800 Days in Korea


800 Days. 2.2 Years.

I’ve documented the entire journey here, from 2011 to 2014. I am a completely different person and so incredibly changed by my life in Korea that it seems somehow anti-climactic to have a final post about my experiences here. What could I possibly say to sum all of that up into one neat and simple blog post?

1. Be honest with others, but primarily with yourself.

The greatest disservice you could do to anyone is to lie to yourself. This is one of the lessons I ended up learning the hard way. No amount of pretending something is okay will make it okay. If you feel wrong about something, something is probably wrong. Just because you met a nice guy and share some interests doesn’t mean you should date him. Just because you met a girl who is fun and spontaneous doesn’t mean you have to be spontaneous with her. Just because you are an expat and they are expats doesn’t mean you have to be friends.

You know yourself best. What everything else comes down to, is whether or not you know when and how to follow your instincts. Granted, over the millennia they’ve been misled, but you are the only one who knows what’s going on inside your head and heart. And even if you’re not 100% sure what that is, do not ever let someone else tell you they know what is best for you. They do not have your head. They do not have your heart. Life is full of things you think you want or need, but take the time to listen to yourself and trust the decisions you make are made for the right reasons and are in your best interest. Trust yourself.

Be honest with yourself. Even if you are not quite sure who you are. – Hank Green

2. Face and do away with your perceived fears.

Someone told me this year that I’m not afraid of anything, of uncertainty, of progress, or of learning. As flattering and dear as that message is to me, I have you fooled. I am afraid, especially of uncertainty. I am afraid of baring my emotions for people. But I choose not to let that fear control my life. Everything is uncertain, but you are in control of how you handle that uncertainty.

Sometimes I get anxious about flying. I fly at minimum of 6-9 times a year and have been on planes since I was in diapers, but I still get a little scared about all those horrendous possibilities. But tell me, what am I going to do if that happens? I can’t personally do anything to stop it from happening, except keep my feet planted in one place the rest of my life. And I don’t want to do that because I know I could never be happy with a life where I could never travel.

I have spent the last two years challenging myself by doing crazy things, some crazier than others. I have a fear of trusting my life to a length of rope. I went bungee jumping. American culture had brainwashed me into feeling ashamed of my body. I went to a public bath house and bared it all with tons of other women. Bodies are vessels, and they are the only ones you get in this life; love yours. I have historical reasons against online dating. I tried it again anyway and came across someone wonderful. I didn’t like going to big social gatherings. I went anyway and had lots of fun. I still don’t like traveling alone. I do it because I’m not going to wait on you to go with me.

Yes, I am afraid, but my point is, we’re all afraid of things. Not something, many things. We all have doubts and worries. So by all means, be afraid. Feel that fear, experience it, and try to understand why you are feeling it, then go and conquer it.

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

3. Never apologize for how you feel.

This one, surprisingly, I learned only recently. If you’re happy, be happy. Smile. Laugh. If you’re sad, be sad. Cry. Wail. Moan. If you’re bored, fine. If you’re tired, fine. If you’re angry, okay. If you’re in love, show it. Never, ever, ever, apologize for how you feel. Even if you’re the only one who feels something, feel it completely. Don’t be ashamed of your feelings and don’t be embarrassed by them. I would often apologize for crying when I was upset or sad. Apologize for laughing when I was happy. Apologize for getting worked up about something that made me angry. Why? Who has the right to judge me or anyone else for feeling a certain way at a certain time? Nobody. Showing and feeling emotion has some weird stigma in our society, and I’m tired of emotions being portrayed as overly feminine, uncool, or somehow beneath others. We’re all human. We all feel, and we should all be open to the fact that everyone else feels just as deeply as we do.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so, you apologize for the truth. – Benjamin Disraeli

4. Everything is going to be hard if you don’t try.

Okay, coming from a teacher, this can sound a little preachy. I cannot begin to count how many times I’ve heard, “Teacher, so hard! Teacher, I don’t know! Teacher, I can’t!” But this is basically my advice for everyone, including myself: First, be quiet. Second, try.

I am not going to give you the answers. No one is going to make life easy, and to expect any part of life to be easy is going to set you up for disappointment. Put in the effort, put in the time, and you’ll figure it out. Sure, if you need help, by all means ask for it. But ultimately, what it comes down to is you deciding whether something is worth your time or not.

It’s okay to not know, but it’s not okay to not try. – Unknown

5. Not everyone is going to be happy with the decisions you make, but if you are, keep going.

You’re going to spend the rest of your life with a very special person: You. So make sure you can live with yourself. Make sure you can make yourself happy. Make sure you don’t let some person devalue who you were, are, and can be.

I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I want people to get along, and I want people to be happy. However, no one will ever make everyone happy, and it is such a huge mental and emotional drain to even try. It is not your job to make everyone else happy. It is also not your job to be friends with everybody just because that would be the “nice” thing to do. I have made many decisions over the last year that have angered people I had considered to be friends and eventually caused them to step away from my life. If you’re constantly trying to make people happy at the cost of your own happiness, find new people. If you know what you want and know it’s good for you, do it.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. You’ll be damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. – Eleanor Roosevelt

6. People change.

As I mentioned, I lost a few friendships last year. At the root of all of them was the one simple fact that people change. I grew apart from them, or they from me, and at some point one or both parties decided to call it quits. I have been on both ends of this kind of situation: the person who changed and no longer felt a kinship with another and the person who still wanted to be friends. Interestingly enough, that all happened concurrently. It helped me understand and come to terms with the fact that people you hold dear now may not be the ones you hold dear tomorrow. And that is okay. You’re never really going to understand what motivates other people. That is okay, too. You should never have to justify how or why you’ve changed, just that you recognize you have. Recognize that it affects your relationships. Recognize that it affects how you see yourself. You can still be friends with those people who have changed, who have grown, but it will be different. But it is also okay to not be friends with them after they have changed, or have grown. People grow apart. It happens. It’s life.

