Excerpts from my journal; Early 2017

February

What matters? The story. It’s always in the back of my mind, or should be, the ever running, ever-evolving storyline. I hold my imagination most precious, most dear to me. It is my greatest asset and more dear to me than anything. My imagination keeps me warm, keeps me entertained, keeps me happy, keeps me thinking and feeling and buzzed on life. The only thing that matters is the story.

February 

This past Saturday I ran my brother through the D&D Death House, the intro to “Curse of Strahd.” I was amazing, even starting out the encounter wearing a raven mask and with an amazing greeting. It was wonderful. And I had great music and didn’t flub or forget much. It made my throat ache and my head pound, but it was so worth it.

So no matter what happens, I am amazing.

March

I was thinking today about the fact that I used to read a lot of military history books. I was quite the ridiculous nerd in high school, and at one point I was absolutely enamored with tales of wars, prisoners, daring escapes, battles, politics, and intrigue. I remember reading “Ghost Soldiers” and really loving it. Which is odd, as that book entails graphic descriptions of some of the worst things a human can do to another. It didn’t really bother me. I think I was genuinely less sensitive to it than I am now, and I don’t really understand that.

I think if I read that now, I would cry. I would feel so much more deeply the horror and cruelty and wonder so much more at the things that made those soldiers do those things, that it would affect me far more. Why, when I am more mature, wiser, and have more worldly knowledge, would I be LESS capable of hearing about the horrors of life? I don’t get it. It’s interesting to me how much more things affect me. As an HSP, of course things will, but why does it get more pronounced as I get older? Is that normal? 

Excerpts from my journal; 2016

April 

Zoom in and smoke is seeping between the windows and the wall. Someone is burning rubbish behind their house and it tickles our noses and turns my teaching voice raspy. It’s spring, a fit time to burn, since the smoke couldn’t possibly be worse than the drifts of pollution, yellow dust, from China. A sign of the change in me; I now have an app to tell me pollution levels, and check it obsessively. Will breathing kill me today?

October

I have decided to be like Ernest Hemingway, and write clear and hard about what hurts. Right now, my lower back hurts from doing the dishes. I had to do the dishes because in Korea dishwashers are only for the rich, and people wear rubber gloves because they have to do the dishes and don’t want to mess up their hands. So two more things that have changed since I came to Korea. I have started wearing rubber gloves when I wash dishes, and I care about what my hands look like.

Today I also had to scrub up some mold that had grown on the bottom of my utensil jar and had crept to the cutting board behind it. I wonder if the mold on the cutting board made me sick. I’m sick now, by the way. First time in a long time, and it’s the season. It’s also PTA week this week. I shall tell parents their children are progressing nicely through a clogged nose. That will add to my emotional appeal, if not my rational one.

I talked to two people today. I talked to the cashier at the bakery where I bought my dinner. I didn’t want to make tuna spaghetti, and that’s all I had, so I had to go out. The other person was my brother. I was supposed to play video games with him today but I got sick and had no energy. So I laid on my bed while he made pan-fried fish in America at 1am. We talked about getting old. We talked about life being boring. We talked about what we wanted for the future.

My lower back still hurts. Is that clear?

October 31

Happy Halloween! I work at a Christian school and wore ears for Halloween, and when the students asked me about it and I told them, one child told me that God hates Halloween. Okay, thank you, please let me wear my ears. Always a hard decision to make on how to address that.

Anyway, had my first D&D last night! It was amazing!!

How to Deal with Homesickness as an Expat

Image result for parks and rec meme ron

Ron Swanson is my hero. – (Photo from Pinterest)

Lately, I’ve been watching Parks and Rec. Which is an amazing show, if we forget Season 1 exists. But there’s a problem I have when I watch it (aside from watching way too much, but that’s everyone’s problem so it’s not special). I start to miss America big time. Which is odd, since most of the show pokes fun at all the problems in America, like obesity and ridiculous food problems and racism and such. And yet, for some mysterious reason, I start to miss home. I miss making fun of those giant drinks you get from Sonic with the most delicious ice. (C’mon now, they really do have the best ice.)

I miss the way things work. Maybe that’s it. I miss understanding everything that’s happening around me. I miss getting the jokes and cracking one-liners about my own culture that other people will get. I miss that. I miss feeling like I belong.

Homesickness comes in waves. It’s not always there. Sometimes I have the opposite of homesickness, where I’m sick of home. Which, then, should also…be…called….homesickness? No, it’s wanderlust. When I get tired of belonging and knowing everything and have to go. Geez y’all. I’m a mess. I’m an expat.

Currently, I miss things like Walmart and Taco Bueno and malls where all the stores have clothes that fit me. What a concept.

