Saturday, December 15, 2012

Leaving Korea

I wasn't making it public knowledge that I would be returning to the States on November 26th because it was a secret that I was returning to surprise my boyfriend for his birthday on November 29th.  The surprise went splendidly, and it's wonderful being around Caleb again.

It is important to know that choosing to return to America was choosing to actively invest in my relationship with Caleb.  In Korea, I had many, many things going for me.  I had a job I loved and students who loved me.  I had a home at my church and brothers and sisters to talk and play with.  I had a dance team and lessons available in styles that I enjoyed.  I was living in a vibrant city with so much to offer.  I'm sure that if you caught me on an off day I'd find things to complain about, and I am glad that I just missed the bitter Korean winter.  Beyond the trickiness that came from working with the system of my private school and the cultural differences that made relationships and communication difficult, Korea was wonderful.

Preparing to leave the life I grew in Korea ripped me to shreds.  Two weeks before I left, I was weeping as I thought about leaving my students.  I cried about not getting a solid closure of a good bye with most of my co-workers.  Packing was such a daunting and heartbreaking task, I put it off as long as possible.

A week before I left, everything I did was labeled as "The last time I..."  The last time stepping out of Sinsa station.  The last sermon I'd hear at Jubilee.  The last Monday teaching Elegance Class.  The last Tuesday.  The last...

The last week raged forward with no mercy.  My replacement was at school, there was training to do, future syllabi to write, and loose ends to tie up all over the school.  I was worried that I would feel the time slipping through my fingers.  I was worried I would feel like everything was suddenly ripped out of my arms before I had a chance to say proper good byes and to give proper hugs and kisses.

Therefore, I was amazed, so amazed, when I found myself in the Incheon airport without a tear in my eye.  No sobs.  No freak out moments.  The time was here, and that was okay.

My last week had been insanely busy, yes, but I did have dinner dates set up for every evening of the week.
Monday: David and Sim, my krump buddies
Tuesday: Alice Nam, my Bible study leader and mentor
Wednesday: Nicole, my best girlfriend in Korea
Thursday: "Ann," the lady I tutored (We had Thanksgiving dinner together this night.)
Friday: Staff good bye and welcome party
Saturday: Co-worker Thanksgiving and church Thanksgiving

It's hard for me to believe because, when I put reality up next to what I expected my last week to be, there is no similarity at all.  But talking with each of my dinner dates helped me, little by little, accept and prepare for leaving Korea.  David and Sim told me to not stop dancing and to not let myself slip into a comfortable life.  Alice gave me encouragement and wisdom about returning to America.  Nicole gave me rest and understanding and love in so many areas.  Ann reminded me that I wasn't the only sad about my departure and of how important it is to keep in touch with the people I love whom I'm leaving behind.  Friday's staff party let me relax and have fun after a stressful week.  And being with my church friends one last time reminded me of how much I am loved and how rich I am in friends.

And saying good bye to my students?  On Friday, my last day, the preschool classes had a field trip to a science museum.  I think my supervisor had a hand in this: my co-teacher was assigned to a different class, and I had Elegance Class all to myself.  Six of my most favorite people in the world held onto me every chance they could and ran around pulling my arm and saying "Teacher, what's that?!"
"I don't know!  Let's go find out!"
Three hours of that made me the happiest teacher in the whole world.  I know it sounds cheesy, but the love was all over the place.  We were having the best fun.  No one worried about me leaving, we just enjoyed what was in front of us.  It was beautiful, and I could not have asked for a better last day.

One of my foreign co-teachers, Blake, and I share a class.  He let the 5 students use his entire class period to write notes and letters and to draw good bye pictures for me.  It was so very good and fulfilling to know that I'd made such a difference in these kids' lives.  We were all sad, but this is the kind of situation I think Dr. Seuss was talking about when he said to be happy that things have happened and not upset that they're over.

There's a lot more to the story, but it has to do with the Returning to America part as opposed to the Leaving Korea part.  I still have hard times accepting that I've left Korea.  I've been in America for only 20 days, and the adjustment has been rough in different ways.  If you follow the blog, you can expect many ramblings on the topics of reverse culture shock, the differences between America and Korea, and how my loved ones and I are dealing with the process.

But hey.  Here's this.  I've had a life changing 16 months.  Who knows what the next 16 months will be like? In the near future, I'll be celebrating Advent and Christmas with family and friends.  I'll be going to the Passion Conference in January.  I'll be attending a holiday swing dance next week.  Also, I plan to volunteer at OM Arts for a brief time as I work out the employment situation.

Stick with me, friends.  It's been a bumpy (but blessed, if I can say that without sounding like a total dork) ride.


  1. I love this!!!

    I just feel so much admiration and pride for you. I hope that you have such a great Christmas season back here in the States :)

  2. Thanks so much, Kelly! That means a whole lot. OOO


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