Tomorrow marks my one year since I left Korea and been living here in Seattle. In all honesty, I can't believe a whole year has passed since I said my final goodbye to Korea. Of course I know that time flies quickly as an adult, but all in all I am still coming face to face with this fact of no longer being a "foreigner" abroad.
Now I want to make sure that this feeling is not associated with "reverse culture shock" because to be honest in the whole year since, I haven't really felt "shocked" by what I've seen or experienced back home in America. However, I simply miss my life in Korea and at the same time enjoy my new life here in America.
So what did this first year bring me?
Reconfiguring the past:
I am really grateful for my time this year and that enough of it was free that I could look back on my past in Korea and reconfigure my experiences. As you might already know I did a lot of growing in South Korea and experienced hardships brought on by both Koreans and Expats alike.
My time back here, and my distance away from Korea has allowed me to forgive some of those things that happened and also help me understand why they occurred.
Appreciating my travels:
One of the hardest things about my choice to leave Korea has been accepting I'm no longer a stranger in a strange land. I really loved my times traveling around Korea and Japan. I look back fondly on my ability to navigate through language barriers and make my way around by myself as I traveled.
However, I know that I can travel around America and appreciate what it has to offer. I know a lot of people, especially from the mouths of expats back in Korea, felt that America had nothing exciting to offer. Yet I feel that you need to look closer and take it in more. So I've done some traveling already and hope to do more.
Reevaluating my teacher self:
Being in the master's program has really helped me understand the choices and actions I made as a teacher in South Korea. I've come to realise that although I had few resources, little training and barriers to overcome I did a pretty good job. I also see now how I could have made it better.
But mostly I see that all in all people are teaching out there without any real sense what the TESOL or EFL discipline is really like.
Also, when examining my past teacher role I see my choice to get my master's and return home as a wise one. My hunch that eventually I would hit a ceiling in Korea and my job options would get limited, is really true. Universities in Korea are now requiring to hire people only with Master's and a few years experience teaching adults. I even heard my last school I worked for is cutting pay these days. On top of that a lot of the programs and funding for public schools in Korea has been eliminated. So in essence, my choices would have been private hagwon schools, which are more like industries of English and it's really hard to find a good one. So I suppose I feel it was inevitable making a future choice like the one I made.
My first year back home wasn't absent of missing Korea. I practically dream about still being there nearly every night and I often catch myself missing a certain place I've been to in Korea.
What do I miss? Perhaps I miss the food or the great transportation of Korea, but I mostly miss those kind moments I had with people. Those random times when people lent me a hand or talked to me out of nowhere. I also miss the atmosphere of Korea, the way "anything goes" can be felt in some cases.
And like I said I miss traveling around, too. But overall I do note the things I don't miss, like feeling boxed in a tiny house with one window. Or feeling hungry a lot of the time because I couldn't really find the food I wanted to eat. In essence, I think there was a lot I "put up with" and now don't have to.
Life in America isn't exactly easier than it is in Korea, just because I'm a citizen. Things are more expensive and I do have to pay for my rent. But I wash this all aside when I know I can go to a local restaurant and get a good organic, vegetarian meal or really just be able to get any food I want.
I also like that I can go to a neighbourhood cafe that is quiet and pleasant to sit in and enjoy a warm beverage amongst people reading and studying quietly. Finding a cafe in Korea like that would have been really difficult.
All in all, I don't want this post to be about griping about the differences and benefits of my new life in America. I want to express that a year ago I got on a plane to come back home and it wasn't the easiest choice to make. I left behind friends and familiar places that I can't easily see again.
I gambled an easy life of paid housing, pensions and a salary for one where I have to build everything up again. Yet, I feel I have more control over my future and have aspirations of where I want to be in so many years. With my Master's and experience I hope to teach at an University somewhere, live in a quant little house and have the simple life. Perhaps it's too much to ask for in this competitive world, but I feel if you work hard enough and not give up, you can get to where you want to be.
So I hope to celebrate my one year in and one year out by doing a little something special. What that is I'm not sure yet...but it'll come together. :) That and spring should be just around the corner!