so long seoul

| annyeonghaseyo - hello |

I have been so swarmed with love these past three months, arriving via letters, a box filled with protein bars (shout out to the best momma ever), facetime calls and texts. Every other time I've been abroad I felt a sense of readiness to depart, even if I didn't particularly wish to leave; I understood that it was time to move on. But I'm not ready to leave Seoul. There is a sense of urgency, as if grains of sand, much like those of an hourglass, are rushing through the gaps of my fingers. Despite my best efforts I cannot save myself from my inevitable fate of hugs and "see you laters" and I squirm thinking about the quiet numbness that will engulf my body as my plane departs the Land of the Morning Calm. 

People often complain about the way individuals present themselves and their lives via social media saying it does not accurately depict their life's reality. I cannot speak for everyone, but there is definite truth in this statement; however, I don't think that's always a bad thing. My photos on social media are joyful, not because they are fake but because I am genuinely joyful here in Seoul. The behind the scenes frustrations and sleepless nights do not cloud my experience as a whole and I see little reason for them to overshadow what I share with my family and friends scattered around the world. Just know that this has been a journey and my views on education, life, careers and love have most definitely been challenged and given the opportunity to evolve.

Moments and memories in the past few weeks have included:

  • A class dinner at a pub where my professor bought us all beers and then asked us to tell our life story and love lives for 5-10 minutes each (this is the same professor who refers to anything controversial as "a hot potato") 
  • A trip to Busan, a port city in the South, which is home to not only the largest shopping complex in the world but the largest compilation of Koreans who behave as if they've never seen a Western before
  • Field trip to the amusement park, Seoul Land, where many of my classmates refused to go on any of the rides that would be considered kid rides by American standards 
  • Singing my heart out at a 노래방 (karaoke) 
  • A trip to Jeju Island, an island Southwest of the peninsula where my Spanish friend and I looked quite out of place tanning in bikinis while surrounded by Koreans in long sleeves and pants (mind you it was hot outside)
  • Perfecting my chopstick abilities 
  • Attending the International Rotary Convention in Seoul where I had the chance to meet up with an old friend and UNF professor and get to know Rotaractors from around the world
  • Giving a presentation about North Korea which lead to developing a deeper understanding of the economic fear and sometime indifference South Koreans hold towards their northern neighbor and realizing that I make them incredibly uncomfortable by showing any interest or knowledge on the topic

It's hard not to feel a love-hate relationship with SK, although I think the same can be said for any country. There are cultural aspects that I once found so endearing but each passing week their charm is not quite the same. I used to stare in awe as Koreans did what they want in public (taking countless selfies or applying makeup) without fear that they might be judged. However, now I find myself getting annoyed when someone goes out of their way to cut me off in the metro because it's that same disregard for how other perceives them that makes rude gestures okay. Yet at the same time Koreans do care what people think which is evident in the countless cosmetic stores and plastic surgery and botox ads (the first sign I ever read in Korean) which prove otherwise. 

In a class presentation recently a student posed the question, "What is your most friendliest image of the America?" No one gave their opinion on the America and so they proceeded to show us pictures of what the America is, at least in their eyes; hamburgers, cowboys, the statue of liberty, and Clinton vs. Trump. I think many Koreans have a picture of Americans in their mind that they aren't ready to part with. At times there is an evident us vs. them attitude which is most obvious when someone takes my picture without asking and talks about me an inch away which makes me feel like I am somehow less than a person. But to some Koreans (and Asians in general) I am an American or a Western before I am a human being, and I often feel that I do not receive the same level of respect. This attitude and the subtle sexism traced throughout daily life are some of the most frustrating challenges I face living in SK, which although I could definitely live without, have forced me to grow tremendously. 

The most bittersweet part about leaving Seoul is that I will be returning in March 2017 to teach English. I will return to the city that I love but many of the people who have made my time here so fantastic will be missing. Nevertheless I'm excited to come back home to Seoul with fresh eyes and heart to see where my Korean adventure takes me next. 

I would like to thank UNF, Alyssa Kyff, the Cascone Family, The World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, Rotary International and everyone who made this semester possible, I hope to continue to make you proud. And to my family, thank you for you unconditional love and support from thousands of miles away, I love you so much. xoxo

| cue inspirational quote |

"certain things they should stay the way they are. you ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. i know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway" | j.d. salinger