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Packing up, moving out

Seoul, South Korea

I got a letter from the Korean government the other day informing me that my permitted period of stay is expiring, and I need to make alternate living arrangements. This wasn’t the first sign that the clock’s running out on this grand Asian adventure; last week, I had my last hapkido class, and it’s getting to the point where I know that every time I leave somewhere, it’s the last time I’ll be there. Thus, each day is filled with a dozen tiny moments of unexpected sentiment.

There’s so much that I’m going to miss here, and so much that I’m looking forward to when I get home. It seems like everything is double-edged, here. Like, I know I’ll long for the accessibility of Seoul’s public transportation, but I am thrilled to know I’ll never have to listen to another subway salesmen hawking pipe cleaners or spandex sleeves on the train. I can’t wait to go shopping and buy the pair of jeans I like the most, as opposed to the ones that offend me least; on the other hand, I love how people express themselves here by wearing whatever the hell they want and if you don’t like it then forget you. I like that there’s always someone in a weirder outfit than me here. This has not always been the case in my life.

I won’t miss how I attract attention to myself merely by existing. I’ll bid a cheerful farewell to my loyal companion Racial Discrimination, and his friend Blatant Sexism. I never did get used to the culture of indirectness, and I really, really really won’t miss the Korean woman whine. But oh, how I will miss not paying rent, ninja gymnastics, delicious street food for a dollar, and of course, my students and friends. I think I’ll probably see many of my teacher friends again. After all, it may be a big world, but it’s full of small circles. Then again, maybe I just don’t like saying goodbyes. My Korean friends are another matter. The Japanese word for goodbye—sayonara—literally means, “if this is how it must be.” I guess that’s how I feel about it. There are great people everywhere on earth, if you seek them out, and it’s a shame I can’t just pick my one hundred favorites and form a little haven full of them.

As for my students, some of them know I’m leaving, and some don’t yet. Of the ones that do, some are more tore up about it than others, as expected. They know that foreign teachers are a rotational bunch, and so the older ones are used to teacher changes. But my younger ones don’t understand why I’m going. It’s always hard to explain to people why you have to go away, and doubly so when those people are seven. There’s a handful of them that I’m always going to wonder about. Did Tae Sun ever become a robot scientist like she wanted? Did Kyu Hyuk ever learn to tie his shoes? Fingers crossed for that kid. Hopefully they’ve been able to learn a little from me this year, if not about grammar, then at least that foreigners are people too.

I know I have been changed by Korea, but it’s hard to say just how right now. I think that I’m a little less a citizen of a nation and a little more a resident of the world. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that people are essentially the same all over the world, albeit with different packaging. The society is different, and so are the words we use to talk about it, but we’re all singing the same songs.

And so, I take off in a week. Not just me; most of my friends’ contracts end in the next month or so, as well. Additionally, Hannah’s teenaged brother, Jonny, has been here the past month, visiting on his semester break from college. Last night, we took him out to a noraebang. Literally, a noraebang is a small “singing room,” just like your own private karaoke place, only big enough for about six people. (I’m happy to report that Koreans have lived up to the stereotype of Asians loving karaoke.) Amidst the musical chaos and flashing lights, we asked him what he’ll be telling his college friends about Korea.

“Lots and lots of people,” he said. Right.
And about English teachers living in Korea?
“Lots and lots of beer.” Right…so, we didn’t manage to subvert that particular stereotype. Well. One thing at a time.

permalink written by  alli_ockinga on January 23, 2010 from Seoul, South Korea
from the travel blog: I go Korea!
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alli_ockinga alli_ockinga
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Hey everyone! In February 2009 I left the Pac Northwest for South Korea to teach English for a year. This is what I'm up to! Keep in touch!

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