On February 25, my teaching contract in South Korea ends. On February 26, I’ll be on a flight to Tokyo to spend two days there (because in case you didn’t know, Tokyo is expensive and even two days can drain the bank account) before flying to Denver to stay with my sister for a week and a half. Then on March 1, I’m flying to Florida to stay for a few months. Then it’s graduate school if I get accepted.
I contemplate making ritual sacrifices.
My apartment is slowly coming apart. I’ve got 19 days to go as I write this and I’m boxing items to ship home, throwing stuff out, deciding what to sell or give away and realizing I really, really need to dust. There are going away parties to attend and possibly drunken confessions to make and lots of crying, no matter what happens. I get a hangover headache just thinking about it.
On Facebook, in different groups, we are going over old pictures and memories and making plans for one last dinner together before we scatter to the four winds of the English speaking world. Some of my friends are in contact with the teachers replacing them; all full of excitement and ideas. There have been discussions on how best to inform the newbies on the realities of life here without absolutely killing their enthusiasm. Many of them are coming with teaching degrees and real-life experience. How do you best say that sometimes you feel like a glorified babysitter instead of a teacher? I am supremely grateful I don’t have this problem as my replacement happens to be my roommate from orientation and she knows the drill already.
I think that’s the most jarring thing; realizing that two years ago, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, thinking that teaching English in South Korea was going to be the greatest adventure of my life (so far). At the end of the day, it has been a great adventure, but there was more walking through Middle Earth than I had anticipated. After the newness faded and the culture shock lessened, it’s a life pretty much like the one I left back in the States, albeit with better vacations. Mondays still suck. My work and bosses have caused me to rip out my hair in roughly the same amount as back home. I anticipate the weekends and pay day with as much fervor as before. My parent’s friends, who I only see on occasions like weddings and talk to via Facebook photo comments, think I have this glamorous life and the vacation pictures are pretty impressive, I won’t lie. But when vacation is over, I still return to a freezing cold apartment, busted lights and dirty snow and trash outside my door. The expat crowd is a mixed bag of awesome and awful people; not the enlightened, worldly folk I pictured in my head (there’s a reason for the monikers of “Daegu High” and “Daegus of Our Lives.”)
Still, I will never regret moving to the other side of the world, if only just to prove that I can and survive. I brought all my issues with me from home and have been forced to work through them, largely on my own. I have met some of the greatest people and have proven to pretentious, hipster bloggers that you don’t have to be in your twenties to travel and travel well. I’ve spent the inordinate amount of free time I’ve had becoming better educated on issues of feminism, race and religion (but also even more time laughing at gifs on Tumblr). I’m grateful for the perspective I’ve gained on America and her politics from my British, Irish and Australian friends and the education I’ve gotten on the politics of the U.K. I have seen some jaw-dropping beautiful places. I haven’t learned as much Korean as I should have and I found it way too easy to stay swathed in my expat bubble, though I swore I would never let that happen. I started smoking again and then quit. I simultaneously should have saved more and done more things.
I think one of my closest friends summed it up best when he said, “It’s not an important life, but it’s a comfortable one.” I can see how easy it is to stay in this life long term. Most of my friends in the States would kill for the benefits. Hell, I’ve known people who have left during my tenure and have turned right around and returned to Korea because reverse culture shock is apparently a heavy thing. I don’t know how bad returning home will affect me. I’ve identified myself as an expat for two solid years and if things go according to plan, I’ll be an expat again by the fall semester. This may become a more permanent part of my identity. So, I guess the larger question is, “Does home still mean what I thought I did when I left?”
So I pack up my tiny flat and listen to my friend as she sings, “Alabama, Arkansas, I sure miss my ma and pa,” while I have “Back Down South” by Kings of Leon in my head because I vehemently will NOT miss Korean winters.
And I get ready to head home.