Clear Blue Waters
Five days on Jeju Island was more than I expected it to ever be. I never thought of myself to be a nature girl, but that’s probably only because Minnesota left me with the impression of nature to be surrounded by trees and camping in the woods, fishing, and the like. But I’ve come to realize how much I love the serenity of waterfalls, beaches, cliffs, and just anything near the water.
It only makes me wish that I was able to spend more time out in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but taking in the scenery and breathing in all the fresh air. The clear blue waters chilled my feet, the hot sun warmed my neck, while the sea breeze grazed my skin. I could have spent hours on end just looking out at the water.
As I’m cautious of eyes peering over my shoulder reading while I write, I’m sitting in the corner office at work, thoughts practically leaping out of my brain.
It has only been my second back working, and it’s just one more thing that I’ve gone back to that creates the old sense of normalcy in my life. Automatically, my body moves where it’s supposed to, my voice speaks the words without thought, and I realized that this job has truly become second nature to me. But with that, it has also become monotonous. A tone that has found it’s way through many aspects of my life. My life here, that is.
For someone who has changed so much, I have really been able to jump back into my old routine. What I’m trying not to do, however, is to jump back into my old mindset from before I left. But as time goes by and I’m doing all the things I used to do, it brings me farther from my experience abroad, one during which I was the happiest I ever remember being. Truly content.
Trying hard to capture that same feeling again here proves to be challenging, but I feel like it’s time to make some changes here.
Home Sweet Home?
After five and a half months away, here I am, back at home. Home where my time froze and I haven’t. My life hasn’t changed, but I have. Everything is the same, but I’m completely different. My whole heart used to be at home, but now it’s scattered all over the world.
I’m still trying to process and soak up everything that has happened in the last five months. It feels like a dream; it was too easy to fall back into routine at home. It offers me comfort and familiarity, but I found that the only reason why I wanted to be at home was to end the commute, not to be here. My wandering heart is itching to travel and soak up more of the world that I have yet to experience.
I miss the life that I had and created for myself while I was abroad. It was there that my true colors came out and was shown, and already I can almost feel my old self sneaking back. The only thing that Korea couldn’t offer me was my family, otherwise it had everything I needed and I was truly happy there. Though I’m half a world away, time is what brings me even farther than the physical distance possibly can.
But being away really reconfirmed what I always felt. Minnesota isn’t fitting for me. I can’t say that Seoul is a perfect fit either, but I know this isn’t it. I’m moving beyond this place I’ve known my whole life. My snow globe of a world. Who knows where I’ll end up, but I know I won’t be sitting still for long.
home in the middle of nowhere
So here I am, sitting in a house in the middle of Vietnam’s countryside, completely unappreciative of my current position. Things have not been on my side lately, as I’d been feeling sick and battling a very persistent headache while traveling around Vietnam. I’d also been the victim of a mysterious insect’s bite, leaving my upper lip tripled in size and myself cooped up this room and out of the public eye. A trip to the hospital, 20 pills, and three days later, my lip has gone back to normal.
But in spite of all the unfortunate events, it’s been a great time here. At first I had really struggling with the transition from my life in Seoul to my life here, but after a while, I remembered why I wanted to come back.
My cousins that I had never met, my aunts that I was attached to as a kid..it’s all about the family.
My sister left for the states earlier than the rest of us, and I took her to the airport and went to Saigon with her. Knowing it was their last time seeing her, tears were being shed all over the place, including my own. Not because I was sad Ann was leaving, but because I was feeling the emotions of what I would have to go through soon when I say my own goodbyes.
Before I left Korea, a part of me dreaded being in Vietnam. And that part of me even once said to someone, “Seoul feels more like home than Vietnam.” I’ve come to realize how wrong I was. Yes, Seoul was and is definitely still a home to me, but once I go back there, all I’ll have is the empty shell of memories. Most of the people will be gone, and that exciting time in my life will have passed. But here, there will always be my family.
Regulars, yet strangers
As I spend more and more time here, I fall further in love with the food. Though I can’t claim to say I’ve tried a large percentage of all Korean dishes, I really have enjoyed everything so far.
