So long, Korea – That’s all he wrote.

Ah. Korea. Our home for the last two years. As with any place, there’s a lot to like, a bit to dislike, and a lot of experiences to be had. I think we’ve definitely gotten a good idea of what this country is all about, who its people are, and what makes them tick over the past seven-hundred-thirty some odd days. It’s time to finish packing our bags, clean out the apartment one last time, put everything in order (because the new English teacher at my school will be promptly starting their adventure at about the same moment that we walk out the door), and say good bye to the country that has played host to us for the past two years.

Thanks, Korea!

Like many of the English teachers who have flocked to these shores, we’re going home in a much better financial position. Riding out the recession as a teacher overseas was at once a great way to force ourselves to travel, expand our food tastes, and save up a few dollars while we were at it. We’re by no means debt free (that would take a few more years at this pay rate) but we are far more solid than before we took our first flight to Busan. I hope that in five, ten, and twenty years, we’ll look back on our time in Korea as the time that we really put our ducks in a row and created a springboard to a better life. For putting us in this position financially, I’m quite thankful to the Republic of Korea.

Immigrants at Ellis Island by tetrisiz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  tetrisiz 

I appreciate immigrants more than ever after life in Korea

I think that life abroad has given me a huge serving of humble-pie. As it turns out I don’t know as much as I thought I did before we set out on this journey. Clearly I’ve learned a lot since we left, but I think I realize that I’m not an expert on everything in life, and I don’t want to be. No one wants to study that hard, am I right?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is this. People go to different countries for work all the time. Even if they don’t speak that country’s native language, they’re trying the best they can. It might be a slight bit more effort to help them out, but they should be given the same level of service, respect, and effort that any other person would receive.

I’ve never been anti-immigrant, but in the past I have thought to myself learn English, dammit! It’s funny where life leads you. Now I don’t think I’ll get irritated if someone hasn’t learned English, because dude, I’ve been there!  That’s just one of the many lessons that a straight, white, male from the U.S. can learn in Korea. I’m not even going to bother going into the more complex ones.

cherry blossoms

Korea taught me how to take the good with the bad, and the bad with the good

At times, life in Korea has been bliss. Springtime in Korea is the most beautiful springtime I’ve had the pleasure to see, with the trees turning all shades of pink, red, orange, even white with delicate flowers that show you how beautiful the world can be before they just as quickly fall to the ground and usher in the heat of the summer. At other times, it’s been absolutely infuriating, as a subway trip to the train station can turn into a lecture about how Jesus is returning to earth, in Korea, nonetheless, and you should be prepared to be judged…whilst the lecturer’s handbag repeatedly swings within inches of your face as it dangles from the arm she’s using to hold the safety handle. No kidding. That happened. Last night. Crazy lady.

I’ve seen what the Koreans do far better than us (health care,  cell phone plans, public transportation, karaoke, gun control) and appreciated the differences. Often I’ve wondered why we can’t have this kind of thing at home, as we’re certainly advanced enough. I’ve also seen things that we do far better than they (individuality, education, equality, generally living a less stressful life) and will appreciate those things when we get home more than I ever have before. It’s been eye opening not only because of new experiences, but because of the way new experiences reflect on things that have been such fixtures in life at home that they’re basically invisible. It’s really great to see not only how good things can be, but also how good things already are, because it’ll help to keep perspective the next time I feel like vomiting on a pharmaceutical exec’s shoes for ripping us so off at home for things that are sold (full price) for far less over here. Yes. Brand name.

Life abroad has helped me learn the wisdom of julia child

The last thing I have to say about the two years we’re wrapping up in Korea is what I call the wisdom of Julia Child. Basically, don’t be afraid. We were scared, nervous wrecks when we moved here. The North Koreans had just shelled Yeongpyeong Island, it seemed like everything was escalating, and we really didn’t have a backup plan. Everything worked out fine.

When we decided to go to Bali, I was a scared, paranoid mess until we landed and walked around a bit. Then, I realized that in all likelihood, no one was going to try and hurt me. Later on that trip, when our debit cards were skimmed and our bank froze our accounts, I blew a gasket (the telephone representative was not at all helpful, in my defense), had to make some calls home to get some cash in an American account we could access, and you know what, it was all okay.

The super nice man who arranged our taxi from Lovina to Ubud said, “We don’t get American tourists anymore after the bomb. Before the bomb there were many Americans, now none. Please tell your friends and family, no bombs here now.” We can’t be too afraid to go to absolutely beautiful places like Bali because of an event that happened ten years ago. It’s not fair to them, and it’s certainly not fair to us. There will be more about this topic in a future post. My new travel rules of selecting destinations to visit are simple. Don’t be stupid, but don’t be afraid. Thanks, Korea.

This will be my last post from Korea, but certainly not my last post about Korea.  Another lesson I’ve learned here is to know my limits, and at this point my brain has been pushed to the edges of those limits with the simple knowledge that in four days we’re leaving, and our bags need to be packed down tight, the apartment needs to be cleaned, and we need to have everything in order to make it quickly and easily onto our flight to Tokyo on Tuesday. It’s been real, and it’s been fun.

So long, and thanks for all the fish memories and lessons learned, Korea!



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5 comments on “So long, Korea – That’s all he wrote.

  1. Ha! I knew that was not all you’d have written. Enjoy the last 4 days – so many memories to cherish.

  2. koreacareer on said:

    Oh, Charlie! It has been great to read your blog. You are so truthful and spot on about what life is like in a foreign country. Wish you and Carolyn all the best for the future. Keep blogging!

    • Why thank you Fiona! :) Don’t worry, I’ll keep blogging. I just can’t get a thought out clearly right now with the packing and shuffling and repacking and reshuffling and airline tickets and hotel reservations and so on and so forth. I figured it was best to call it a wrap on Korea and put my energy into getting us a) to the airport, b) to Japan, c) to New York before I worry about blogging again. :)

  3. Patricia Windus on said:

    Glad you two had this time together in a completely different country from the US. I can tell how much you have grown and am happy the you were brave enough to do this. You two are amazing.

  4. Your journey is just beginning and I’m so happy you both are sharing it. Beautiful work.