When it was time for my four-month adventure through SE Asia to come to an end it wasn't so hard saying goodbye because I didn't actually have to go home yet. Instead, I was headed back to my second home, South Korea, to visits a few friends, pick up my belongings and say my goodbyes 'see you laters'. It was yet another early morning in Bangkok where I set out from my hostel before the sun even rose, the other girl staying in my room happened to have a flight around the same time which saved on taxi fare out to Dong Muang airport (not conveniently located on the MRT line). Actually, this stop back in Korea made leaving so much easier, as I boarded the plane my excitement grew as I knew I would soon be seeing all of my great friends and students, both of which felt more like family.
Once I was back in Korea the reverse culture shock started to set in, just goes to show how adapted I had become to my life there, it really was my second home. Before even leaving the airport I felt like I had stepped into a different world, one filled with people on their smartphones and complaining about things that did not seem necessary. Sure I enjoyed that my phone was working, I could get anything I needed within the perimeter of the airport and catching a bus to Gumi was easy as pie, but why did everything feel so busy, claustrophobic and noisy! I escaped the terminal without any major injuries and boarded my bus to Gumi, which of course blew my mind because there was a huge seat for me, just for me! No chickens, bags of rice, vomiting children, curious old men, or overcrowding, it was amazing. The three-hour bus journey was so simple compared to some of my recent experiences that I almost didn't know what to do with myself. To make my return even better when my bus arrived in Gumi my friend Loudine was there to pick me up, by scooter of course - there's some of the SE Asia I was missing.
The sign of a great friendship is the ability to pick up right where you left off, no matter if it's been weeks, months or even years; lucky for me I have many friendships of this sort - kind of necessary for the life I lead. Within moments of being back at Loudines house (yeah, she was kind enough to put me up too) we were gabbing away as if I had never left, although some of my stories were a bit more exotic. I enjoyed a home cooked meal (she made my favorite, Jimddalk!), and began preparing visits for my short 10-day visit - there were lots of people to see AND food to eat!
My first mission in Korea wasn't as exciting as I may have hoped, filled with a visit to the doctor and hair salon. I wanted to get my stomach issues sorted once and for all so I ventured off to CHA hospital in Gumi where I was seen and prescribed medicine quite efficiently (and cost-effective), I LOVE that about Korea. Next stop was to my favorite hair salon, Lee Hoon Salon for a much-needed haircut. I didn't get my normal stylist Yoon Jung but she did come over and say hi to me, so awesome to be recognized in my home away from home! Before heading back to Buksam I decided to make a quick new shoe purchase as I only had my travel sandals which were wearing thin. As if my morning couldn't have been going any better the salesman complimented me by telling me I spoke great Korean - please Korea make me love you a little more.
Finally I was back to Loudine's, changed and ready to make a visit to my old school to surprise everyone. I arrived during the lunch hour and was quickly met with many surprised faces, turning heads and shouts of excitement. The kids were just as I'd left them - smart, energetic, sincere, and funny, honestly I'm not sure who was more excited them or myself. Teachers were also surprised and enthusiastic upon seeing I had returned, one of my old co-teachers paraded me from office to office to ensure that everyone knew about my return, embarrassing a bit but I just went with it. I spent the rest of the afternoon at school talking to students and teachers alike before sharing a dinner with a few old co-teachers and promising the return again the next day.
I spent the second half of the day at my school once again, this time dropping by various classrooms to give students an opportunity to talk to me and ask questions of my travels or plans for the future. I confused a majority of them when I tried explaining that I didn't have any plans per say but others just looked at me with amazement and jealousy, I must say life is pretty good right now. Throughout those first few days I met various students for dinner, coffee and of course Patbingsu before I made my move to Daegu to visit more friends.
One of my best Korean friends, Joonwoo moved to Daegu just as I was leaving for my travels and said that it would be no problem if I stayed with him when I returned in the summer for a visit. He was also kind enough to help me move my luggage from my co-workers house to his, not an easy task with how heavy my bag was! Joonwoo originally moved for a new job but since had quit that job so had plenty of time to spend with me while I visited. It was nice to be in a somewhat permanent home where I could actually unpack my bags, buy groceries, and cook dinner! Joonwoo currently in the process of opening his own cafe so we made the rounds of Daegu sampling delicious coffee, waffles and other desserts for ummm research? Although I could have done this for days I realized that my time in Korea was coming to an end so I should do my best to fit in a few more visits.
I'm blessed to have had an amazing principal during my two years teaching in Korea who eventually turned into more of a father than boss. Upon hearing that I had returned for a visit he messaged me insisting that I spend a day with him and his wife, "Korea tour, no problem" so he picked me up early Thursday morning for an adventure in Daegu. We first drove out to Palgonsan mountain where we did a small amount of hiking, rode the cable car up the mountain (two years and I didn't even know that existed) and of course ate loads of food. One of my old students from the 'parent English class' I taught came along which created a perfect foursome. Out of the three of them, my principal speaks the best English but is also extremely shy and modest which led to a long day of try to guess what I'm talking about and a few moments of awkward silence. Despite this, though we had a wonderful day, you really don't need to speak the same language to understand gratitude, appreciation, and love between people.
All too quickly my time in Korea was coming to an end, something I was not quite ready to come to terms with. I was able to squeeze in many dinners, coffee dates, hikes and visits with the people I wanted to see but I knew I'd be missing them immediately upon my departure. Many of my students asked when I would be back, but were not quite satisfied with my some day reply as they were looking for a definitive answer.
I know that my story in Korea has not yet reached its end, there is enough I've left unfinished in that country and my students and friends are just the start of that. I could see myself returning to build more of a life there in the future, I have the foundation of friendships, networking connections, language, and cultural understanding, it's just a matter of when. Now my mind is racing with the possibilities of so many other places to visit, people to meet, things to experience and foods to eat that I can't imagine settling right now, even if it is only for a year. Instead, I keep my friendships alive through Facebook, e-mails, kakao talk, Instagram and phone calls (when possible). Although it was something that accosted me in the airport upon return from SE Asia I have a great love for the vast array of technology available to us today, enabling us to keep friendships alive from far and wide.
My 10-day return visit to Korea was the perfect cherry on top of my 5-month trip before returning home to the United States. It allowed me a small window into the reverse culture shock I'd soon be experiencing but lessened that blow by providing me with some old friends, language barriers/struggles, different (delicious) food and daily surprises. Although it was a pain when leaving, packing up and storing my life in a foreign country while I took off on the road, I appreciate the way I planed things now. Once again I found myself leaving Korea with a smile on my face and feeling in my heart that I'd be back.