As the months tick by and it seems like time is evaporating out from under us, my reflections are starting to feel more profound at times and my thoughts are scattering like leaves thrown around by a leaf blower. I’m starting to really freak out about the uncertainty of the future and about the diminishing time I have with the friends I’ve been so fortunate to have here. It is becoming apparent to me that the time I wish away from Monday to Friday is the same time that is pushing every weekend past us. I look at students I taught last semester and I feel as if they’ve grown a foot; time is pushing them forward in life the same way it pushes me, willingly or not.
I’ve always fancied myself as someone who is adventurous and ready to try new things. New can be amazing. Even at the change of the semester, I admit I was a bit reluctant to see my old classes go and to acquire new ones. This meant learning new names, some new curriculum, getting used to a new desk in the office, and new teaching methods to adapt to different classroom atmospheres. One thing I’ve learned that I hope to never lose is the skill of adaptation—it is survival here and it is the key to thriving as well.
I look at change and I’m immediately anxious. I’m not sure where or when I’ll see my friends again, in Southeast Asia, or throughout the world. I’m not sure I’ll ever see these students and coworkers ever again. The irony is not lost on me that my heart aches at the thought of leaving a place where I have known so much struggle, where I first experienced cultural racism and difficulty as a minority. The experiences I have had here have shaped me and they have changed me forever. Living abroad does that to a person, I suppose. I wonder sometimes whether I am a different person than I was before now that I am removed from my native culture, or if I am only becoming more of the person I always was because I have seen myself live outside of that very culture.
These are the kinds of questions that don’t have simple answers. Recently, I’ve come face to face with real and necessary choices about the end of my year in Korea. Even though I’ve been planning on traveling after my contract all along, I was tortured over the thought of actually telling the administration I wanted them to give me the cash reimbursement and not book me a flight back to the States. And then there was the decision of where to actually start my Southeast Asia travels: to follow my friends to Bali or go my own way. Eventually, I had to come to terms with the fact that we are all going to be in different places from Korea onwards. We’ll certainly see one another again, in some part of the world, but I can’t do the same things as them just for comfort, just to drag out our time together, and that doesn’t mean I love them any less.
Maybe my biggest fear with going my own path is that it means for real this time, I have to face myself. I won’t be able to rely on Amy’s navigational skills or Amanda’s talking to strangers skills or Kenny’s dumb luck. I will have to fully trust in my own capabilities and adapt. I will be stretched again by being forced to make new friends, not unlike when we first arrived in Korea not knowing a single soul.