Going Away, Coming Back

7 Jun

My year in South Korea is approaching an end.  In less than two weeks, I will be gone, headed back to America.  It is strange to think that a year has passed and one’s first instinct to say, “Wow, it went so fast!”  But I think that is because we are so accustomed to the measurement of a year.  When college takes four years, a PhD takes five to eight, and raising a kid takes about twenty, we tend to think of a year as the shortest possible time someone can do something worthwhile. Yet if I contrast this past year to the one before it, there is no comparison in how much longer and more worthwhile this past one has been.  I remember sitting and eating dalkgalbi one day in a backalley restaurant, ensconced in my expat ways, and realizing that I had been in Korea for six months.  I thought, I’ve been here for six months but it feels like several years. Living in a strange place as an outsider is a sure way to age and mature you quickly.

This year has not been without its stresses, frustrations, and loneliness.  But I have grown immensely thanks to Korea and by that I mean Korea specifically.  It is not some generalized, “Hey, I lived in another country and now I appreciate Ziplocs and microbrews” sort of feeling.  No, Korea has meant much more to me than that.  It has kindled a reevaluation of what is good and right in the world in me, demonstrating beauty and ugliness in ways I never would have known before.  Korea stripped away responsibilities, obligations, accountability, all the bullshit of living amongst your own people that burdens and distracts you, and thus forced me to act anew in light of what I experienced daily.  Korea taught me that homogeneity and unity is not always dullness but, perhaps more often, a far deeper strength.  Koreans and their kids reminded me of the importance of family in our lives.  The Korean people showed me tenacity in long, hard hours working at their own business, attempting to forge a better life for themselves and their children not by toppling and stealing from the established order but by sheer will, discipline, and elbow grease.  Korea showed me an innocent land that has not taken a cynical attitude in its prosperity.  I have also come to know ugliness here, from the soul-numbing sameness of the urban architecture to the crushing lack of creativity in popular culture to the stunting of a person’s development by pervasive technology.  I have seen how the forces of the future will grind down on the soul of Man, for they will occur in Korea before anywhere else.

So I will go, but I plan to come back.   I am not finished with Korea, I sense, and I know must go until my questions and my itches have been satisfied.  How I will return I am not quite sure.  I am searching for a position teaching at the moment, though have not found anything that quite suits what I am looking for.  If there are any readers of this blog who have a lead on any teaching positions or, indeed, any other opportunities that will give a smart, motivated guy a paycheck, I would love to talk with you.  Drop me a line in the comments section and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

This is not the last post, my friends.  Like Douglas McArthur climbing onto that PT boat at Corregidor, when I board my Korean Air flight, I hope to utter from the board ramp with equal gravitas his same words:  “I shall return.”

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