Exactly one year ago, Mark and I landed in Korea.
It's hard to put how I feel into words... because we have had so many experiences in this time, but it really feels like the year has gone so quickly.
And in a few short months we'll be back home. While I'm very excited to get back to everyone in the States, I'm having mixed feelings about whether I'm ready to end this adventure. I'm actually getting a little teary-eyed just typing about the end approaching. I'm sure there'll be a more dramatic post about the things (and PEOPLE) I'll miss here a few months down the line, but this post'll focus on things I've learned and how I've grown this past year.
When Mark and I made the decision to come over here, sure I was curious about Korea, my birth family, and whether or not I could "hack it" over here... but I had no idea what was in store for me. Here's a rundown of the major changes/growing opportunities I've experienced.
1. Truly realizing the importance of family and friends: The people back home were always very important to me. But the saying "absence makes the heart grow fonder" holds true. I know it sounds dramatic, but phone calls, Skypes, cards, and emails from the people I love have made the great times even better and helped me through the tough times (there have been a few homesick days). Sometimes it stinks missing big events back home, but knowing that everyone's rooting for us has meant the world. Thank you... I love you. (Woah, when did this start sounding like an award acceptance speech?!?!)
2. Seeing Mark and my relationship blossom: I'd say before we left, we had a strong marriage. But we were both slightly nervous about how we could handle living, working, and basically spending every second together for an entire year. But this year has made us stronger. We've done things we never thought we'd do -- the Sky Drop in Seoul Land, asking a random Koreans for directions, eating string ray sashimi, and teaching kids English for 10 hours straight to name a few. And we did it all together. I feel now, more than ever that I can accomplish anything if I have my "partner in crime" and best friend by my side. :o)
3. Stepping out of my comfort zone: This is an area I still struggle with. I hate feeling awkward, or unsure of what to do. But I'm working on this. I think the best way to conquer that fear is to just jump in headfirst. And I have Mark to be a perfect example of what to do. I am incredibly proud of how well Mark has handled himself in this country that can't seem to get over his size and face. Many Koreans see very few foreigners and essentially NONE are as tall as Mark. So he has experienced people staring and pointing at him, being laughed at for the size of his shoes, and even being the only white person at a Korean family dinner (more on that later). He has smiled, laughed, and done his best to roll with (or eat) whatever is thrown at him.
4. Adoption. See my previous post.
5. Being Korean: I was never one of those adoptees who felt like something was missing from her life. I know a lot of people talk about a longing to be connected to the people and the country, but I could never relate. Korea was always an interesting place, but I wasn't a part of it. I was American. End of story. But once I got here, it was like a door was opened that I never even knew I was looking for.
For someone who has always looked different from everyone around her, it's an indescribable feeling to be in a country where everyone looks like me and where people instantly expect me to belong based solely on my looks (until I open my mouth that is...) I read in an adoptee art exhibit brochure that many adoptees say riding the subway is their favorite time in Korea. Because we're not expected to talk and for just a fraction of the day, Koreans aren't questioning who we are, where we're from, and why we don't speak Korean. We're just one of them.
Many people take having blood relatives for granted; but it's mind blowing for me to meet people who have the same blood running through their veins and to be able to look for similar facial features and personality traits. It's just something I never expected to experience for myself.
I've found that Korea is culturally very different from America. Whereas the United States is a melting pot with many different traditions, and lifestyles, and ethnicities, Korea is extremely homogeneous. Everyone eats Duk-kuk to celebrate the new year, everyone knows all the health benefits to their different dishes, everyone knows how to bow to their elders, everyone hates the Japanese and is intensely proud of Korea and its traditions.
I'm proud to be a part of this culture... even if I'll never truly be fully Korean. I plan to incorporate some of the major cultural aspects in my life in the US. Then I can have a sort of hybrid Korean-American life the best way I know how.
This year has done so much for me. I have learned so much about myself and where I come from. I have stumbled across the puzzle pieces that will help to create a complete me.