So Long, Farewell: It hurts when friends leave Korea.
I won’t lie, last week in Korea was rough. I should have been elated for the upcoming weekend forecast of warm weather and birthday celebrations for yours truly, but my heart was a little crushed. A handful of fellow teachers departed or began preparations for the journey home. Each time someone leaves I realize how much they’ve influenced my time abroad. I mean, come on, they basically made it.
Before moving to Korea I was worried most about encountering loneliness while abroad. But after saying goodbye to my mother at the airport in Boston I was only really ‘alone’ for a brief flight to NYC. In NYC I met another teacher headed to Korea and we bonded over packing stresses and teaching applications until our plane began its slow descent into Seoul. I hadn’t known this girl for more than a day, but we already had so much in common. We were doing this ‘teaching in Korea’ thing and we were anxiously enthusiastic to finally get to it.
My fellow plane buddy and I recruited a few other wide-eyed soon-to-be-teachers from our flight and we together conquered customs and baggage claim. Although my new friends soon departed for different parts of Korea, I continue to check-in with them on Facebook and I luckily ran into one of them this past summer at Korea Burn, Korea’s ultimate hippie soiree. We hugged and chatted like we had known each other for ages. As cliche as it sounds, we had started the journey as English teachers together in NYC and it was nice to know we both were excelling at the expat ESL life in Korea.
After the airport I joined 50+ other newbie teachers in Seoul and we trained together for the week. There were no awkward first conversations. We were all here to start a life of teaching and living in Korea and that fact was the only necessary key to unlock friendly conversation. I instantly realized I had more in common with these people than I did with most I encountered everyday back in Boston. After a week of late study nights, new foods and embarrassing attempts to figure out the Seoul Subway, we were separated and sent to our new schools scattered across Korea. And yet, although we have settled down in our respective Korean cities, we still keep in touch. I traveled to Busan this past June to visit training friends. I love running into others in Seoul. And we all laugh at comedic teaching moments we share with each other using social media.
So, even before I arrived in my city I had a handful of close ‘Korea friends’ and loneliness was a distant worry. And then I met my Uijeongbu family. Sometimes we laugh about how we all met each other. Sometimes the details are fuzzy. Korean friendships are different. They are fast. They are necessary. They are void of awkward introductions and pleasantries. Upon meeting the fellow teachers in my city we did not hesitate to share phone numbers and weekend plans. We each had jumped head-first into a new life in Korea and we needed each other. We ignored our differences in age, life experience and nationality. It was quite refreshing.
These friends became my family. We have celebrated holidays, birthdays and Friday nights together for the past year and time has flown. I haven’t had much time to feel lonely. My friends helped make Korea home and each has helped to make me feel confident about where I am at this point in life and also enthusiastic about what the future holds. They get me, and this understanding is rooted in the shared itch we all had at some point in the recent past to travel, teach and live abroad.
Although abroad friendships are quickly created, they also change in the same manner. Living abroad is not permanent for many and teaching contracts have end dates. So, earlier this month I said goodbye to a dynamic couple who were always eager to coordinate social outings, religiously brought home-baked goodies to the bar and loved to laugh. Last Monday I painfully said goodbye to one of my closest friends in Uijeongbu. I can’t think of much we didn’t experience together in Korea. We arrived at the same time, bonded over a misspelled salad sign that read ‘Crap Salad’ at an expat dinner and stuck together for the rest of the year. Friday I helped a neighbor and dear friend carry her bags to the bus stop and endured another goodbye hug. Now I have a few weeks to prepare for the April departure of a friend who has been a constant source of laughs, optimism and honest and intelligent advice throughout this hectic year.
I know these friendships will continue and flourish in the years to come. I will be in Korea for a bit longer, but we will stay in touch and I am excited to visit each of them and learn more about their post-Korea adventures. I know I am lucky to have friends in crazy area codes, but for now I’m letting myself miss them, because in doing that I am able to truly see just how much they mean to me. Thank you friends, you know who you are. ^^
“No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.” – Robert Southey