When I left the United States, bound once again for Asia, I only had a few plans on the horizon. My best friend in Korea was celebrating a milestone birthday and an ex-coworker was getting married. Being free of commitments or schedules I told them both I’d be in attendance. I thought three weeks in Korea would give me some time to regroup after roaming around Thailand, get my plans in order for the next few months, maybe fit in a few workouts and even do some writing. Exactly none of that happened though. Instead, I transformed into a social butterfly and made sure to visit as many old friends as I could, without running myself too deep into the ground. After three weeks, ten cities and roughly 20 different reunions I was longing for a vacation, but it was all worth it.
Become friends with people who aren't your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn't the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn't come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.
People kept telling me, “You have many friends in Korea, don’t you?” to which my standard reply was, “Not really”. Now, however, I’m beginning to realize that they were right, and I’m one lucky girl. The amazing thing about all of these friendships are the different origins, paths, and degrees they all hold. Some stem from my ‘first life’ in Korea, teaching at Buksam High school, while others are as new as my most recent trip to Thailand. Most of the friendships are with native Koreans, but I’m still holding onto a few of my Waygookin friends who just haven’t managed to leave the country (as most do after a few years). Similarly the ages of these friends range from early 20’s to 40 and up.
It’s weird to me, I often had people thanking me for remembering them and contacting them while I was truly the one who is grateful. I’m grateful that these friends have remembered me and allow me to drop in and out of their lives as my heart takes me in and out of the country. It’s not easy building and maintaining friendships while living in a country, so keeping those bonds across thousands of miles, and for some five years, I’m proud.
This trip was good for me, it was kind of a test to see if Korea really is the place I want to be living for the next few years (or more?). While meeting all of these friends our conversation often turned to the “What is your plan?” question and it was interesting for me to hear from everyone their opinion on my residing in Korea. Most agree that it won’t be easy and having put in three years already I understand this. At the same time though, my friends know that I’ve spent time learning the culture and language and see me thriving in the country, should I chose to stay long term.
I also realized, through this trip, that I’m not the kind of person to hold grudges. A few of the friendships I’ve kept alive are thriving under unique circumstances and probably should have died long ago, but I’m not one to burn bridges. I’ve always been good at sweeping shit under the rug and avoiding awkward situations, whether it be with friends, students or romantic partners, there’s just no time for bullshit.
Although I’m still exhausted and catching up on sleep, I’m so grateful for the three weeks I spent in Korea. I was able to revisit both of my ‘homes’, reconnect with old students, friends and co-workers, and even made time for some new friends and cities. It’s amazing to me, the feeling of ‘coming home’ that washes over me when I land back in Korea, oddly enough a feeling that was missing last time I went back to the USA. Somehow this crazy country has become an integral part of my life and this trip has solidified its hold.
**I wrote this two months ago, fully believing that I would be out of the country for a while, first visiting Sri Lanka, one of the few remaining countries in Asia I've been dying to see and then venturing into Europe. This plan is like a broken record in my life, the idea to travel through Turkey and East Europe, a plan that has yet to be fulfilled. Instead I get stuck in Asia, most usually Korea, and this time was no different. Upon hearing both my cousin and an old friend would be in Korea at the beginning of May, plans changed and here I am, back visiting friends, but this time also getting some of the vacation I was looking for.**