One Year Later

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The traditional gift for a first anniversary is paper, so I guess after I write this I'll print a copy and frame it. What I'm trying to say is, a little over one year ago, I arrived in Korea. The modern first anniversary gift is a clock, which seems apt as the time has passed faster than I realized. A year already? Are you sure?

I've been looking back through old posts, and it's a relief to see that my feelings about the country haven't changed that much:

"This is where I’ll be living for the next year, maybe more, and there is nothing I want more in life right now. I’ve never been the sort to follow my dreams; I’ve stuck to what I know I can accomplish, and that’s been fine, but finally I’m taking a chance at something I’ve wanted since I met those Jet teachers in Japan almost six years ago." 

I know, I know, it's disgustingly...shmoopy and emotional, but the sentiment was, and is, 100% real. I needed a change, a new life, a new chance. While I'm not quite ready to go public with everything that was going wrong in my life before I moved to Korea, suffice it to say that things were...bad. Not good. Things felt pretty hopeless, like my life was on hold. It doesn't help that the weather in Seattle shares most of its characteristics with a damp sock. Even when things are going well in your life, unless you really enjoy overcast gray weather, it's hard to stay positive during the interminably long Seattle winters. And springs. And falls. And sometimes it stays cloudy even though summer, because the other 9 months just weren't enough!

During the 12 hour flight from Seattle to Korea, I made a decision to use this move as a chance to really change my life. Instead of bringing all my bad habits and worries along in my carry on, I wanted to do my best to leave them all back in Seattle. New country, new me.

At my Epik orientation, I had a great chance to really focus in on what I wanted to change in my life. One of the activities during the week was an introductory taekwondo class. They had us write our goals for the coming year on a board and then break it. To me, it felt as if I was putting all my fears, my worries, my problems into that board, and in the act of breaking it, I was sending them out of my life. As you can see in the photo, I had three main goals. "Don't be afraid. Learn Korean. Be happy." It's one year later. How did I do?

1. Don't Be Afraid

This is a big one. It seems a bit silly, but trust me, it really is an important issue in my life. I'm anxious a lot of the time, and a bit shy, and nervous in unfamiliar situations. I've missed out on opportunities because I was too worried about dumb stuff to take advantage of them. I didn't want that to happen here. Moving to a new country, starting a new job, meeting so many new's been one unfamiliar situation after another.

What this first goal means to me is just...don't miss out. Don't stay home because you're worried you won't know anyone at the party. Don't keep your mouth shut because you're not sure what to say. Don't overthink it. As those Nike shirts say, just do it.

While I don't feel that I've completely accomplished this goal, I know I've made progress. I volunteered as class leader during my orientation and managed to make a speech in front of the entire orientation without fainting. I took a vacation entirely by myself, from Sokcho to Seoul. I've befriended people in my office even through a severe language barrier. Instead of saying no and staying on the sidelines, I'm saying yes and making a fool of myself but having fun.

2. Learn Korean

This has been a bit on again off again. When I first started studying Korean seriously, it was fantastic, because I was learning at a breakneck speed. I've written about this before, how the first few months were so exciting, because every grammar point opened vast expanses of understanding. However, as with anything, the honeymoon had to end. Now that I actually have to work pretty hard to learn new things, it's easier to get frustrated. I often feel like I'm not improving at all. My vocabulary is tiny, my grammar sucks, and no matter how much or little I study, nothing seems to change.

However, while I don't really feel as if I've improved, when I take a step back, I realize that that's crazy talk. A friend recently reminded me that when I left for Korea, I knew about two phrases, plus I could read and write very, very slowly. I think back to those first few work dinners, how I sat in a corner, unable to understand most of what was going on around me. And actually talking to someone? No way.

Inexplicably, I left a note to my family in Korean. SECRET MESSAGES.

Now I can have conversations, albeit very simple ones. I can ask for directions and halfway understand what I'm told. I can befriend taxi drivers, make jokes in the office, and be the occasional living dictionary for my students. While I'm certainly not anywhere near fluent, I have improved. I hope this coming year will be my chance to improve even further.

3. Be Happy

I guess this one is obvious, huh? Deceptively simple, in a way. But of all my goals, this is the one that I feel I've been most successful at. Not to say I've become Pollyanna-ish; I certainly have my share of bad days, but since I moved to Korea they're at least fewer and farther between. When I start to get down, I'm able to get back up a lot faster. Maybe it's the weather.

Oddly enough, I feel at home here. I'm not at all sure why, but Korea just really seems to suit me. Time and time again people tease me about my "Korean heart" or say that even if I look like an American, I'm secretly Korean. Frankly I think they're exaggerating, but it warms my heart every time. 

A big part of this as well is the feeling of having purpose. Instead of a repetitive job that never seems to affect anything, I have a job where I actually feel like I'm improving and changing lives, at least in small ways. Instead of a job, I have what feels like the beginning of a career. For every rough class there is an amazing class. Seeing that "aha!" moment when I student learns something new or gets inspired because of something in my class...that is what makes me happy. 

How could that face NOT make you happy?

All in all, it's been a good year. I finally feel like I have my feet under me. I've got my sealegs. Things are coming together, and I'm not even 25 yet! For the folks keeping score, looks like I managed a 3/3. Granted, my goals were simple and open-ended, but where I'm looking from, I call it a victory. Does this mean it's time to make a new set of goals?

Guess I'd better find a board and a permanent marker~!

Teacher Pretty
Middle school ESL teacher, lover of pink, eater of kimchi, addicted to Etude House, expert procrastinator, meeter of 2-dimensionial popstars: Ana. That's me.

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