Vast Visions

a year abroad in south korea


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Thoughts Before Departure

People love creating metaphors about life, especially involving books. Those metaphors are really misleading.

I’ve been referring to my upcoming sojourn in Korea as “a new chapter” in my life. With that comes the expectation of a blank page, a clean slate.  A lot of expectation, actually. And I’ve fallen through this rabbithole before.

In my attic I have a stack of about five dust-covered sketchbooks and notebooks.  They’re not packed cover-to-cover with sketches and writings; they are nearly new, only four pages used before they were discarded. I have a habit of starting a sketchbook or journal and never finishing it. Half erased sketches, jaggedly torn out pages, blackened lines of poetry. I’ve become addicted to the idea of “new chapters” and “fresh starts.” But who isn’t enamored with the idea of multiple second chances, or the opportunity to steal closer to perfection?

In life, we don’t often get neat beginnings or clean-cut endings. As far as relationships go, there is seldom a definitive “closing the chapter” with anyone. For me, it has been more of a re-shelving for years later. At times, I read one awful sentence and burned the whole book. Sometimes the book just fell out my hands so many times that I was tired of picking it back up.

The problems arise when one takes a conveniently placed book metaphor and applies it too liberally. In life, most of the time you can’t just “close the book” when you want, “keep reading” when you feel like, or take a break from a difficult “passage.” Life is unbearably messy, disorganized and unpredictable. Unlined. Unbound. Hell, sometimes there isn’t even a place to write at all.

The trick is to consider the whole book as you start the next page. With as much dissatisfaction as I might harbor for my current situation or a difficult past, I have to make it all work; vow to make the next sketch something that I will be proud of. And maybe one day I can look at the shaky lines and smile at the struggle that has made me who I am.

Of course, I type this as I open up a brand new sketchbook that I tell myself I’ll use in Korea. Let’s hope I see this one through, for better or worse.

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Rationality and Risk

When I was younger I was enrolled in a swimming program at a local youth center. I was terrible at swimming, and I really didn’t have the capacity to float (I still don’t). When it came time to dive into the deep end, all the kids would happily line up to the edge and jump in, come out of the pool, and race back to the end of the line to do it again. Meanwhile I stood quietly in line, shaking with cold, teeth chattering, lips blue. I dreaded that plunge. I let everyone go ahead of me in the line until the class was over and my skin was dry. I failed swim class twice that way.

I was never a risk-taker. If there was a risk I’d avoid it, because I thought that I was “smarter than that.” Possibility of the worst? Yeah, no, I think I’ll pass. Now into my 20s, I can say with a measure of pride and a little shame that, as upstanding a citizen as I am, I’ve done some pretty risky things. For being “the responsible one” among my friends, I’m the one who’s packing all the crazy stories. But that’s life for you.

After graduating college, my life has led me this point: teaching English for a year in Korea. One of my good friends has tried again and again to caution me about traveling abroad and living in a country that I don’t entirely know: “Maybe just a few months? A whole year?! Can you do it? What if something goes wrong? What will you do?”

And, invariably, the biggest question I’ve had to answer time and again is “WHY?” Sometimes its from close friends, casual acquaintances, and on occasion my mom, who thought I was joking in the beginning. Most of the time, though, I ask myself this question.

Of course I have all the “good” answers; I used to be an English tutor when I was in college and I loved my job. Korean food is delicious, Korea is a beautiful country and I’m a fan of the culture (…slight understatement). But does that justify working and living alone for a year in a place that I’ve never been to?

At times I wonder if it’s some way of me running away from things, escaping, or purely romanticizing about life in a foreign country. Will a year away really help me move on from the people and places that surround me? After going through my own set of obstacles, I look outside and feel urged to leave. And perhaps that’s reason enough. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll still be the  person that I’ve always been. But right now, for me, it’s time to take the plunge.