It’s nearly been a year since I left Korea, that’s a sad realization, and lots has happened since then, I mean I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, I didn’t leave Korea until August 2012 and we’re now in May 2013, but it feels like a long time ago, and in some other sense it feels like it was only yesterday that I boarded my flight out of the country. I’ve only now started to fully realise exactly what my time in Korea meant to me, it’s in these moments where nothing much is going on, that we really start to reflect on our past experiences.
A quick update then I suppose, since returning from travelling I’ve been doing odd jobs, I’m currently working a night shift saving money ready to go to University in September. I’ll be going back to qualify as a teacher, something my time in Korea helped me decide to do. I’m looking forward to September as I’m getting pretty tired of not doing anything meaningful. Working in my school in Korea gave me a real sense of purpose which I’ve been missing for nearly a year now, although I wasn’t contributing much to the world on a global scale, I felt like I was making a difference in someone’s life on a daily basis, I felt like the work I was doing had meaning, that it was worthwhile, that it benefited somebody. I’ve been missing that feeling, and it’s certainly a contributing factor to why I’m missing my life in Korea.
I clicked onto my schools website today and flicked through the photographs of events the school has held this past year, and I read about some of the achievements my former students have made since my departure. I felt very proud looking through them. I also noted how much the school has changed since I left, my old co-teacher, teacher Yoon, has left, as has the infamous Mr. Chae and my favourite Kindergarten teacher. All have moved on, it is unbeknownst to me exactly where they are now, but wherever they may be I hope they are well and doing something amazing. Students have come and gone and the school looks different to how I remembered it. The corridors I used to roam have changed, the experience I had in Korea nobody will ever have again, because nothing is the same amongst foreign language teachers living there. Everything changes so quickly, I think that if I had stayed another year it wouldn’t be as I remember it now, I’d have a new co-teacher, I’d have a new schedule, I’d have different students and different people would be living in my building. The experience I had, and the memories I have are frozen in time, nothing more than memories now, there is no way I can return to that era of my life, not even if I wanted to.
But that shouldn’t make me sad, or nostalgic, it should make me smile, and it does. I’m incredibly proud of myself for what I have achieved yet sometimes it feels like it wasn’t me who achieved it. Like it was somebody else and I was just an outsider looking in, did I really live up there on that hill in that apartment in that yellow house with those purple windowsills. Did I really walk down that slope everyday to school, catch the bus every morning and gaze out of the window watching the mountains and the rivers flow by? Was that me, there on a street in Seoul waiting to cross, on my way back from a Sam Gyeop Sal restaurant, meeting a friend on a corner and buying 1000won pancakes from a street vender? Was that me playing ‘Gawi Bawi Bo’ with my student? Was that me in that last summer camp, fretting about my lesson plans, thinking that my time in Korea would never come to an end? That can’t have been me. But it was.
It feels very odd to have lived that life; it partly has to do with the fact that I have nobody to talk to about it. Nobody I know back home moved away for a year and a half and taught in a Korean school. I can talk to Natalie about certain aspects of life in Korea, and life on the road, which is incredibly helpful, and I think she misses it sometimes as well, but everybody else is too caught up in their day to day lives, and that’s not a complaint of mine, it’s just the way it is. It’s just something I have to live with. I loved Korea! I travelled around it and had all kinds of adventures. I enjoyed teaching those damn cute kids, and somedays when things aren’t so fun at home I wish that Natalie and I were still there.
That initial buzz that I got from being able to drive wherever I wanted instead of catching the bus, or being able to buy chips in the supermarket rather than having to make my own out of potatoes in my apartment quickly subsided, the things I thought were downsides or cons about living in Korea actually turned out to be some of the things that I missed the most. Not being able to understand what people are saying, having everything be a mystery, so much to explore, and so much to learn, and having all that stuff around you all the time that is constantly challenging you. Things are just so easy at home, and easy has never been fun for me, it’s something I’ve never been comfortable with, and though I missed the ease of living in the UK whilst I was in Korea, now I miss the opposite and it’s really strange how time can distort things like that. I didn’t realise until I got home how amazing my lifestyle in Korea was, it wasn’t at all demanding, I didn’t have to worry about anything, I got paid way more than was needed to live very comfortably, I had friends just a knock on a door away, my job was so rewarding, and I always got to go home on time and have all of this free time to do whatever I wanted to do. I was so relaxed and at peace in Korea, and I don’t want to sound angsty, or annoyed at being back in England because that’s not what I’m trying to get at, but I don’t feel at peace here like I did there.
I remember being on a bus snuggled up next to Natalie on the way home from Everland, a resort park in Seoul, it was raining outside, and it was dark, the streetlights shed light upon the perfectly clean pavement of the Seoul streets. I remember thinking how happy I was as I watched the world go by out of the window. How happy that I’d got up and done something with my life, how happy to be in this place and to feel so comfortable and feel so complete. But all things must pass, and I’m not on a Korean bus anymore, time changes things so quickly, and you really never know what is going to happen next. So, I try and make the most of every situation and take each day as it comes. I'm looking forward to starting my course in September and I hope it will give me back my sense of purpose. I'll always remember the incredible experiences I had in Korea, even if I don't get to talk about it that much, I think about it everyday.
This is going to sound super clichéd, but I don’t really care, because whilst I may not live in Korea anymore, in some sense I feel like Korea, will always live in me.