Well, I've been home for 9 days, now. Thanks to the 55 people who've come by to check for an update, but in all honesty after a safe flight home there wasn't much to report. My flights all went well, save for the slight terror of not leaving Dallas--therefore not arriving in Denver. We managed to beat the thunderstorm, though, and arrived a bit late, meaning I had a hard time finding my family. I remember, though, looking up and seeing the blond head I'd been searching for for the last year turn a corner--there was my mom, and I knew it was all over, with all of the feelings of sadness and joy to accompany it.
After rounding up my sister and dad (with another round of hugs), we managed to haul my 120 pounds of luggage (note: suitcases, by law, cannot exceed 32 kilograms, who knew?) to the truck. Where did we go? Home? No! We went to Chipotle, where I had my first real burrito in a year. For dessert, we all went back home for some frozen custard. I just so happened to be holding a pair of chopsticks when mom gave me my bowl, and so I figured I might as well try and use them to eat. My dad and sister assumed I was doing as the Koreans, so they tried, too. With greater, amusing success than I imagined.
The last week has been filled with a lot of Western foods, and an almost hourly comparison of, "that's not how they do that in Korea." I picked up habits I didn't realize (using two hands to give and receive, invading peoples' personal space, using certain phrases in Korean automatically), and I lost certain social graces, like being able to converse with a small group of adults. I got to go to lunch with the Peliton gang, and it was so good to see familiar faces. Later I took bagels by, and I saw everyone--I was genuinely touched by how much I was missed.
Parker's stores have seen quite a bit of patronage, also, as I attempt to replenish my wardrobe. I now have khakis and jeans and shorts galore, and not only are they new--they're 2 sizes smaller. It's exciting that more stores are options, thanks to new-found fitness.
I've been putting off concluding my blog, because I feel it is just a chapter in my life, and a chapter should always have a transition into it, and a transition out of it. Right now, I'm thinking that teaching English could still be a great adventure to continue, maybe to China this time. But the chapter's end is going to be a little open at this time, as I simply enjoy living out the lesson when I broke my leg: live life one day at a time, make the most of each day, and thoroughly enjoy the full use of my young, adventure-seeking body. (Even if that adventure is just to take pictures in front of Taco Bell to torture my friends back in Asia.)
When I was little, I moved a lot, each time leaving behind a classroom full of friends, for whom I shed a few tears. (Well, maybe not when I left Mississippi, but in general...)
Yesterday was one long good-bye, starting with Kindergarten. We had an awesome time practicing our vocabulary and coloring, then eating pizza (some of us better at it than others--the image of Ben gutting his will remain with Heather and me for some time), and going through Market Day where the kids spend their ECC dollars to but very useful crap. (I stole an eraser set! Haha!)
After came the afternoon classes, where I said good-bye to the four little nuisances who followed me all year. I really hope they do well; despite all of the yelling, I had fun with them. (Despite? Okay, maybe because of...)
It was pretty strange to walk into the teacher's room and announce, "I'm finished!" It was right around that time that I got stripped of my title "Teacher." Apparently, now I'm just Kate. As I headed out of the building, Mrs. Baek--the owner--stopped to shake my hand (unprecedented) and to thank me. I was really very touched; that was maybe the 5th time she'd spoken to me in the last year.
I hurried to taekwondo after that, and spent the last day trying to chat with my instructors. I really wish I had practiced Korean more. It'd be nice to have a conversation a little more in-depth than, "Did you eat? What? Are you hungry?" We talked about my up-coming interview, and she had the kids write on my belt. They jokingly told me I was a gray belt (it's a little dirty), and that my yellow belt didn't arrive because of the rain. But... I am technically one.
Then I had an interview for a school, and I'm quite undecided about it. It's a small hagwon that has been in place for ten years. I'm not sure how they felt about me, either--I think I might be a bit loud for their tastes. I keep hoping for a lightning bolt, some sign as to what I should do, but nothing has shaken loose, yet.
The night concluded with one more round of galbi (Yuria came to say good-bye, and Captain even sat on the floor!), drinks at Garten Bier, and a long, giggle-filled walk back to our apartments as Heather, Kayleigh and I bid adieu. With teary hugs, and Heather finally proclaiming her love, I left.
Which brings us to now. My bags are packed, and as soon as I tuck my laptop in my backpack, I'm ready to go. I'm so grateful for the last year.
At the end of a year-long contract in South Korea, Americans (and Canadians and maybe others? not Brits nor New Zealanders) receive back the 4.5% of their paycheck (plus the matching portion the employer has been paying) they have been paying into the pension plan.
