As an expat, one of the first questions usually asked and answered is, “How did you end up here?” It’s a question I myself have answered many times; but thinking about life lately I realize I’ve been giving the short answer instead of the whole story. It seem like it’s only now, two and a half years later that I’m able to give the full truth.
So, how did I end up in Korea?
It all started in elementary school. One day while washing my hands in the bathroom I suddenly broke down in tears because I needed to “get out.” At the age of about 10 I was already tired of the place I was in my life. I sat in the bathroom thinking, until I finally promised myself that I would “get out”– I promised to do whatever it took to“be better.”
Fast forward a few years to high school, and the path to “escaping” suddenly seemed so much clearer. See “getting out” was never about physically escaping. Sure, I wanted to leave home, wanted to leave the state and start over somewhere new – but that wasn’t my driving factor. When I thought about “getting out,” it meant finding a better life.
So, I formulated my plan.
Study hard = good grades = scholarship = leave home for college = better life.
This “better life” encompassed everything I wanted to change. At the time I truly believed college would “save” me. I was finally going to be confident, not the shy, sheltered and sensitive person I was starting to hate. I would have no one else to worry about, I was going to have the opportunity to get a great job, and last but definitely not least I was going to fall in love and get married. I had such high hopes, and when I finally left for school I was ecstatic because things were finally starting to come together.
Except they didn’t.
Nothing came together, and perhaps the feelings of needing to “escape,” to “be different” only got worse. Because suddenly there were words like anxiety, depression, eating disorders… It felt like those words were all labels that I’d been grasping at for a long time – not quite right, but not totally wrong either.
Four years later and I still felt stuck. In some ways it was worse than before because I had already tried everything I could think of to “unstick” myself, but nothing was working. I realized after being asked what I was looking forward to and having to answer with a resounding “nothing,” that I was unhappy.
As senior year started to end, I was still jobless and growing more restless. I didn’t want to be “this person” for the rest of my life. Then, quite suddenly, an opportunity came. At first it was quickly trashed from my inbox as a ridiculous notion. But then, when confronted again with the same opportunity I took the pause necessary to fully evaluate my decision. What if I did try teaching in Korea?
Yes, Korea was far and different – and this did not put me on track for grad school or anything else, but it would give me the chance to travel. And perhaps, it would help me finally “start my life.” I rationalized it with the following pros.
1) I would get to travel.
2) I would get to teach.
3) I would learn a new language.
4) I would learn to be by myself- to rely on myself – when all I had was myself.
5) I would hopefully finally have a big enough change to finally feel like I had gotten out (I would be trying something new).
So, I did it. I left America for all of those reasons – but for the very simple reason that I still needed to “get out.”
Two and a half years later, I’m still here.
Life has changed in so many ways, because life happened as it tends to do.
I didn’t plan any of this, yet here I am. At first, coming here seemed pointless. Living abroad was hard, I was lonely and borderline miserable all the while contemplating if I should just pack up and go home. Especially, because I was being confronted with the realization that location does not dictate happiness; that in the end you still have to live with yourself and you will be yourself wherever you are. But, all in all it has given me the chance to try something new. I have pushed myself to be different, forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and finally give life a chance. And, for that reason, coming here has been entirely worth it.
What unexpected life decisions and changes have you encountered?