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…


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