Let's start by saying I cannot believe it has been a year. And it wasn't. It was 354 days. I only counted to compare it to my blog posts- 286. Not too bad, right?
What a wonderful and strange year it has been. I almost feel like this, this what I'm writing now, is an assignment. The prompt? "Using the material you have acquired in the course of the year, please compare and contrast the benefits and shortcomings of living in a foreign country over an extended period of time." Alright, I can do this. I haven't been a student in over a year now but I've written enough essays and this one is from personal experience and therefore should come easy. But it's not.
I suppose I could start with what I'll take from this experience and the advice I'd give to anyone planning a similar journey. Of course it's cliché (in a personal statement such as this, they may be unavoidable) but I have learned a lot about myself. Goal one, check. I've learned that adapting to wildly different situations comes easy to me, and that I can eat just about anything. I can handle being alone, although I can get lonely. I know now that they were not lying in Comm 200 when they said 55% of communication is non-verbal, and I can one-up them by saying I survived in a country without speaking more than ten words of the native language. That point, actually, I'm ashamed of. It was only laziness and lack of trying that I did not learn more Korean. I can already see myself becoming annoyed with that question-- "Oh you lived in Korea? So you speak Korean?" Do not ask me. I will lie to you. I will rattle off all the Korean I know, which will be a pretty monolog that will roughly translate to, "Hi how are you thank you how much is it I love you." Oh, and I can write my name in Hangul for you. Now I've gone off track though, let's get back to what I have learned. Korean culture is fascinating and I hope to keep that sense of treating everyone as if they are a part of your family. For instance, that old lady on the subway is really your grandma and that kid running by the fountain is your little brother. I've noticed that a lot here-- that Koreans look after everyone's kids as if they were their own. They don't have this weird, "That's my kid! Don't touch him you kidnapping pedophile!" that we seem to have in America. Too much To Catch a Predator perhaps? I've also noticed Koreans do not hibernate Sunday night to Thursday night, waiting patiently for the weekend nights to go out and have a big dinner or evening out with the family. This might be the apartment effect-- where, as in Europe, people live in such small spaces that they have to get out or go stir crazy. I like that on a Tuesday I can here loud laughing and drinking and eating from my window until late at night.
Those are mostly good points so let's try to balance the scales a bit. A phenomena that plagues most who move away-- homesickness. You see, you start by being sick of home so you leave only to become sick for home. For the most part, I can proudly say that I avoided this but there are a few reasons for that. I kept in constant contact with the most important people in my life (TGFS- Thank God For Skype! Hey, I should trademark that quick...), I planned incredible vacations with my BFFFF and my Mom, and my sweetheart came to visit. Without all that, I don't think it would have been the same, or even that I would have made it the whole year.
Oh but the holidays! At first, it's not that big of a deal. One missed Halloween, no Grandma's marshmallow yams on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine's, no 4th of July BBQ. It starts to add up and then all of a sudden I look back at a whole year without large cringe-worthy family gatherings and feel an emptiness. Like a year in space or something. And then the birthdays-- a year of missed birthdays!
Thomas and I joke that the thing we miss most is the food (umm, he might not be joking) and lemme tell you, food fantasies are the single most masochistic yet strangely satisfying thing you can do in a foreign country. Some of our recent conversations have been food-centric, thinking of the best of the worst junk foods America has to offer (inspiration for the previous food post). Of course, I will be living in The Land of Great Food soon and will then have to endure extreme tests of willpower. Want what you can't have and can't have what you want. At least not if I ever want to put on a bikini again. Oh and that brings me to the beach, ohh San Diego beaches how I've missed you. Windansea, I'm talking to you. This is again getting off track. I don't want to start listing all the things I've missed-- they are many and great and I've already done that.
One last thing I thought was important. This is the trouble with leaving the country-- you get home and all you do is compare the place you live to the place you visited. You also feel the need to show the entire world (or just your circle of friends) the difference. Now, maybe this is good, bringing cultural awareness and showing people a different view. Maybe sharing part of your experiences opens you up for others to get to know you better. But you know what it sounds like-- showing off. And it annoys the hell outta me. Therefore, I am making you a promise. I will only utter the words, "In Korea they ..." 6 times a year. That's once every other month. This includes variations such as, "When I was in Korea ...", "Compared to Korea, America ...", and "Koreans do it this way ... ". Talking about traveling is all well and good, but you have to be sensible. (Atonement anyone?) To me, being sensible is not dropping it into conversation at every opportunity.
So here it comes. The question I will undoubtedly get from every friend, family member and acquaintance I run into at Target-- "How was it?" The go-to reflex reply, "It was great! Such a great experience!" However my dear, dear friends, I would like to prepare a statement with more substance for you. How can I convey a year away that changes how you view the world, your life, your family? Where if anyone asked I would say I couldn't have made a better decision and would do it again in an instant? That, yes, if you are thinking of doing it you should, at least to test yourself. How can I explain all this? "It was really great."
Tyler took this, last night at home, still packing.