I wish I could say the excitement and good vibes I was feeling at the end of my last post kept going throughout my first month in Korea, but the reality was a bit different. It all changed rather abruptly when I moved from the apartment I was in during training to the apartment I would be living in for the next year. The apartment during training was bright, furnished, and open. When I arrived at the apartment my school had given me, I was greeted by empty darkness. The apartment was a half-basement, with windows that looked at concrete walls. Only after my eyes adjusted did I realize I was not alone. I was sharing this space with many, many spiders. The person who lived in the apartment left months ago, without cleaning, and the spiders had moved in. The place was a mess. I stood in the middle of the room not quite sure what to do. I decided I needed to do something about the spiders before I could really think about next steps. I made my way to the store, bought the biggest can of Raid I could find, went back and sprayed – doused – the corners and walls. Then went outside and contemplated my life.
How much would it cost for a ticket back to Ecuador? Maybe Salt Lake City would be less? I guess a hotel room would be less than both of those…but surely that’s not sustainable long term. But how could I live here now?
I had done Peace Corps; I know how to survive in places with bugs and housing that’s less than ideal, and by the end of my service I was even able to call my Peace Corps housing comfortable. But I could not see this apartment ever being comfortable. It was just too dark. Too depressing. I figured I at least needed to ask to move. The philosophy I go by is the worst someone can say is “No,” and then you are no worse off than before you asked. It wasn’t an immediate yes, but eventually I was given the green light to look for a new apartment; I just had to tough it out for one month in the spider dungeon. I looked at many places, some even worse than the apartment I was already in. I was beginning to wonder if this was meant to be, but then I found it – the one. The place I knew I was supposed to be. It felt right from the moment I walked in the door, and there was even a sign – a literal sign – that this was where I should be. I couldn’t believe it! I moved in on June 24th and the experience has changed 100%. I don’t dread coming to my apartment now. I have a place to call home, to settle in, and even have a room for visitors! Accepting reservations now 🙂
Aside from the living situation challenges, I was not anticipating the loneliness I felt during the first month. This experience has helped me further realize how lucky I was to have the Peace Corps group I did, and to be in South America. Because the training was so short here, there was not time to build the relationships and support network that were built during training in Peace Corps. We also worked in small groups, so I only really got to know a few people during the week, who are all great, but now working in schools far from Seoul. Additionally, the three other teachers at the school where I am teaching were at the end of their contract. So without time to make friends in training, and teachers at my school leaving, all I had to look forward to after work was going back to my apartment – and well, you can imagine how that was.
Adding to this is the language barrier. Interestingly enough, not knowing Korean makes it difficult to make Korean friends. 😛 Korean culture also seems to be more conservative in regards to foreigners than South America. My experience in South America was filled with friendly conversations from neighbors, with daily “good mornings” and “good nights” from strangers walking down the road. This doesn’t happen here. I am not sure if it’s because of the language barrier, or just how living in a city of ten million people is? Either way, I miss the warm hospitality of South America.
Thankfully the interactions and time I have had teaching the kids has been fun, and some days it is the only interactions with other people I would have in the day. Other times, friends from Peace Corps that are living here have come to visit me. It’s a long train ride for them to do so, but their visits helped me more than they know. I also have met an English speaking friend or two in the area I live, and the few times we have grabbed a beer or had dinner together also got me through some of the hardest times. Little by little, things are falling into place.
So that’s it. As I am writing this, I am happy in my new place; with a table I can actually type on, a couch to sit on and light coming in through the window. I think – I hope – I made it through the hardest part. As the three teachers at my school left last week, three new ones have arrived. It’s new beginnings for all of us. A fresh start to my start. Next steps. I had to remind myself of two things several times during the last month, which I believe to be true:
I am exactly where I am supposed to be, and that no experience will last forever.
This helped me not only get through the tough times, but also remember to cherish each part of my journey. I will not be in Korea forever; the experience so far has been good, and it has been bad, but it’s been just that – an experience. Sometimes I still can’t believe I am here. My name on the door with “Teacher” is something I never expected, but these days the unexpected seems to happen more regularly. No matter what may happen next, I want to cherish the opportunity to be here now.
Until next time,
Peace. Love. Happiness…and a great Independence Day back home!
Also, on the home page I’ve updated my mailing address and can by reached by post now. Old fashioned letters/pictures and your updates are always loved and appreciated. Snail-mail me!