I had no expectations as I came to this country. I was not naive enough to believe that my life would be like a Korean drama. And while the K-pop and K-culture was a contributing factor to my decision to come to Korea as opposed to the other countries I was considering, it was not the end all and be all – despite what others have said to and about me. I was hoping to challenge myself on a personal and professional level. I wanted to travel and see a different part of world. I wanted to understand another culture (can we ever really?) and interact with different people. And I like to think that I’ve done that as much as possible.
It’s been two years. Sometimes, it feels just like yesterday. As if I had just gotten off the airplane – exhausted, nervous, excited. Sometimes, it feels like so much longer than two years. Like I’ve been here for years and years – despite my beginner level of the Korean language- and that it’s so much harder leaving Korea than it was in coming. Why? Because I’ve fallen head over heels for this country.
It was in this country that I’ve learned to be on my own. I’ve made mistakes and had to figure out how to fix them. I’ve traveled to different parts of the country using different modes of transportation. I’ve learned to cook food on my own – with plenty of blunders and little successes along the way. I’ve learned a bit of the history of the city and the country and can proudly give a mini tour of different places of the city to my visitors. I’ve picked up enough Korean – listening and understanding – to be able to communicate with most Koreans. My speaking is dreadful and almost non-existent considering how I spend most of my week teaching English. Still, I’m proud of myself.
By no means was my experience in Korea completely perfect. Life never is. There are things that I will never be a fan of but even those challenges have made me grown a little more as a person. Learning to deal with the cultural differences, language barrier, and the occasional professional situations have made me grow up and understand myself as a person. As the individual I am, I have learned to be brave and generous and understanding. As the professional, I have come to understand children with the same language barriers I was experiencing, I have learned to be patience in and out of the classroom, and that work politics is a tricky business. Korea has challenged me in every aspect of my life and I’m thankful for it.
I’m going to miss it here so much. I’m going to miss all the side dishes that comes with the food. I’m going to miss the cafe culture. The shopping. The delicious little restaurants. The non-tipping culture. The living on my own and the freedom that comes with. The walks through the traditional and modern parts of the city. The convenience of traveling. The wonderful subway metro system. The bingsoo. The free domestic shipping through online shopping.The security guards in my apartment who recognize me and call me by my apartment number- 천사백십. The friends I have made. The coworkers who have made these two years at work so wonderful. The students. The hundreds of students who I have come to love and care for so much. Almost everything that has made my life what it was for two years.
A friend recently commented again how “brave” she thought I was for having lived here for two years. I got a lot of these comments two years ago when I first told people my plans. And once again, I thought to myself: I’m not brave. Coming to Korea took a little courage, sure, but I’ve been dreaming of teaching and traveling for so long. It was something that I wanted to do. I wasn’t afraid of it. But now, leaving Korea – I am afraid. Because I have no definitive plans or a job lined up. And that to me is so much scarier. This is my brave decision. Going home and working hard to get that job that I want. And even if it wasn’t for that, I know that my time in Korea is up.
Two years is both short and long. When I think of my students, I can’t help thinking about how I want to keep staying on and teaching them all until they graduate. The younger ones hugging me and pleading with me not to go. At that point, yes, it feels like I haven’t been here long enough. But when I think of everything that I have done, all that I have seen, I know that I’ve made the most of the time here. I have gone to places in the city that many Koreans who have lived here all their lives have never been yet. And that’s because I knew that I always had an expiry date. And that expiry is now. Korea is changing. Seoul is changing. This is evident in all my familiar places to go have closed up and are changing. The education system is slowly letting go of the contract English sector – my time was always limited. And even if I chose to stay, I would have been working with a completely new office or been transferred to a new school. My fate with Korea was always going to come to an end. And the feeling is very bittersweet.
I’ve changed too. Not exactly in a better or worse way. Just changed in the way that we all have to change – or are bound to change when you live in a different country, immersed in a different country, for two years. I’ve taken on Korean little expressions in my day to day communications, much to the amusement of my students, friends, and family. I’ve become more confident when dealing with my private matters- things that I’m so used to relying on my mother for. My style has changed – as it was bound to since I buy almost all my clothes here now. I’m so much better as a teacher now than I was two years ago, since I started with little to no experience teaching English as a foreign language. I’m going to miss Korea so much. Thank you for these amazing two years. I’m sorry for all the times that I mis-communicated with others, whether it was because of the culture or the language barrier. I’ve loved this country and who I was while I was here. I’ll be back one day.
Until then, please take care.
고마워요. 사랑해요. 안녕히계세요.