After thinking heavily about whether or not to renew my contract with EPIK, I’ve decided to return home in August. Signing on for a second year would offer me several enticing financial benefits and mouthwatering travel opportunities. And I’ve had a positive experience at my school, where I would continue to work if I were to renew. But during my time in Korea, I’ve learned or re-learned four life lessons, and made some new discoveries about myself, that have persuaded me to wrap things up at the one-year mark.
1. Family is everything. Being away from home has been much harder than I anticipated. Yes, I miss my bed, my dogs and Chipotle burritos. But more than anything I miss my family and friends. Their support has meant the world to me these past 7 months, and the countless Skype and KakaoTalk sessions we’ve had have always kept me going, especially during the lowpoints. To modify an old cliche, “you never know what you have until it’s 12,000 miles away.” Suddenly all the ordinary little routines, events and jokes that define your closest relationships become the things you hold most dear. I don’t think I took them for granted before I left. But I do think I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for them since then, and I understand the value of family and friends now in a way that makes going home in August an easy decision.
2. The world is more beautiful when you have someone to share it with. During winter vacation I went on two solo trips, one to Cambodia and one to Thailand. Both of them were absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad I did them alone. I basked in a newfound sense of self-confidence after surviving on my own in two foreign countries. I enjoyed the pure, unadulterated freedom of being limited to no one else’s schedule. But most of all, I realized that our fondest memories acquire such status not just because of what we do or where we are, but who we’re with. Whether that person is a complete stranger, friend, family member or significant other, their presence has a way of making a meal taste a little sweeter, a sunrise shine a little brighter, and the bumps of a terrible bus ride feel a little smaller. I’m not saying I’m done with solo travel forever. But I am saying I look forward to, more often than not, traveling through the world and life in the company of others, particulary the ones waiting for me back home.
3. Sometimes on the way to your dream, you get lost and find a better one. I’m pretty sure I referenced this quote when I first started this blog. Back then I was leaving the dream of working in the theatre industry in pursuit of new aspirations to travel the world and teach English. Now, here I am again! At the onset of my year in Korea I was totally open to the possibility of falling in love with teaching and the country. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. While there are many things about my job and life here that bring me joy and satisfaction, it’s not the career or location I see myself staying in long-term. For a few months now (during my copious hours of free time at school and at home) I’ve been taking some online classes in web design and I think I’ve found a new passion! Bouncing from one career to another sometimes makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. But isn’t that what your 20’s are for? Doing adult things but still feeling like a child? In any case, I firmly believe there’s no such thing as a wasted experience. Everything builds on what came before, and it’s all related…even if we can’t see it in the moment. So come August 2015, I’ll be moving back to the US to find a job in the web design field and prepare for graduate school.
4. Do what makes you happy. This has basically been my personal mantra while living in Korea. It’s helped me combat homesickness, become a better teacher and make my renewal decision. When confronted with waves of culture shock or loneliness, I’ve learned to weather the storm by doing whatever makes me happy: exercising, blogging, taking an art class, eating French toast for dinner, Skyping with family/friends, binge watching Netflix shows, etc. When at a loss for what to do for my next lesson, I’ve found the answer in the subjects about which I’m most passionate: art, music, creative projects, etc; and my teaching has improved because of it. When debating if I should renew my contract, I took a moment to be objective and honestly ask myself, ‘All pros and cons, personal feelings, and desires aside, what would make me happier?’ Not renewing turned out to be the winner. By constantly striving for happiness and making conscious choices to achieve it, I’ve made this experience as positive as it can be and developed a habit that a) simplified a difficult decision and b), will make the rest of my life back in the States fuller, richer and…well, happier!
I still have about 6 months left in Korea, so the journey is far from over. But that’s good news, not bad news. Because this will be my only year here, I want to make the most of this time and get everything I can out of it. And I’ve got 6 months to do it. Six more months to continue developing as a teacher, traveling throughout Korea and Asia, immersing in the culture, and learning more valuable life lessons like the ones in this post.