My Year in South Korea
The minute I stepped onto that stage and collected my diploma, I knew I couldn’t stay for much longer. I’ve never been very good at remaining; my limbs constantly fighting against the urge to find the nearest exit. Staying meant feeding anger and regret to that beast inside my heart that has always wanted to roam free. Staying meant becoming completely solid, a stone under the sea, unmovable. But I have always been the sea itself, deciding every few minutes that it was time to pull away.
I decided that South Korea would be my first destination on the path to a life I have always dreamed off. There are some people in this life like myself who are called the roamers, the explorers; the ones whose hearts ring out with wanderlust. They are not running from anything, but flying towards something. They yearn to gain new experiences, learn about new cultures, immerse in a place that exists outside of their continuum of life. These people are lost; they wander to settle the wolf inside them howling to expand their minds. The pyramids of Egypt, the cathedrals of Italy, the mountains of Switzerland, the glaciers of Greenland, the beaches of Australia; all melt together and become a necessity for survival.
These types of people need adventure to calm their souls. They do not have time or space for nostalgia; they carry everything they need in one small backpack. They leave room in their minds for thought and exploration and new understandings. They do not realize that everything they are itching to discover is already within them. There is nothing new to be found or lost, just to be discovered. I never imagined myself feeling stuck yet again.
Over my time here in Korea, I’ve learned that sharing is a virtue; being together, talking and collaborating are all the essence of harmony. Sometimes as I walk through my city and I don’t know if I am walking among the living or the dead. When I talk about my coworkers, drink held firmly in my hand, face warm from the dollar soju, the people listen so intently, it’s like I’m telling ghost stories.
It’s hard to still feel stuck when you have already run away. For someone who is always thinking they might run out of time, run out of life to live, it was imperative for me to make the most of every day. The mountains of Korea are like nothing I have ever seen before. Even when I think I have hiked up every last mountain in my little home city, I discover one more.
In the winter, the snow covers the peaks so white like everything is good in the world, everything is peaceful. But in the summer, the trees and the flowers and every last beautiful thing explodes onto every inch of land like they spent too many months locked away from the sun. My friend Chen from China always laughs when I tell her my plans for the weekend include wandering around another temple. She would say, “Why another temple? They are everywhere? So boring!” I would laugh along and agree, I understood that she saw these beautiful pieces of architecture every day in her home. But these were a whole new brand of marvelous for me. The golden Buddhas sitting pensive and cross-legged watching as the people pray silently and the music rings out softly among the quiet.
Every single time I walked up those entrances steps, I was walking into a new world, something I only every thought I could imagine as I read stories by my favorite writers. Someplace magical and mystifying and completely and utterly made-up. But the funny thing was; it wasn’t. Somewhere along the way, I discovered that magic was real. In all the millions of steps, in all the countless photos, in all the breathless views, there was a dream in the corner of my mind that burst forward and came alive.
I am so grateful to have been able to spend a year of my life in South Korea and grow so much more than I could have ever believed. It’s a bittersweet ending to leave your first adventure, but with a heart like mine, I know there are many more yet to come.