A Year in a Life: Korea
“The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.” — Adam Gopnik (Paris to the Moon)
May 13, 2017 is the date I touched down in Korea. After a harrowing eight months, which involved betrayal, loss of home and hearth, and the stunning realization of how awesome my friends are and how much I am loved, I got a job in South Korea and embarked on a new journey.
When I began my journey, I was a forty-seven-year-old Black woman with a Bachelor’s in English, a certification in Project management and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL), and a lengthy bucket list. High on that list: be a self-supporting novelist and live in a foreign country.
I’m still working on the self-supporting novelist part, but proudly have checked off living in a foreign country. I always thought it would be a western province, specifically France, as most of my friends did, but it turned out to be Korea.
If you follow this blog you know my reasons for leaving and my reasons for choosing Korea,
a country and a people little known to me and a language I cannot fake.
The cliff notes version: after decades of being batted around by fate and New York’s survival of the fittest mindset, I was game to try something new, even if it scared the bejeezus out of me. On the one year anniversary of my landing in Seoul, I can happily report that I took the leap and landed soft.
Instead of settling in the vast metropolis of the capital, which has the hustle and western trappings of NYC or LA, I opted for a small town three and half hours away. And despite the lack of Widow Jane bourbon or a proper French bistro, I have thrived. Although, it didn’t always seem like I would!
In 365 days, I have arrived at La Guardia Airport at midnight to find I have no ticket to Korea, touched down in Incheon Airport 18 hours later to find no one waiting to pick me up---I had to stay at middling airport motel for the weekend. After finally reaching my destination, I met a coterie of wonderful people who embraced me and went out of their way to see me properly settled. I was contentedly ensconced in my cute little studio, learning the lay of the land when I tore my gluteus maximus two and half months in. I was relegated to six months bed rest. Thankfully my health insurance had kicked in the day before!
It’s spring on the Korean peninsula and I am back on my feet. I have explored Tongyeong, Busan, Changwon, Masan, Seoul, Jeju Island and at the time of this writing deciding between Yeosu and Geoje, which will take care of the last two days of my contracted vacation time.
I have begun Korean lessons and renewed my contract for a second year with my school. I have also befriended natives and expats alike, enjoying electric brunches with traditional Korean foods, as well as delicacies from the other side of the world. I’m working on conquering restaurant intimidation and a fear of the local bus system---Korea’s intercity busses, which take you to various cities within each of the Hermit Kingdom’s nine provinces---are awesome, easy and super cheap. The local bus system not so much. I recently got a bike to take me where I can’t walk easily so take that local bus!
All in all, life in Korea has been a wonderfully unexpected experience, which I hope to continue into the foreseeable future.
What has added to the pleasure of every new experience are the diverse and interesting women I have met long the way. These women range from young professional Korean women to stay at home moms who were once Christian missionaries, to painters. And as I enter the second year of my sojourn I would like to take a moment to introduce you to three of these awesome women.
In this post you will meet Jungeun a Korean painter of animal portraits who was partially raised in Japan and on the 15th I will introduce Qiyoung, an intrepid business woman and Lauren, a spunky young Brit who plans to dance her way around the world. I think you’ll appreciate their journeys as much as I do. Here’s to the past, present, and future.
Part 1: The artist
1982 .8. 19 35 years old ( International age) 37 years old (Korean age)
3. Home City
Sacheon-si, Nampyeongjung- gil, GyeongNam-do
5. Favorite travel possession?
Books, sketchbooks, aroma
6. Cities/Countries you’ve traveled to?
Okinawa, Italy, Switzerland, France, China, Vietnam, Philippines, North Korea, Japan
7. Why do you travel?
I like cultural exchanges and different cultures and nature excites me.
I want to break tunnel vision for my art and myself
8. You seem to have a large expat/foreign community. What draws you to foreigners? Is it because you grew up in Japan?
Some people asked me which side I am closed to. I think I have been influenced by both Korea and Japan. It's may be a little more comfortable for me to be with foreigner friends because they accept new cultures and differences. I want to know who I am and what makes me happy. Foreigner friends try to make their lives happy and inspire me. [They give me] energy [that I put] into art. Foreigner friends look different but not like foreigner for me. Some people express themselves by talking, singing, looks, [being] funny. Beauty...
in my case, I express myself by my art.
9. What is your dream place to travel you haven’t been to yet?
10. Favorite thing to do when traveling?
Talk with native people and to see their traditional things and their culture and art
11. Most surprising thing you’ve learned while traveling or the most surprising thing that has happened to you?
…some Chinese people don't have a social security number; sooo many motorcycles in Vietnam; no slippers in bathroom; various kinds of restaurant; no ring in restaurant tables
12. Have you ever traveled solo (alone) Why? Why not?
Yes, to visit a friend. And I want to have another experience for art
13. Biggest travel regret?
14. What do you think of the modern Korean woman?
Korean society can tax a Korean woman's patience. Beauty, sexism, hard married life for traditional event, but modern Korean woman try to express their self and have gotten stronger.
15. What’s your next destination?
Not decided yet. Canada or Germany or England or Thailand...
16. What’s your favorite place in the world?
I can't choose one because it [each] had a different charm.
Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back in two weeks and meet the two other wonderful women who are making Korea shine!
In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!