I can’t believe how fast 12 months can go. One year ago, Asiana Flight 207 touched down at Incheon International Airport.
Strapped down and channeling my inner pack mule, I emerged into the sticky summer air. I physically gasped for air as I mentally gasped for clarity. I had no idea where I would work, where I would live, or what I was getting myself into. I also had no idea what wonderful experiences were in store.
Between the surprise of snagging a high school position, the comfort of a brand-new upper-middle-class neighborhood, and the support of a motley cadre of misfit friends, I feel intensely blessed.
It’s funny how quickly the tides of emotion shift when we undergo significant life changes. I’ve manically bounded from fear, to fatigue, to excitement, to bliss, to apprehension, to baseline comfort and normalcy in the course of 12 months.
I’ve surmounted many challenges to earn today’s level of comfort.
I’ve acquired functional knowledge of a new language.
I’ve slowly steeped myself in cultural traditions outside of my comfort zone (public saunas come to mind).
I’ve sacrificed assumptions (e.g. “I need a car to live a functional life”).
I’ve smiled through countless “conversations” where a Korean mistakes my understanding of conversational cues for actual Korean comprehension. In other words, I nod to incomprehensible questions and hope for the best.
Yet through each difficulty, awkward interaction, and uncertain situation, I emerge one cent wiser. And through the power of compound interest, those cents can morph into vast wealth.
The best lesson I’ve learned is that we need consistent life challenges to grow as people. If we fail to subject ourselves to manageable discomfort, we stagnate. Once we stagnate, we cease to truly live.
This principle guides me into year two. People have asked me if I plan to stay even longer in Korea. I’ve since honed my answer.
“If my work, relationships, hobbies, and day-to-day life continue to challenge me in meaningful ways, then I have no reason to abandon this path.”
In the future, I will take my long-term future plans into account. I want to return to school and earn an advanced degree in psychology, linguistics, or maybe education. Ultimately, I wish to put down roots in a university (wherever that may be). However, I must also consider the now-tired adage:
“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
The fast-paced flux of Korean education regularly reminds me. Success in life does not always depend on the best-formed plans. Rather, success comes to those who effectively adjust to ever-changing conditions.
I consider myself a relatively adaptable individual. Hardiness is a quality I revere. However, moving to Mokpo has challenged me on a whole new level. I now feel calmer, more flexible, more emotionally stable, and more spiritually satisfied than ever before.
This personal growth is not solely a product of moving abroad. Living independently with ample free time affords me the opportunity to cultivate and experiment with new hobbies and habits.
Some of these habits (e.g. exercise, meditation, journal writing) accompanied my luggage on Asiana Flight 207. Others (walking everywhere, eating kimchi, buying fruit for my co-workers) developed as I settled into this new niche.
Don’t get me wrong. Life here is not a sunshine-and-rainbow Candyland where unicorns sing and dance karaoke all day long. In fact, I sincerely believe that a fulfilling life should alternate between manageable challenges and appreciative bliss.
We need to exert, struggle, strive, and overcome to experience true satisfaction.
A good quality of life is not defined by unceasing happiness. I would be wary of anyone who claimed 100% happiness at all times.
I am still prone to periodic bouts of depression. There are still days where I fail to accomplish anything aside from watching multitudes of YouTube videos and stuffing 3000 calories into my stomach.
However, I also notice that cultivating my mental and emotional resources through meditation, introspection, physical exercise, a moderately healthy diet, and action-oriented habits have significantly reduced the length of these emotional “dry spells.”
In other words, while I am not immune to emotional languishment, I feel can these episodes shortening themselves in both frequency and duration.
I aim to treat this year as a hard reset rather than a mere continuation. As mentioned above, success depends upon adjusting to constantly-changing circumstances.
My circumstances have changed.
Work is no longer a bewildering minefield of misunderstandings and difficulties. It’s become a ravine of routine.
Korea is no longer a mystical Eastern wonderland replete with bright lights, strange symbols, and rapid-fire cultural surprises. It’s become home.
Just as a romantic couple exits the honeymoon phase into the oft-feared humdrum of normalcy, so do I emerge from my starry-eyed awe of Korea.
My new (and equally rewarding) challenge is to generate fresh excitement.
Just as established relationships “take work” to continually churn intrigue, so too will my life in Korea “take work” to cultivate novel and exhilarating experiences.
I can’t wait to find such experiences in the next 12 months.
Finally, I will miss The King and The Bard. Good luck on your respective journeys. I wish you strength, wisdom, and good fortune for the rest of your days.