“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”
T.S. Elliot ~
It often feels like the moment you start to ‘figure things out’ about a place, you have to leave. After two years in Korea, it had become my home. Despite being a foreigner, and often feeling as if I was looking from the outside in, the fact that I could understand much more about what made Korea tick than at any point prior was a comfort. By the end, some of what was unknown had become discernible. Living abroad with all the challenges that come with it seemed like less of a mystery, and more of a formula slowly revealing itself. Mailing a box, going to the bank, calling the doctors, speaking in a more formal tone, speaking in a casual tone. At first incapable acts, became somewhat possible. A messy, imperfect possibility, but real nonetheless.
As my language skills improved, the opportunity to live life like a ‘normal’ person became more a possibility. But I believe that language was, and is not just for speaking. The same sounds that first registered as an inordinate jumble of noise became opportunities for connections with real people. The jibber jabber turned into identifiable inflections and with it, the possibility for relationships. My Korean wasn’t perfect, but I knew it was one gateway into understanding the culture. But living in a foreign country is permeated with uncertainty and misunderstanding. At precisely the I thought understood the culture, it became a mystery again.
I remember taking Korean language classes for months culminating in one day. I walked into one of Korea’s many coffee shops and actually held a semi-believable conversation with the barista. It was a fantastic moment. I felt on top of the world. A few hours later I was brought back to reality when I jumped in a taxi and found myself completely perplexed with a few inquisitive sentences from the driver. With language and culture, even in the moments you think you understand, all you realize is how much more there is to know. Navigating the language, building relationships through the lens of distinct cultures, it all comes with it’s own enigmas. After awhile, the best advice I learned was that there is no formula to understand. Languages and cultures are living, breathing and constantly changing. That doesn’t mean don’t stop trying to understand, but embrace the idea that no matter how hard we try we there will always be uncertainty.
It has been almost two months since I left South Korea. The place I called home for the last two years. When I think about what defines my trip, what summarizes my journey, I am not left with any one moment but a collection of memories. The kinship I felt when my home stay mom stuffed fresh kimchi into my mouth for the first time. The comfortable routine I developed riding my blue cruiser with a rusty basket to school every day. Knowing I had made an impact on my students and they had changed me. Korea is a collection of memories, both the mundane moments and the crossroads, which coalesced to bring me where I am today.
I leave for London in less than 24 hours. The next road on my journey. Living in a new country, navigating a new culture, learning English all over again. I spent a lot of time weighing the decision to go to graduate school. Debt is a burden no one wants. I spent a long time thinking if this was the best decision for me. It is scary knowing if you are making the best choice, but do we ever really know? No matter how many times I weigh the decision, it’s not going to change that I made this choice. All I can do now is go forward and make the best of the time I have. Even something that doesn’t turn out as we planned is an opportunity to grow.
I am looking forward to what I’ll be studying, to living in the heart of London, to meeting people from around the world, to discovering new passions, improving myself personally and professionally, and to moving a little further in my life in the process.