One of my favorite places isn’t anything fancy; it’s a small place in front of my dorm where I find myself gravitating towards when looking for something to eat. Half of it is the food, the other half is the ladies that work there. So sweet and welcoming every single time. They’ll always notice my hair’s changed, if I seem a little extra tired, and make fun of me for looking hungover. We manage to communicate past the language barrier as one of them tells me about her day or something that happened, all while she shares her secret stash of chocolate she hides under the register up front with me.
It’s just one of the many little things I’ll miss about being here. I know I’ll be relieved to be in a country where I can understand everything and communicate perfectly well, but there’s something about working past the language barrier that makes me feel a little closer to these complete strangers.
T-Money is awesome, incredibly convenient, and useful.
- R: Why are you so cute??
- T: *shrugs* happens
- R: *laughs* what did you say your name is?
- T: Thao. Yours?
- R: My name is Ryan. With an 'i'
- T: So...Brian without the 'B'. Got it.
Fun with the Cousin
As much as I had the intentions of blogging to record the things I’ve done in as close to real time as possible, real life here kinda got in the way. I increasingly became a bit busier and would forget. But it’s better late than never, right?
I remember looking forward to the weekend that my cousin was going to come visit me here in Seoul. I was counting down the days till I got to see a familiar (and familial) face from home. Now, it’s already been a couple weeks since she left.
It was most definitely a fun four days. I think that was the most time we ever spent together one on one, or even at all. Consecutively, at least.
When in Korea, do Korean things…like these photo booths. It was her last night here that we took these.
For 6,000 won we stepped in one of these booths and had our own photo shoot.
….and how could we say no to free props?
A lotta laughs came outta the time we spent at Photo Star. We had to study the examples to master these awesome poses. Now what to do with these stickers?
Later in the night after dinner we tried out the batting cages. That was when I discovered a couple things.
1. I’m just as bad at hitting the ball as I always have been.
2. That inability is further enhanced by the consumption of beer. Especially when your cousin decides to order a pitcher that’s twice the size of your head.
3. The combination of those two ^ = even more fun.
This is only one of the many fun things we did while she was here. After living here for a little while, I’ve lost the feeling of being a tourist, and it was nice to show her around. I loved being able to share the things I’ve fallen in love with here with her, and it also made me appreciate the place I’m in even more.
How am I ever going to leave? =(
- T: Dylan, I miss you.
- D: okay
- T: Can I have a hug?
- D: No! You can't!
- T: Why?
- D: Because you're at school!
- Finally was able to see Dylan on skype!
- I've only been gone for so long and he's already that much better at speaking English. Not much longer and he'll be starting kindergarten. Sighs. Oh how I miss that kid waking me up in the mornings and jumping on my bed. Why do they have to grow up so fast? =(
Stuck in the in-between
From the first day I’ve been here, I’ve definitely interacted with a lot of people. As I go about doing everyday things, I like to observe others’ perception of me. My Asian-but-not-quite-Korean features leave others wondering, as I’m not similar enough to fit in, but not different enough to stand out. Stuck in the strange in-between.
One of the things I found that I really do miss is interacting with strangers. Walking around the streets of home, making eye contact with a passerby usually ellicits a kind, acknowledging smile. Riding the bus, strangers won’t hesitate to ask about your day. Meeting people and conversing with them is never difficult, and often enjoyable. However here, if there is no affiliation or prior association, there is no reason to interact. As my smiling self walks around the streets, I’m greeted with stoic expressions.
Beacuse of this, I’ve found myself noticing other foreigners. It’s become a natural instinct to look at them and smile, however it seems they have discovered the same thing. My asian features leaves them overlooking me, though on occasion I do get one in return. This difference in culture is a subtle one, yet for some reason significant to me.
I miss being able to walk into a coffeeshop and ask the employees about their day. There are places that I regularly eat at and the ladies recognize me. I want more than anything to converse, sharing about myself and learning about them. Things I wouldn’t have to think twice about doing at home. As much as I love living here, it’ll be refreshing to be in a place where I can read and understand, and communicate. Though I have one more stop before returning to the states, at least I’ll be able to interact with others easily in Vietnam.
