Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Perspective Series-In Korea

This week I'm happy to introduce Jess from the blog More Adventurous, for the next installment of the Perspective Series. This is a series about expats sharing their experience of living and traveling abroad and how it inevitably changed their outlook and perspective on life. This lovely lady was a fellow foreign English teacher in Korea so it automatically makes me feel like we have a deep bond. She writes hilarious stories about her travels in Korea which I can so relate to! Check out this post or this for some good laughs from an expat living in the land of kimchi.
I’ve always loved traveling. I was lucky enough to visit both Korea and Australia by the time I was in Middle School. That’s when it became real: I needed to experience other places and other cultures. It was this weird feeling of being simultaneously entirely out of my element but so incredibly comfortable. While I knew that I loved traveling, I wasn’t ever sure that I’d want to live abroad. Part of my favorite thing about traveling was coming home, and if I lived abroad, it meant those two things would collide.
I sort of had a breakdown my senior year in college. It seemed like all my friends knew exactly what they were doing with their lives and all I knew is that I’d work for my father for the summer and then I had no plans. I applied for a teaching job in Korea because it sounded exciting and I already had some familiarity with the country since I had visited before as a child. I sort of self sabotaged by applying late, knowing that the program would probably be filled, but I thought, “What have I got to lose?” I heard back from the program. They were full. Two weeks before graduation, at the height of my “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?” crisis, I got a call from the hiring lady with the program in Korea. “Someone backed out last minute. Can you be in Korea in July?” It was one of those moments that completely caught me off guard but after several quick conversations with family members, I saw that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Things ran a little behind schedule and I ended up getting there in early September, but I knew that I was going exactly where I was meant to go. 
Arriving in Korea was wild. That’s seriously the only way I can describe it. I looked around and couldn’t begin to grasp the concept that this was my new home. It was so strange. I remember trying to get my bearings on the city but I realized that if I was abandoned on a street corner, I probably would have died there.
It didn’t take me too long to get a feel of the city and pretty soon I was navigating it like a local. It doesn’t hurt that Korea has the greatest public transportation ever. I’ve never, ever lived in a place like that before. I grew up in Southern California where you drive everywhere and then went to college in Idaho where you also drive everywhere you need to go. Korea was a dream. I could hop in a cab, bus, or train and get virtually anywhere within the country in a matter of hours and for chump change! The only downside to taking a bus or a cab was you basically risked your life any time you got in one. I swear there were multiple times when I was convinced that the bus I was on would tip over or the taxi would get in a head on collision. I tip my hat to those foreigners living in Korea who drive. You are all infinitely braver than I am!

One of my other favorite aspects of living in Korea was the fact that I was an anomaly. I taught at a relatively poor school so my students weren’t familiar with too much outside of their culture. My first graders would ask my for my autograph every time I taught their class. If kids saw me outside of the school, they would literally squeal with joy! When I arrived at the school in the morning I heard shouts of, “Songsaengnim (teacher)! Jessica Songsaengnim!” I was basically Taylor Swift. That whole “stick out like a sore thumb” thing did have it’s downsides. Sometimes I just wanted to blend in, be a part of the crowd, but even things like shopping would become a little bit stressful because everyone would want to talk to you or look at you.

One of the strangest things about living abroad was how quickly that foreign culture and environment became home. When I first arrived, I thought I was destined to feel like an outsider for the duration of my time there. That wasn’t the case. I got so settled in my routine, I made an incredible group of friends, and I really allowed myself to grow roots in Korea. It’s strange having this huge part of my heart that still belongs to that place. I didn’t think it would be like that. I thought when my year contract was up, I’d pack up and be entirely fine with coming “home.”
I realized that leaving Korea meant leaving a big part of who I had become. It meant leaving children who had touched my life. It meant leaving a place that helped raise me in a sense. I know that sounds pretty heavy, but it was. When you fully immerse yourself into a foreign environment and culture, there’s so much growth that happens in a short period of time. I love Korea for that. I love Korea for helping cultivate me into an “adult.” I wish that a member of my family had been able to visit me while I was there. It is hard having something so meaningful that the people closest to you don’t fully understand. I can show them pictures, share videos with them, and tell them stories, but they’ll only ever be outsiders looking into my experience. I am definitely grateful to be home in America though, I have a great job where I am basically paid to be a friend to college students, I can eat delicious Mexican food whenever I want, and I can drive without fear of dying. It’s just funny how life takes you places you never thought you end up  and you fall absolutely in love with your surroundings. How is it possible that my heart calls three very different places (California, Idaho, & South Korea) home? Maybe after graduate school there will be another opportunity to live abroad. I am not exactly sure what life holds for me, but after Korea (and with a little help from Justin Bieber), I’ve learned to never say never.  

Thanks so much for writing Jess! Be sure to stop by her blog and show her some love! 

If you have lived abroad and would like to be featured please email me at lostintravelsblog@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you!

You can read more of the Perspective Series here.

Linking up with Rolled Up Pretty and Shanna