Embraced and Transformed
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
This year’s theme is transformation
What is more transformative---childbirth aside---than uprooting yourself from everything and everyone you know to move to a foreign country at a time in your life when you should be thinking about second mortgages and retirement accounts? I would argue not much, and this is exactly what I did---uproot and transform 5 years ago, two months after my 47th birthday, which of course you already know if you follow Feminist Footprints.
Five years ago? That must mean it’s my anniversary! May 12th marks five years since I arrived in South Korea. Five freaking years! Mind-blowing. A fifth wedding anniversary is wood. What does an adventurous gal get for the fifth year of residing abroad? An empty passport page? A new set of luggage?
I had the idea to start this travel blog in January 2017, to memorialize and broaden my experience. Uncertain of how long I would stay, I wanted to capture as many moments as I could. To my surprise, I took to South Korea like 고추장 to 삼겹살. And if you have been following, you will know that I’ve had many adventures, many highs, and a few lows since relocating to the peninsula formerly known as the Hermit Kingdom.
Except for the time I took an apartment in Paris for a month for my fortieth birthday, I had never lived abroad before the ROK. Every expat is as different as a snowflake I’d imagine. I won’t say as different as people because I don’t think people are all that different. We move abroad for different reasons: adventure, restlessness, curiosity, a fresh start, love. After 3 years of searching for a communications or executive assistant job at a nonprofit, desperate to quit bartending after 2+ decades, I finally decided to heed an old friend’s suggestion and take my ESL Certificate on the road. After careful research, conducted with a hint of panic during a six-month stay in my bestie’s spare basement bedroom after a catastrophic encounter with my family, I settled on South Korea. The pay was okay, but the perks were better: airfare, housing, medical, pension, a signing bonus, sojourn in a culture completely outside of my previous travel experience and comfort zone.
I have always been a nervous traveler (a nervous person if I'm being totally honest), checking, double-checking, triple-checking plane departures, hotel reservations, keeping itineraries and contact information in duplicate. Part of this comes from my Type A personality and part is born of shaky luck and traveling alone as a woman. Although I have danced in a Dublin nightclub by myself, gambled solo in Aruba casinos, swam in the Gulf of Oman, and ridden a horse in Cuba’s Sierra Maestra, I am always slightly uncomfortable, forcing myself to do things because the chance might not come again. The gift of living somewhere for an extended amount of time is that you have the luxury of exploring at your own pace. The curse is that you get comfortable and don’t do as much as you might if the clock were ticking.
Surprisingly, I haven’t had this problem. The charm of South Korea is despite a creeping westernization, it retains its Chosun Dynasty fascination. An allure that continues to draw me in. From the moment I arrived, from the beginning, the ROK welcomed me with open arms. In this safe, welcoming country I have been able to relax, to explore, and transform into a woman who engages in mountainside dance-offs with a gaggle of Korean aunties, swims fully dressed in the East Sea, meanders dim alleyways to see where they lead, eats in tiny market restaurants reminiscent of a Korean kitchen (시장 식당 ) the only foreigner in sight sharing soju with a friendly native with a little trepidation (despite my best efforts my Korean sucks), but no apology. Sadly, there are parts of my own country---pre and post 45---where I would never have ventured on my own. But here on this gorgeous peninsula, I have embraced, and been embraced.
In the last five years, I have transformed into a woman willing to strip down to my jiggly, aging birthday suit at a moment’s notice to take advantage of $4 hot springs saunas; a woman willing to be stranded on the side of a mountain to explore a tiny jewel of a Buddhist temple; a woman who has explored 28 cities and counting by bus. And I know it may seem like I’ve always been this brave, adventurous wild child, but the experience of living abroad, living in the Republic of South Korea, and of course the gift of reaching the age of I don’t give a fuck, has altered me.
I don’t know what the future holds and I’m certain my transformation is far from complete, but I think I am well on my way to transforming into the woman inside that people see on the outside.
Happy Anniversary to Me!
Thanks for stopping by!
Be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!