Or rather, everyone who's left.
If you go to the homepage of this website, and click through the posts you'll find there, you might quickly notice that nearly a year ago I posted a piece called, 'The Great Umbrella Miracle.'
The reasons for this are many, but put in the simplest words:
The day I left Korea, I permanently closed a chapter that spanned two years two years of my life. I left behind my job, my friends, my everyday habits, even my concept of self as it existed in that time and place. I also left behind any and all desire to write in this blog.
I boarded my flight to Istanbul, and suddenly had nothing to say.
For a long time, I couldn't understand why. Part of me said:
Korea might have changed, but I haven't... So, where did the words go?
It took me until now to realize that this blog was as much Korea as it was me. I only started publishing upon landing in Korea. I used my precipitous free-time - known to many as "desk-warming" - to write, edit, and revise. I wrote about Korea, how I felt when I was living there, and the other adventures I had throughout Asia.
All along, I had (wrongly) assumed that my move to Korea was only the impetus: it had given me the push, but I was driving force. It was only after months of silence that I finally realize the truth.
I was not the story of this blog. My life in Korea was.
The problem with Korea being the story of this blog is that Korea was a chapter of my life with clear cut lines and startling finality.
Though I do keep in touch with friend I met in Korea and abroad, there isn't even one person in my daily life now who was actually there (or who has even been to Korea, much less lived there).
It's not just that though. I am completely different too.
I have a different job, in a different field. I have different hobbies, and do different things with my free time. Now that I can plan outside the limits of my teaching contract, I even view the future differently.
In terms of the present moment, Korea exists only the in abstract. When I left, I was not at all prepared to reconcile that finality, that abstraction, with an ongoing presence on this blog.
What Have I Been Up To?
For those of you who followed me while I lived in Korea, you know that I planned to travel in Europe, return to the U.S., save up money, and then return to the wide world.
As it stands today, I have knocked off about two and a half of those steps. But which two?
I did spend six weeks in Europe.
Starting in Istanbul, I worked my way southwest through Athens, Budapest, Prague, Dresden, Amsterdam, Berlin, and London. I concluded my trip with a brief stint in Frankfurt, where I caught my long flight back to the U.S. - landing in Seattle.
That's what I mean when I say I have accomplish two and a half steps.
Originally, I planned to save as much money as possible, in the shortest amount of time. This being said...
In Europe, I Realized 3 Things:
1. I enjoy traveling with friends more than I enjoy solo travel
2. I don't ever want to work again in a job I hate (Even if it means I can more easily do something I love)
3. I want the best of both worlds, and I'm willing to work for it
So, what does all that mean?
Realization #1: I enjoy traveling with friends more than I enjoy traveling solo
Pretty self explanatory.
Before Europe, I had done only one solo trip - my 3 day adventure to Kyoto and Osaka in Japan.
My exploration of Europe was much longer, and it made me realize that though I find myself perfectly capable of solo travel (everyone is), I wasn't enjoying parts of it as much as I thought I would.
The right company elevates even the most mundane moments, not to mention those that are already great.
I did make friends along the way, but constantly making, breaking, and remaking friends as you move from place to place eventually becomes tiresome.
If you're just tuning in, I should mention that I'm very introverted and I'm prone to a ridiculous amount of social anxiety. You can read more about that here. But if you want the short version:
Social situations use up my energy at an absurd rate, and in order to fully recharge, I need to be alone.
With that in mind, it might then make sense that by the last third of my trip, the thought of walking into another common room and trying to chat up the friendliest group of people, was simply abhorrent.
I just couldn't be bothered.
Realization #2: I don't ever want to work again in a job I hate (Even if it means I can more easily do something I love)
I minced around saying this for two years, but now it's in the past and I no longer feel inclination or the need to pretty up the truth.
I hated my job in Korea.
Hallelujah! I finally said it.
To some, this might come as a surprise. To those who know me personally, probably not.
These days, when I tell people about Korea, I tell them that I loved two thirds of my life there. I loved that I was living my dream and having adventures, that I was traveling often and making enough money to live comfortably, and that I was able to not only pay down student loans, but also save.
I loved the lifestyle. But I hated my job. And I told myself that it was fine, because the rest was more than fine - the rest was everything I had ever wanted up until the day I moved abroad.
But two years is a long time to do something I disliked so deeply.
Would I still suggest teaching in Korea to someone else? Absolutely!
How can I say that I hated my job, and yet still suggest that others do the same?
Because I believe with my whole heart that they should.
The experience changed my life so significantly... It's hard to put into words the extent and gravity of those changes, but I can say with surety that my entire perspective of life in the world is forever changed.
I am more level-headed. More open-hearted. More understanding.
Most importantly: I'm happier. So much happier.
I still suggest that others do something similar, because my situation was unique to me.
I've mentioned before that working for EPIK is in many ways a roll of the dice. Some people end up in positions they absolutely adore - a well-funded school, well-behaved students with advanced knowledge of English, and co-workers who are happy to be there.
