Monday, April 23, 2012

Dear Korea...

That was a quick year wasn’t it? I remember coming in April thinking about how long a year was. I was scared back then. Looking back, it sounds silly. I never thought I’d be able to call you home, but now that I’m leaving…well, I can feel the homesickness already setting in. You can keep the octopus, though. I won’t need it where I’m going.

To be honest with you, I didn’t know what I would find when I came here. I had no expectations. No plan. No real reason why I chose you over places like Japan or China. I just wanted to go out and see the world, and you invited me to teach in your country. It seemed like a good gig…and it was.

I use to always joke that “if you can’t make it…teach”. I hung out with an ambitious crowd in the US. They always had a chip on their shoulders and were always out to prove something. The idea of settling into a job like teaching was seen as something of a failure in that social circle.

None of them have done what I did. None of them have taught, and none of them have experienced the joys and challenges of working with children. That is not failure, and many of the people I admire most are teachers. This was one of the most demanding and rewarding jobs I've ever had. I worked hard. I failed often. And I've never been more proud of the work I've done than when I read the letters from my kids saying how much they will miss me. I was more than a teacher; I was a friend. And you and your culture allowed that to happen, Korea. These kind of relationships are rare, and I don't think I could find them anywhere else on Earth.

My Korean Family
I came here to teach, yet I found myself as a student throughout most of my year spent with you. Your culture, your people, even the students in the classroom were educating me. I taught them English, and in return they brought me something I’ve been searching for my entire life: happiness.

That’s not to say that I wasn’t a happy guy before I came here. No, I always considered myself someone who saw the silver lining in the bleakest of situations. Most of it was real, but sometimes my happiness was forced. Having drive and ambition also means you have to sacrifice a lot to get what you want out of life. I didn’t know what I wanted, and I was sacrificing my personal happiness for goals that were unclear and distant.

What you taught me was that happiness wasn’t a destination at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t a sequence of events. No, it was a way of thinking. It was finding joy in the smallest of victories in life. It was knowing that, no matter what, as long as you keep your heart open people will find their way in.

And that’s where you come in, Korea. You gave me more than an experience or a job; you gave me a home. Here I feel safe and warm. You gave me what I needed to see more clearer than I’ve ever seen before. You welcomed me with open arms and let me forge a life for myself, and I did just that. For that, I want to thank you. Words cannot describe how much that means to me. 

This week has been full of goodbyes and preparation for my inevitable departure. I want nothing more than to say “Don’t worry, I’ll be back.” I want to make promises that we can keep doing this dance forever, but life doesn’t work that way. Not for me, at least. I don’t know what the future holds for me, and I can’t make those promises to you. I couldn’t live with myself if I broke them. To be safe, we have to pretend that this is goodbye.

It’s funny, I came here on a spontaneous whim. It started with a joking conversation with an old friend, and a couple months later I was on a plane ride here. It wasn't a master plan. Most of this happened by chance, and I could have very well ended up somewhere else. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine my life without you. I’m not moving on…I’m moving forward. And I’m hoping I see you sometime along the way.

Until next time we meet…


Monday, April 16, 2012

T-20 Days....Starting To Say Goodbye

This week is my last week of teaching at WAW Middle School. Next week the kids take their midterms and the following week I leave! I know how fast these next couple weeks will go by, and I know that I'm definitely not ready for the goodbyes to begin.

They have already started. One of my boys, Jack, who befriended me this semester wrote me a goodbye letter and gave me a tradition Korean top known as a Pengi. The boys have been playing with them non stop in the English hallway and, as the good teacher that I am, I have been actively encouraging this horseplay. The goal is to keep this thing spinning as long as possible by wrapping a rope around the base and letting it fly. It's super fun and addictive.

Anyways, Jack's letter was one of the nicest letters I've every gotten. I won't post the thing on my blog because, to be frank, it's so personal and kind that I'd rather keep this one for myself. I've always been one to get my happiness from my level of job satisfaction. Whether it's from a good picture I've taken, a grade on a paper, or just getting recognition from my boss....those small victories are so important to me. Or, rather, they were important to me. This job was so tough for me because I knew nothing about teaching when I started. My job satisfaction was low, and for most of this year I found myself in a constant state of insecurity. I had no idea if I was doing a good job.

My joy never came from a good lesson I taught, but from seeing kids like Jack talking to me and sharing their culture...all using English. Building those friendships was something I did by accident. It was a byproduct of me just being me. And letters like this are so meaningful to me. I feel like my time here was worthwhile.

Spring is finally here in Korea, and for these next 3 weeks I intend on enjoying every little bit of it while I can. You never know if you'll ever return. Living in the moment is the name of the game.

Monday, April 2, 2012

T-33 Days

My flight is booked: May 6th will be my last day in Korea. It's been one hell of a ride, and picking up my American life again will definitely take some time.

It's weird...last night it was raining incredibly hard. Thunder was echoing through the apartments across the street. An orange glow from the street lamps illuminated the streets below. I ended up staring out my 4th floor window for a good hour, just absorbing my surroundings.

I never noticed this before, but the seasons have a distinct smell here. I can't describe it. They just do. Now that winter is over and spring is here (in theory), those smells of when I first came to Korea are coming back again. I tend to tie memories and how I was feeling at a certain time to a smell. I know the smell of my grandfather's house or the smell of my car. I know this smell, and it takes me back to those feelings I had when I first landed here.

It's that sense of wonder and excitement...not knowing what adventure was waiting for you. I love that feeling. I thrive on it, and ever since I've started traveling it's been an addiction of mine. Those feelings are coming back again, and my next adventure is still up in the air. Whatever it is, I'm excited to see where it takes me.

Korea's been good to me. I'll be writing about it soon. There will be tears, and there will be laughs. And the man I was when I pulled up to my apartment in Wau-ri is drastically different from the one that will be hopping on a bus here in 4 weeks.  That's the fun part, and I greet it with bittersweet excitement.