Regardless of all the little differences that I miss, they’re not necessarily bad. So far there’s nothing I can truly say I don’t like about Seoul. To be honest, I can see myself living here for a long period of time. Home will always be home and in the end I know I’ll settle down in Minnesota, but for now, I can imagine a life for me here.
A life in the in-between wouldn’t be so bad.
Sunglasses aren’t for practical use here. They’re seen more as a fashion accessory than for something to shade their eyes from the bright sun. People go without more often than not.
The more time I spend here, the more I understand about the student culture here at Sogang. Students are divided into sections based on their majors upon entering the university, and over the course of their college careers they have opportunities to bond with one another. The term “MT” is used to denote these retreats, the two letters an acronym for Membership Training. This is done within student organizations as well. It’s the chance to get to know one another and interact…usually over soju.
The student organization that is committed to helping exchange students organized one a couple weeks ago, and of course I went. It was the first time I’d left Seoul since I arrived in South Korea, and it felt wonderful to be able to be out of the polluted air.
^ Me, Naoko, and Liz
Front seat of the bus. Makes me think back to the days where everyone always wanted the very back of the bus. I always loved the front. First one off at stops means being in the front of the line, not having to wait to get off and of course…guess who got the most leg room? The appeal of the back just never made sense to me.
^ Me, Claire, and Khristine
First stop: the arboretum
We were in the border of two seasons, so it wasn’t quite warm yet and still a tad bit chilly. Regardless, I loved being outside and away from the bustling city.
The blue team!
This was a lot of fun; sliding down the slope. It’s like skateboarding or sledding on a track. Guess who tried to go down standing and fell halfway down? Yup. This girl.
Next stop: the Yongmunsa Temple in Yang Pyeong
Though I lived in the city as a young child, I spent the majority of my life living in the suburbs. Being in this busy city for just a month, I could feel the air pollution getting to me. Being in the mountains was amazing, and I loved being able to breathe in the crisp, fresh air. Not to mention, the view everywhere you looked was beautiful. Not something you get in Minnesota.
Love my girl Khristine from the Philippines <3
At the bottom of the trail we had to climb to get to the temple
Apparently I felt the journey up the mountain was more interesting than the temple itself, because I can’t find many pictures of it. lol.
After the temple visit, we all went back to the hotel. Since there were over a hundred of us, we took up most of the place. The rest of the night was spent playing dodge ball, bonding games and socializing, and of course, we topped the night/morning off with drinks and dancing. The amount of soju and beer consumed really did make it an eventful night. There are many stories attached to that night, especially for a sober spectator like myself.
I wish I could bring the idea of “MT” home with me, but it’s difficult with such a large student body. I can’t just call up all my fellow marketing majors to go away for the weekend. It’s something that I’ve really come to admire and appreciate about the student culture here. Always pros and cons to a small school, and I’m glad I’m here to somewhat experience it.
Not wanting to litter this post with so many pictures, I’ll be uploading more on Facebook. Keep a lookout!
Thanks to all the HUG members for organizing such an awesome trip. Can’t say I would have done the things we did otherwise. =)
Every week Sunday signals the beginning of another cycle, however last Sunday was more significant for many reasons. For one, it was Easter Sunday, and two, it was also the first thing I felt like I really missed out on while being here.
As I stood in the crowded church, my eyes scanned for a place to sit and rest my fatigued body. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but notice all the little kids dressed in little suits and dresses, and also all the families sitting together. The sight triggered an involuntary jolt in my heart and a rush of nostalgia and homesickness swept over me. I knew my whole family was on the other side of the globe, laughing and eating together as we do every year.
This only brings me to look forward to my cousin’s visit even more, and my sister’s as well. As amazing as this place is, it only becomes more so when given the opportunity to share it with those closest to you. If I can’t visit home for even just a bit, that’s okay. I’ll be happy when a little piece of home visits me.