Finding Balance and Self-Acceptance in South Korea
In the summer of 2014, I made a big leap and moved to South Korea. I had the same mix of emotions that anyone might have: fear, excitement, nerves, and anticipation. This was the most liberating (not to mention scariest) moment of my life, as I said goodbye to my comfort zones and the deadlines that I had placed on myself in my twenties.
When we sign-up for adventure, we soon realize that we must succumb to it. Drawing a map from point A to a destination is only natural, but eventually the unexpected takes the wheel and we must learn to loosen our grip.
From my second year of college, I had already begun planning where and how I would get into graduate school. Without a true passion for a particular field, it was like buying a wedding dress before having the ring. The rush to move into my future life made my daily life seem more purposeful, so I just kept planning and planning. After a few months of GRE test prepping and working a random job, I realized that I wasn’t honoring my present self. I wasn’t even quite sure of who my future self would be. Admittedly, I felt a pang of jealously when friends moved to new parts of the country, enrolled in graduate school, and settled into their post-college lives. I was torn more than ever before, but I knew my dreams would slip between my fingers if I waited too long.
The rush to move into my future life made my daily life seem more purposeful, so I just kept planning and planning.
So within 24 hours of being offered a teaching position in Korea, I accepted it and began packing my suitcase. I quit my job, put grad school on the back-burner, and decided to take a big leap of faith. After the first six months, I decided to stay for second year, which at the time felt like a no-brainer. Once I overcame my initial fears of living abroad, there were so many incentives to stay. I had a job in which I was comfortable, an apartment that felt like home, a great relationship, and the prospect of seeing more countries. I knew that leaving would create a void in my life, like walking away from a project before it’s complete. At the end of my teaching contract, I visited home and then resumed my second year in the same job.
As time has passed during my second year, I’m surprised at how different some things feel compared to the first year. The shine has worn off, revealing new layers of myself and Korea. I can easily predict the highs and lows of my teaching week; I have my go-to Korean dishes; and I spend more weekends relaxing and reading than actively exploring. Most days I’m grateful that life feels so normal here. Time and an open mind has developed that feeling. But there are days when I long for the spark of adventure, of not knowing what is coming next. As much as I want to cling to the free spirit side of myself, Korea has helped me reach my happy medium. I’m learning what I want from life in the long-term, but I’m still able to explore.
As amazing as this adventure has been, I would be lying if I said that those deadlines don’t still haunt me from time to time. Having routines and fitting into molds is comfortable, and isn’t always a bad thing. What’s more important is to know when we’re holding ourselves back from something more. In a fast-paced world prone to making comparisons, it’s hard to tune out the noise and listen to your heart.
Initially, to my friends and family, I justified teaching abroad by convincing them (and myself) that it would help me decide between my two career goals, speech therapy or teaching ESL. But ironically, I’m probably more confused about this than before. I have learned, however, that I don’t have to let one career define my life. Without this time in Korea, I’m not sure if I would have slowed down and taken time to truly get to know and accept myself.