Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanksgiving with a side of kimchi

This weekend is thanksgiving weekend in Canada.  It is the time when families come together to be with loved ones and give thanks for what they have; to say what they are most grateful for in their lives.

In the last 6 months that I've been away from home, I have come to appreciate all of this so much more.  So please let me share with you what it is that I am most grateful and thankful for in my life.

I am grateful to have had had this once in a life time opportunity of living in a different culture; in a different world.  While the experience did not end in the way that I thought it would, I am nevertheless immensely thankful that I've done it.  I finally feel ready to move onto the next stage of my life without a feeling of regret...that wonder of "what if?".

I am thankful for having met the many wonderful people I did while I was here.  There have been so many (both foreign and Korean) that I have had the privilege of getting to know.   I would not have lasted a month in this place without them, and so I thank them for their support and encouragement through my darkest days, and for sharing their smiles with me on the happier ones too.

I am thankful for my even stronger support network of family and friends back home.  I can only imagine how hard it has been for you to have me be so far from you when many of you know how sad I have been here.  Your continued love and support means so much to me.  When I was terrified to leave early, you were all there, ready to support me and encourage me and remind me that by following my heart, I will never be led astray.

Finally, I am so grateful for having an amazing man in my life and always in my corner.  Throughout my experience here in Korea (and even in the preparation for it), has been nothing but supportive and encouraging.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the shoe were on the other foot, I'm not sure I could have been as strong and as solid as he has proven himself to be.  He's put up with more craziness than I care to admit, and yet still hasn't gone running for the hills.  If anything, my time here has made me realize what a "great catch" he really is, and gives me confidence that we will be able to work through life's problems together.

So to my friends and family back home, and indeed to all Canadians, I hope you have a very happy thanksgiving, and eat a little bit more than you probably should!

*Gobble gobble gobble*

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Confessions from afar

Much of what I post on this blog is filtered.  It's filtered to show all the fun things I've done while I've been in Korea.  But it's time I confess the truth: much of my time here has been unhappy.  I've previously alluded to having a hard time adjusting here, and that certainly was the case at first, but as time goes on, I don't feel like it's gotten much better at all.

I can't say I haven't laughed or smiled while I've been here, certainly, there have been happy moments, and I have made many wonderful friends, but I have found most of my time feeling empty and sad.  And I certainly don't feel like it has been for lack of trying.  Up until recently, I had been taking Korean language classes to try to adapt better to the culture.  As you can see from previous posts, I've gone on many different trips and done many events to try to learn more about and see different parts of the country too.

But as I've now been here for nearly 6 months, I feel that I have more unhappy feelings than happy ones.  I sometimes find myself crying in the school bathroom because I feel so unhappy.  As one friend said to me "that is a red flag".  They're totally right, and it is.  This is not to say that I was particularly unhappy with my school - quite the opposite in fact!  I didn't mind going into work every day to see the kind staff and students.  But work is just a small part of my life, especially when it's not something I want to do long term.  I feel like I am getting to the point that perhaps it's best if I take this experience for what it was, and say "Korea is just not for me".

Korea is an extremely different culture from what I am used to.   I know many people have come here before me, and have dealt with their troubles in Korea in various ways and have learned to love it and went on to stay for many years.  The more that I think about it, however, I feel like I am wasting precious time here.

It's funny what you learn to appreciate when you are without it.  As the song goes "you don't know what you've got til it's gone".  I knew I had a happy life in Ottawa, but I don't think I knew just how great and happy it was until I was here in Korea.  I don't pretend to think that my life was perfect in Ottawa, but I certainly didn't feel like crying every day while I was there.  Maybe that's the lesson I was supposed to learn by coming here?  To appreciate my home and all that comes with it.

I also know many people who come to Korea are trying to run away from a difficult life back home (relationship and/or job issues) and stay in Korea, miserable for X amount of time for those same reasons.  Fortunately for me, I don't have those problems.  While I might not actually have a job waiting for me back home, I believe I will be able to find something.  And I certainly have a wonderful man waiting for me at home.  My friends, my family, my city.  They all made my life very happy - something I haven't felt since being here.

I have done what I wanted to do here:

  • I want to move and teach overseas because I want to have a different experience. *CHECK*
  • I want to experience living in a different country, in a different culture, with different challenges. *CHECK* 
  • I even want to experience culture shock. *DOUBLE CHECK*
So does that mean I should continue to feel sad and stay?  I don't think it does.

And so, I have decided to tender my resignation to the school effective November 1st.  Which means I will be home shortly thereafter.

I am so afraid of people viewing me as a failure or a quitter for not staying the year here.  I don't want to feel like I have let people down.  But, I am sure that there are those who will view it in that way (whether they are here in Korea or in Canada).  I am a person of tremendous self-pride and to make this decision is not something I have done lightly.  I have given it much thought, and a great amount of prayer.  I have talked with so many people and asked for a sign from above.  But I know that ultimately, the decision is up to me.

I'm sorry if you're one of the people let down by this decision, but I have to think of my own self happiness, and, sadly, it just isn't here in Korea.  I will always hold this experience in a very special place in my heart.  I don't regret coming here. While it is not what I expected to be or the result I thought would happen, I have learnt a great deal from it and from those I encountered on this adventure.

Go East!

In the short time I've been in Korea, I've visited parts of the southeast (Busan), southwest (Mokpo), north (DMZ) and central (wine tour).  So I had yet to see what the east coast of the country is like.  From what I had been told, it was quite nice.  Seoraksan mountain is famous for its hikes and spectacular views.  And the beaches and waters are supposed to be a beautiful clear blue.  So, my friend Natallia and I decided to hop on a bus and head out there to see for ourselves.

After a bit of a rough start (I went to the wrong bus terminal and had to take a rushed cab ride to make to the right station on time!  Only to then be stuck in traffic for the next 5 hours!), we finally made it to Sokcho in the early afternoon.  We checked into our charismatic hostel and then took the bus up to see Seoraksan mountain for ourselves.  In the busy summer months, there are so many visitors to this landmark that there are usually lines to hike up the mountain!  But, since it was the end of the season, there were far fewer visitors on the day that we went, which is just fine for me!  Since I had done a big hike the previous weekend in Wolchulsan National Park, I wasn't super keen to do another big hike on this particular day, so we took the cable car to the top of one of the mountains and soaked in the lovely views.

Once we had seen the view from the top, we came back down and explored the local Buddhist temple.

Once we got back to the hostel in the afternoon, we decided to wander around the famous local fish market - quite a sight to behold!  But, thankfully not as disturbing as the one I found in Busan.  After a Japanese dinner of pork cutlet, we spent the night at a really charming hostel - the only one in the city, I believe: The House Hostel.  It had quite a bit of character, lots of little knick-knacks and very helpful staff.  Definitely worth a stay if you ever decide to head out that way.

The next morning, we decided to the second thing Sokcho is famous for - its beach.  Sadly, mother nature was not on our side as the whole beach was roped off due to high winds and big waves.  I still managed to dip my feet in Korea's east coast when the waves came up high enough, but I guess I brought my swimsuit for nothing!  We still had a nice time people watching and saw a whole Korean family and tent get soaked by a big wave that came up far higher on the beach than they clearly ever expected. (hehehe)

Before we knew it, it was time to catch out bus home.  This meant, it was also time for every one else to head back to Seoul too.  So another ridiculously long and uncomfortable bus ride later, we made it home.  Another part of Korea checked off the list!