Last year at this time, I was processing the paperwork that would eventually land me on the other side of the planet for at least a year. It seems like a lifetime ago, really, because an unbelievable amount of things have happened since.
I still remember my reasons for wanting to quit my job at an up and coming, national magazine in Canada, and move to an unknown part of the world, to do a job I wasn't exactly trained to do.
It all came down to my desire for a challenge. I knew of many people who had taken the same path, following a similar trend: they'd finished school and moved to Korea to work, travel, pay off student loans, and simply, find themselves.
Though I was of a similar thought process, my hunger for a challenge outdid any of these reasons. I'd felt it was time to take off from the nest and do something different. Something for me. Something that would add to my life, and to the person I wanted to become.
So last August, after never having been anywhere by myself, I took the long flight to where I am right now: Seoul, South Korea... and it's been eight months since.
I can't tell you where the time has gone. Some days felt like they were on fast-forward, while others seemed to drag on by (especially during the long, cold winter). Yet, regardless of what I was doing, or who I was with on those days, I know for a fact that I'd never trade these past eight months in for anything.
But last Friday, I finally said six words to my co-teacher that I'd dreaded saying aloud.
"I won't be renewing my contract," I announced to Mrs. P, over lunch.
Though I knew for certain that I was ready to end my journey in Korea, I wasn't prepared for her reaction... or that of the other teachers in the lunchroom.
Suffice to say, she was sad and rather heartbroken. She kept mouthing the Korean equivalent of, "What will we do?" over and over again, while choking back sobs. It was an awkward situation to say the least, as she tried to make me change my mind.
"What about the students? They like you so much. You are so kind to them. They are speaking a lot more English than ever before!" she said... almost in hysterics.
I knew this was true. I also knew that I'd grown attached to the students in ways I never thought possible. It's true, they'd opened up a lot more since I first came to the school. They were more confident in their speaking abilities, and were even willing to take on more work to improve their English. All of this was a huge shift from last semester.
It was more than any ESL teacher could ever ask for. I knew long ago that one of the saddest parts of leaving my job here, would be having to say goodbye to the students.... but I knew I had to do it.
I'm ending my journey in Korea and headed back to The Big Smoke at the end of August. A year has been the perfect amount of time for what I needed to do.
Somewhere between teaching some 700+ Korean middle school girls each week, and trying to adjust to the newness of this part of the world, I figured a few things out.
For one, I've gotten to spend quality time with myself. I've learned, in truth, how I react to the good and bad things that happen to people on a daily basis -- honest emotions... many of which are new. I've made mistakes and recovered from them.
Without influence, I've figured out (to some extent), that there are things I like and dislike. For instance, I like being put in situations where I have to meet and talk to people I don't know. I'm good at it. I don't like it when I'm forced to make small talk with people I do know. It drives me absolutely bonkers.
I've learned that sometimes, quality time alone is exactly what the doctor ordered when facing an existential crisis. Crying is therapeutic. Laughing is reviving and energizing. Dancing alone to old 90s hits is amusing and silly... but still fantastic!
People watching is good. Staring blatantly is not.
I'm not a foodie by any means... but I do enjoy seafood days during lunch in the school cafeteria.
I love walking. Everywhere. Walking clears my mind, energizes my soul, and allows me to look at what's beyond the four walls of my shoebox.
Speaking of shoe boxes, I've realized I don't need a lot of space to be happy. Just a space to call my own. Everyone needs that... even if it's a closet to escape to, during chaos.
I've been surprised by strangers who've shown me more kindness than I expected, and have been surprised by people who have disappeared when I thought they'd be there.
The best part is that despite what seems like global chaos and disorder, I've learned that the world is a beautiful and kind place, where there's more forms of love and generosity than there's hatred and selfishness.
And finally (for now), I've spent amazing amounts of time getting to know the love of my life.
My love's been there for me through every obstacle and triumph... through moments of solitude and spells of socializing... through mental chaos and clarity.
My love's helped me work a lot of things out, and has rewarded me through the good times. My love was a constant companion long before this journey began, and will continue to be, through the next chapters.
You know my love almost as much as I do. You know my writing.
And thank you for spending time with it, commenting on it, and talking to me about it. It's helped me in more ways than you can ever imagine, during moments when you wouldn't believe it could have made a difference.
So thanks for being there for me, everyone. Four more months, and I'll be packing up for a new challenge. I'm terrified, but looking forward to it.