If they don’t help you grow, let them go.  –  Noey Pico

7. Over-analyzing is just a form of worrying.

I will over-analyze every single thing about human interactions. Perhaps I’m just hyper-observant and need to cool my jets, but at least I’m working on it. I think this is about being prepared for any possible situation, but if you watch Community and have seen the alternate timelines episode, it can make for a pretty complicated mess. In actuality, it’s me trying to pretend I have more control over a situation than I really do. And it’s also a time-waster, something I’m pretty good at. So I have been doing my best to live in the moment and enjoy each day as it comes. I have found that I’m much more satisfied with my days when I don’t spend them thinking about every possible thing that could go right or wrong. You’d be surprised at how much energy is wasted on worrying about things you probably won’t have much control over in the first place. Get some incense and zen out. Go for a walk. Revel in the now.

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. – Glenn Turner

8. Take time for yourself.

Did you know that the majority of people in America who rack up sick days, rarely ever take full advantage of them? We would rather work ourselves sick in the name of “progress” than take a little time for ourselves and breathe a little. Here, I spend at least 330 days teaching. That will burn you out. It has actually come to the point that if I’m not busy on the weekends, I have no idea what to do with myself. I get anxious about relaxing. That seems a bit ridiculous. There are so many other things that I could be accomplishing – getting ahead on grading journals, drafting up more intensive lesson plans, or writing more detailed comments. But I have made it a point to not bring work home with me during the week after getting through a ten hour day. I just can’t do it. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the only reasons I’m still relatively sane. And really, there is no point. Our minds and bodies plateau after a certain amount of time, and if we keep pushing, our overall performance and health will suffer.

So give yourself a break. If your idea of taking time for yourself means you hole up in your room and game or marathon Supernatural, do it. If it’s going out and hiking a mountain every weekend, do it. If it’s having dinner, drinks, and dancing with friends, do it. And never feel guilty about looking after yourself.

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival. – Audre Lorde

9. The grass is as green as you want it to be.

A couple of months ago, I was having a conversation with my mother about returning to the States earlier than planned because I wasn’t happy with how things were going over here. She’s the type of person who always sticks with it and is sure to have a backup plan for the backup plan. Me? Not so much. I like having the idea of a 5-year plan, or even a 2-year plan, but life never seems to follow the plans I have for it, and that’s quite alright with me. If I don’t like the next place I live for a year, well, I’ll find somewhere else. Basically, I don’t have a problem picking myself up and moving around from place to place if I’m not happy with how things are going. She had to explain to me that both she and my father are just not quite as comfortable with the nomadic lifestyle as I am. They said I should suck it up and deal with it. They were right.

It is so simple here to change direction and alter course, and because of that, it is also easy to forget the value of what you already have. Sure you can go out and find happiness elsewhere, but you should at least see what you can make where you are first. Odds are, you’ll be happier having tried than you will be throwing in the towel.

Start where you are. Distant fields always look greener, but opportunity lies right where you are. – Robert Collier

10. People will disappoint you. People will also surprise you.

Only expect things of yourself. If you have expectations of other people based on your own perspectives and opinions of how they should operate, you will always be disappointed. When you let go of expectations, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised far more often.

I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine. – Bruce Lee

11. Be assertive.

Something my mom has been reiterating over the last 27 years is probably what most parents tell their kids, “If you don’t try, how will you know?”

Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself. If you think you’d be great at a particular job, say so. If you have an idea, share it. If there is something you want, find a way to earn it. Be proactive. Don’t sit on your hands and let the moment pass you by. Take charge of a situation, get the ball rolling, be the hunter. Try.

I am still learning this one. I’m usually quite good at going with the flow of things, but I’ve started to notice that I have the ability to change things. I have a voice, and it can and should be heard.

There’s boldness in being assertive, and there’s strength and confidence. – Bryan Cranston

12. Be passionate.

Live passionately. Love passionately. Learn passionately. Yes, this means we are bound to acquire bruises and broken hearts, but life requires risk. The deeper you live, the more meaning you will find in the world and people around you. The deeper you love, the more you’re likely to get hurt, but you free yourself from everyone else’s expectations. The deeper you throw yourself into learning of any kind, the more you will connect with how you choose to experience living. Be passionate. Fall hard. Bleed. Laugh. Move. Breathe.

Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion. – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

After all that, I would say the most important lesson I have learned over these last two years has been to love myself. Honest to goodness, love myself. I love who I am. I love my body. I love my overall attitude. I love my life. I love my self. How many of us can actually answer the pointed question, “Do you love yourself,” honestly? Now, I can. All the experiences, both good and bad, have shaped me into someone I’m proud of. No, I don’t have all the answers. Yes, I will continue to make mistakes. But no one can take away how I feel about myself, and I love that. I love that I can firmly put my feet down and say that no one has the right, permission, or ability to make me feel less than I am.

I love that it took me living in a foreign country for two years to figure that out. A country where I am obviously an outsider. A country that is so different from the cultural norms I grew up with. A country I am grateful to have thought of as home even though I may have never belonged to it. Thank you Korea, for helping me discover and learn to love myself.