As I sit here in my Korean classroom looking out the window at the beautiful fall weather, I find it hard to believe that it’s already that time of year again and it’s even harder to believe that I survived a year in Korea and am back here for one more year. Am I crazy? Maybe a little. But that’s the question that I asked myself on the 15 hour flight back here. For some reason the same flight the first time around gave me a different feeling. I was too excited at the thought of traveling to a new and exotic place to think about how far away from home I truly was. I went in embracing the change and can honestly say that I didn’t feel too much homesickness at all over the past year. This time, after getting a taste of home, it was much harder to get on that plane and travel 8,000 miles away. As I watched the map on my screen in the plane traveling over the United States, Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Ocean and Japan, it hit me how really far away I was going from home. In my first week back here I have been more homesick than I was all of last year.
Going home, visiting family and friends, eating the food, living in an actual house surrounded by grass, and most importantly driving my car made me realize how much I really did miss home. It was the first time I ever considered going to Connecticut as a vacation and I appreciate certain aspects of American living so much more now. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to a new environment. As much as I have adjusted to the Korean culture I know it will never be a permanent part of my life. I will move on from this experience with so much knowledge about other cultures, but I will always have the same appreciation and love for my own country. Living in a concrete jungle has its perks and excitement, but I need fresh air and grass! It took me a year, but I think the honeymoon stage has finally ended.
Arriving at Incheon airport in Seoul was not the same without anyone meeting me and especially without anyone waiting for me with a welcome sign. It wasn’t fun lugging my bags to my one room apartment where I began to feel lonely on my journey. A week since I arrived in Seoul has passed and I have seen my co-workers and many of my friends again. It feels like I never left. Being around people has kept my spirits lifted and I feel refreshed and ready to conquer another year here. It’s strange that a place so far away from my home has become my second home, but it has.
As familiar as Korea has become to me there are still new experiences that put a smile on my face. Nothing can top my encounters on the subway. Imagine you are an alien on another planet. That is how you feel when you get on a Seoul subway. Immediately all eyes are on you. You are most likely the only foreigner on the entire subway train. What do you do? Personally, I put my headphones on, always have a book in my lap, and just try to ignore the stares. Last week there was an ajussi, or old man, sitting across from me who was staring intently at me on the subway for at least 20 minutes. I tried to ignore it as usual but couldn’t help but notice his intent gaze. After about 10 stops he finally stood up to get off. On his way out he tapped me on the shoulder several times. I took my headphones out and looked up at him. He said very loudly and awkwardly, “You Korea good time!” and then he repeated it to me with a smile on his face. I had to smile and said thank you to him in Korea. The whole time this man was probably thinking very hard about what he should say to me. If I have learned anything about Koreans it has been not to take staring offensively. Initially I hated this part of living in Asia and I found it very rude. Now I just try to have fun with it. If people are staring I usually give them a wave or talk to them in Korean. Because in reality these people may have never seen a foreigner before and they are very curious. While I am in Korea I might as well live it up and enjoy the stares while they last. While in America I didn’t miss being the minority, but maybe I did miss the attention I get from it.