But it goes both ways and my situation just happened to be at the exact opposite side of the spectrum. It was harder than I ever imagined, and I was totally unprepared.
Unprepared, not just in my professional experience, but in my emotional attachment to the situation.
Moving to Korea involved jumping through a myriad of bureaucratic hoops: applying for the program, getting a visa, packing my life into two (and half) suitcases, and arranging my affairs at home for when I was away.
But in that entire prolonged process, I never once considered the responsibility I had shouldered.
I was naive, eager to "get out," and though I hate to say it - I was arrogant.
If you are thinking about teaching, I still support you wholeheartedly, but hear me now and hear me clearly:
You are shouldering a huge responsibility.
And I don't mean the responsibility of adulthood.
In agreeing to become a teacher, you are agreeing to influence the lives of children.
When you screw up working in a restaurant, you apologize, your manager comps the food, and everyone goes back to their business.
As a teacher you influence not only the lesson of the day, but the mind and memories of the next generation.
If you handle a stressful situation poorly, you are teaching that child to handle a similar situation in a similar way. Your actions have the ability to create memories, negative or positive, that last far into the future.
You can't go back and delete. You can't rewind and try it again a different way.
You have to be at your best 100% of the time, not necessarily because it's expected, but rather because your mistakes have consequences so much more significant than accidentally ringing in an extra order of fries.
Realization #3: I want the best of both worlds, and I'm willing to work for it
This realization came to full fruition while I was in Europe. It's origin though was many months before, when I turned down an English teaching job in Spain.
Originally, I had applied because I knew my time in Korea was soon ending. I didn't know what I wanted to do next, and most teaching jobs in Spain have similar benefits to those in Korea. I figured - what could it hurt?
It wasn't until I was accepted into the program that I started having doubts.
Questions I hadn't asked (or had previously ignored) seemed suddenly unavoidable.
Why am I doing this?
Teaching in Spain might have been wonderful, but I have never once regretted not taking the position. It took actually getting the position for me to realize that I am tired of running just for the sake of it. I want to running towards something... something meaningful, something that can be built up and expanded upon, something that's mine.
With all these realizations in mind, I floated through my Euro trip and arrived in Seattle with a new perspective, and it is this perspective that prompted me to put my travel plans on temporary hold.
That desire to build something sustainable could no longer be ignored, and while others might be able to build and maintain while switching cities every few days - I am not one of them.
If there ever was a place to build something amazing - Seattle is it.
The longer I stay here, the more my wonder grows. Some of the biggest innovations, largest corporations, and wealthiest people in America all live in Seattle.
Boeing. Starbucks. Amazon. Apple. Microsoft.
All of these companies (and more) were either founded here, or have taken up a residence so large that they are literally changing the skyline.
What have I been doing this last year?
1. Working full time at a myriad of different jobs
So far this year, I have made a living doing online marketing, bartending, social media consulting, catering, day-of wedding planning, and (my favorite) web design.
3. Tons of exercise including hot yoga, running, hiking, power lifting, and even one jiu-jitsu class
4. Building up my repertoire of marketable skills
5. Achieving true location independence (YES!)
6. Experimenting with what does and doesn't work for me in terms of my work life
I've been busy. And it's something new everyday.
Have I done any travel since I came here? And will I continue traveling abroad?
Yes and yes!
Since landing in Seattle, I have been to Santa Barbara (CA), Portland (OR), Las Vegas (NV), Chicago (IL), several short trips within Washington, and back to Denver (my hometown) several times.
Of course, none of that sounds nearly as exciting, nor exotic as Singapore or Vietnam or Bali, but one thing I promised myself when living abroad was that I would try to explore more of my own country when I got back. The U.S. is so massive, and has so much to offer - it's a shame I haven't seen more of it.
As to traveling abroad, I have a trip officially slated in for the end of October/early November.
Honestly, I'm itching to go sooner.
However, as I mentioned, I'm here to build something. Primarily, a location independant job that I actually enjoy. It's still a work in progress, but I finally feel like I'm at least on the path towards building a life that checks all the boxes.
As this is quickly becoming the first chapter in a novel, I'll wrap it up and leave you with this:
It's been a long time.
And if you were a consistent reader, I'm so sorry for bailing on you like that.
Transitioning from Korea to Seattle left me with an unexpected loss of words.
When I reached into the part of myself that is usually overflowing with things unsaid, I found myself grasping at air - unable to articulate the depths of my heart to myself, much less anyone else.
I'm not even sure if you're still listening...
But If you are, know this - I am nothing more or less than a lost girl trying to find the way. I'm still wandering, wondering, and writing all the while.
If you are still listening, I am still here and I hope you'll continue tuning in.
All the best,
P.S. I am not longer referring to this site as a travel blog. Next Thursday, I will be discussing the reasons behind this decision, so if you want to check it out please feel free :)