I thought that this was going to be an arduous task, but it turned out to be quite simple. I just had to go to a gas station at an ungodly hour (9 a.m.? WHY?) to meet a strange man while carrying my alien registration card, passport, U.S. bank account information, and copy of my e-ticket for leaving the country. Fortunately for me, the strange man had on a shiny suit! (Gotta love Korean fashion~)
He drove me to the pension office, where a guy highlighted the sections of paperwork I needed to fill out. 20 minutes later, I was done and on my way back to Chilgok, nodding off the entire way. (Someone spent the better part of the night all riled up to see her daddy at the airport on Sunday.) Then I was deposited back at the gas station, despite it being about half a mile from school. Oh well. I was early, so Heather and I walked to school, and then I got McDonald's. Because I needed McDonald's in Korea one more time, right? Ha.
Today's classes went as smoothly as ever ("JEFFREY! SIT DOWN! TEACHER IS TALKING!"), with a slight twist of the knife in my heart as my babies told me they were sad. When I asked why they were sad, they said, "Kate Teacher America go." A few of them said they were happy, though. When I asked why, they said, "Kate Teacher here. I love Kate Teacher!" Awwww.
Without the energy (or the clothes) for taekwondo, I went and watched and took some action shots. They'll find their way here eventually--maybe. And here we are. Post-chicken galbi for the last time with my favorite Canadian, our livers still burning from the soju and our mouths still burning from the red pepper paste. It's a shame to go, now, since they know everything from the spicy level to the soju-cider-cola combo, but as I just received an e-mail from my favorite recruiter, who knows? Maybe I'll be back!
"Well, I'm going home, back to the place where I belong And where your love has always been enough for me I'm not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong I don't regret this life I chose for me But these places and these faces are getting old So I'm going home, well I'm going home"
It's really winding down this week. The weekend flew by with laundry, Harry Potter 5 & 6, and one last hangover for the road. My wardrobe is now pared down, with most things going to hopefully be reused by other clothes-shopping-challenged white folks. The underwear I've hated for the last year is now safely in a garbage bag waiting to be finished being filled, and my to-do list has ceased growing, and is being drastically cut down as I cross things off.
I've booked a hotel for Saturday night, so I have less things to worry about Sunday--I'll be an 8-minute shuttle ride from the airport, and I'll have a clean, cool room to spend my last Korean evening. On Saturday, Yuria and I went for one last galbi trip, and it was a little sad, despite being very delicious. For once I had spicy galbi that didn't make me sick, and I wish I'd discovered it sooner--yum! Hopefully I'll be able to find something comparable to share with y'all back home.
Tomorrow morning, I go to meet a guy I've never met in front of a gas station, so he can take me to the pension office. I've been paying part of my paycheck into the national pension scheme (I love that they use the word scheme here), and I get that back, plus the money Mrs. Baek has to pay to match my contribution. So that plus my last month's pay, plus the bonus month's pay most contracts pay makes for a neat little sum to bring home (over 6 million won).
I'm leaving at a good time. Swine flu is shutting down entire public schools, and all of the hagwons in surrounding areas. As a result, any teachers traveling next week are going to be in quarantine for a week, and all other teachers have to pick up the slack. We have also been informed that anyone planning on leaving the country for the Thanksgiving holiday will have their contract terminated. I understand why it's being done, but I think it's irrational. We didn't come to South Korea to sit in our apartments and watch TV, despite how amusing that may be sometimes. We came to see the world.
I still don't know what I'm going to do, despite everyone and their mom asking me. I just want to get to American soil, because if there's one thing I've learned in this month overseas is how much I love my homeland. I may disagree with the government (as a matter of fact, I do), and there are certainly things I value highly in Korea, but at the end of the day I'm a patriot, and I can't wait for a good ol' Colorado sunset.
The strangest thing happened to me while I was walking to work today. I passed another hibiscus flower, and I had the distinct thought, "It'd be better if it wasn't pink." WOAH WOAH WOAH! Back the bus up! This is the first ever recorded instance of me thinking it would be nice to see a splash of a different color, and it deserves to be noted.
Another moment of bizarre happened as I was waiting for someone else to cook my dinner. I was staring into space and thought, "I'm tired of talking." I am the child who spent a good part of her childhood car rides bribed into silence. My parents, when I was born, promised to each other not to use the phrase "shut up," and found themselves using it daily (hourly) by the time I was a teenager. And today, it finally happened. While I wouldn't mind some company, it would only be for companionable silence--I am tired of talking.
While I haven't exactly been doing anything, I've been pretty introspective. As I lay in bed last night, I developed a mental image of what I must have looked like a year ago, arriving at Incheon Airport, all alone, hauling my three bags through the airport. Sweating, tired, and well, all alone.
I can't believe I was never scared. It never even occurred to me to be concerned or anxious about what was coming up--and with good reason, really. The last year has been amazing.
So I'm not sure why I feel so anxious about returning home. I think about the same person--except not the same person--hauling the same luggage (albeit lighter) through the same pathways, and going home without knowing the future scares me. Am I coming back? Who am I going to meet? Whose lives am I going to change? Who is going to change mine?