonderfully woven-together family, I’m home. When I am curled up next to my boyfriend, watching documentaries or silly comedies, I’m home. When I’m outside and the sky is covered in clouds, but the birds are still chirping, I’m home. When I’m sitting in my dorm room, in this most temporary of living spaces, remembering how far I’ve come, how far the Lord has taken me, I’m home. Home is everywhere and nowhere. Home is where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. Home is where I think it is.

In a weird, good place

Sometimes I just stare at the ceiling or the wall and think about my dead mom and other people’s dead moms and I don’t feel particularly upset. I find myself feeling grateful. I find myself feeling somehow awestruck and I’m not even really sure what I mean by that.

The Cliché “What I’m Thankful For” Thanksgiving Post

Happy Thanksgiving! I just felt like taking a couple minutes to write some of the things I’m thankful for. Thinking of all the reasons I have to be grateful has been a powerful tool for me in battling anxiety and depression… I guess that’s one of the things I’m thankful for 🙂

I’m thankful that every time I think I have nothing, no one, nowhere to turn, no hope, no one who loves me, I’m wrong.

I’m thankful for God’s grace, unmerited favor, steadfast love, strength, goodness, and sovereignty.

I’m thankful for all the people who love me and all the people whom I love and the fact that the Venn diagram of those two groups overlaps quite a bit.

I’m thankful for strangers.

I’m thankful for those whom I love and have lost.

I’m thankful for those friendships that I never expected to blossom, but did.

I’m thankful for vulnerability and how it connects us all.

I’m thankful for stories whether true or fiction.

I’m thankful for the difficult things in life that God uses to make us grow.

I’m thankful for the ability to write.

I’m thankful for the ability to read.

I’m thankful for language.

I’m thankful for music and how many different kinds of music exist and will exist in the future.

I’m thankful for food and the fact that I don’t have to eat the same thing every day.

I’m thankful for empathy.

I’m thankful for colors.

I’m thankful for art and those who make it.

I’m thankful for emotions and the fact that I can feel them after periods of feeling nothing.

I’m thankful that I live in a place full of diversity.

I’m thankful for inspiring teachers who actually give a crap.

I’m thankful for education.

I’m thankful that there is always more to learn and I can keep learning for the rest of my life.

I’m thankful that we don’t have to be grammatically correct to be understood.

I’m thankful for how language evolves.

I’m thankful for the many ways people express themselves.

…I’m thankful that if I had more time to write this, it could be much much longer than this because the number of things I have to be thankful for is uncountable.

And, also, I’m thankful that people actually read my blog. Thank you 🙂

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Best Friends Aren’t For Everyone

Over the past few years, a lot of my friends have been getting married. As is customary, each of these friends has had to choose someone to be the maid of honor or best man. This led to me thinking about who I might choose to fill that role in my own (currently hypothetical) wedding. Thinking about this brought me to a realization that, at first, was a bit distressing. I have plenty of really good close friends, but I don’t actually have a best friend anymore. There is not just one friend who I spend the most time with or who knows the most about me or whatever it is that makes a best friend a best friend. There is not one friend who I feel closer to than all other friends. There are definitely friends who are closer than others, but there is nobody in first place. Nobody who stands just slightly higher than the rest. I’ve had best friends in the past for sure but over time, due to whatever circumstance, we grew apart or just came to a point where we weren’t quite so close or involved in each other’s lives. And that’s fine, really. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s sort of how life goes.

But I remember when I was younger, I thought that having a best friend was essential to life. Other people had best friends – that friend who had almost everything in common with them or that friend who had known them, like forever or that friend that had just always been there in the difficult times, etcetera. But that’s just not something that I can find in any one person anymore. Not currently anyway. When I came to the realization that I don’t have a best friend, it really bothered me. I started to think that maybe there was something wrong with me. I started to think it was really sad. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized: best friends aren’t for everyone (at least not for everyone while they are single… I would hope that married people would consider their spouse to be their best friend… that’s the ideal, anyway).

I had to ask myself if I was really lacking anything in terms of friends. Did I really need a best friend? Wasn’t it enough to just have a few really good friends? Honestly, when I look at the friends that I have, I am so thankful and so satisfied with who God has placed in my life. I like the fact that different friends can relate to me in different ways. I have some friends who have just been in my life for a really long time and have been with me through so much that we have a deep bond. I have other friends who totally get all my geeky/nerdy things and we can just be super weird together. I have friends who understand my creative side and we can encourage each other and talk about our creative process and other things of that nature. I have other friends who fill other parts that I don’t even know how to put into words. And having a varied group of friends also means that I have friends who relate to each part of my rather wide-ranged sense of humor and my varied taste in music, movies, books, etc. And I know my relationships with all of them go even deeper and can be even more complicated than that, but I don’t even know how to explain that here… you probably get it without me having to spell it out. The more I thought about all of these things, the more I realized how well off I am in the area of friendship. I have so much. I am so wealthy in this regard that it is absurd for me to think that I am missing something.

Some people do have a best friend, and that’s great. A best friend is a special thing indeed. But, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we all have to have that one person that fits that label in our lives. It is not essential. As stated before, best friends aren’t for everyone. Right now, having a best friend isn’t for me. I’ve had them in the past, maybe I’ll have one in the future, but I’m not going to think about it too much. After all, I’m pretty dang happy with the close friends I’ve got. I don’t like one friend better than another, I like them each differently. I love them each uniquely for who they are as individuals and I am so blessed by how each one of them has made my life better.