I also really miss Hobby Lobby and libraries. Those might be two of the things I miss most as an expat. I can’t craft like I used to because I can’t figure out where to buy stuff. And I miss libraries so much it’s nearly physical pain. Alright, tuck your snarky comments away.

Here are my steps to getting over homesickness.

Don’t Watch Parks and Rec

Or other American shows that might make you remember the best parts of your old life and give you rosy glasses. Everything annoying about your past becomes endearing when you look back on it. Some kind of Retro-Doppler Effect. The future is always rushing towards you screaming anxiety-ridden diatribes about how you should be HUSTLING NOW, and the past is lengthened into happy front-porch rocking goodness.

Get Perspective

And awareness. Knowing that you’re idolizing your old life can help in getting perspective. Snap out of it and try to recall the bad stuff too. The reasons you wanted to leave in the first place. It wasn’t working for you. It might work in the future, but right now you have a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow and experience another culture, so accept where you are. And remember that there is good and bad in every country and every job.

Get Active

Homesickness really hits when I’m not doing anything. I’m moping about at home after a long day at work and remembering how at least when I was at home, my comfort food was only a short drive away. But when I’m actively engaged in my life here, I don’t get as homesick. When I’m writing, eating with friends, playing D&D, or boxing, I’m busy living and not missing the things I don’t have.

Accept an Imbalance

You may never conquer homesickness. Some people might be able to fully leave their old life behind and sink into their new life forever. But for me, and for most of my expat friends, we’ll always have that part of us that loves home. Our native culture will always be an integral part of who we are. Home is home, after all. I still have two distinct images in my head when I think of ‘home.’ Two opposite truths that define me.

That will never change. Whether I go back full time to America or travel the rest of my life, one of my homes will always be in America, with my family. I will always feel the tension of being pulled in two directions. But maybe that means my life will be fuller. That tension will keep me on my toes. It will keep me aware of what I’m feeling and doing, and it will help me keep perspective when I relate to other people and cultures.

I’m okay with that. Sure, it means that when I’m in Korea I miss America terribly, and after two weeks in America on vacation, I’m itching to get back to Korea. I’m okay with that.

As long as I don’t watch Parks and Rec.

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Excerpts from my journal; Fall 2015

August

It’s the end of day two of lessons. I’m so utterly exhausted I can barely type. I’ve been to immigration twice now; yesterday after classes ended and today before my last class. And I still have to go again tomorrow. I don’t know if they’re telling me the truth or not, but they keep saying there are too many people so I have to come back. Now they’ve told me tomorrow morning before 9. So I’m going at 8:30 and oh well if I can’t get done. My co-worker is taking over my classes for the time being. I feel terrible about it but what can I do? I have to go. And I have to go soon or my health check will expire.

On the whole, classes are going as well as can be expected. We’ve had the schedule change twice now. Yesterday that meant that I had to suddenly teach a couple of classes with no preparation, but I muscled through them, and it’s not like the students can tell.

I have to keep reminding myself that they don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, so if I go off lesson plan it’s okay. I will get used to things and be better. Because just the act of teaching is so new, I don’t have room to think of creative things to do with the material. I just lecture and make them do work mostly.

It’s very hard not having internet at home. I could do a lot more if I could work on it here. And hopefully tomorrow I can be done with immigration and have time after classes end.

I found the garbage area. I’m sure I did it wrong, but no one was around to yell at me so I did I anyway. I’ll figure it out or just keep doing it wrong.

August

Yesterday I had my first accosting. I was in the grocery store line and an elderly lady said hello and welcome to Korea and wasn’t I pretty? All in Korean, of course, so I just smiled and nodded and ignored her. That’s been it so far.

September

I feel like I’m getting to know the ahjussis who work at the CU downstairs. There’s the older guy who works in the morning most days who speaks very good English and always says “Good morning!” to me. He’s my favorite. He makes counting music when he counts my coins. Like a little song. But he doesn’t smile, so it’s even funnier. Then there are the two slightly younger older guys, maybe late thirties or early forties, who seem either scared of me or just so angry about working there that they border on being rude. Finally, the older guy who may be the owner who asked me if I just got paid when I gave him a fifty. No, sir, I just only have many fifties in my house.

Excerpts from my journal; August 2015

August

My biggest memory of arriving in Korea is of sweat. I wore a sweater thing on the plane because it was freezing, but I didn’t take it off when I went through the airport, and when I got outside I felt the hot air rush towards me and my sweater with steamy caresses. Bless you, Korean air.

My friend who teaches at my school met me, and we took the airport bus back to our apartment. We live on the same floor. We also live above a convenience store, which is…convenient. That was our dinner. I don’t know what would have happened if we went out. I might have passed out at the table.

The people have been very nice. When we were trying to get a taxi, after the first man refused us, for some odd reason, a guy came out of the McDonalds behind us and offered help. And our taxi driver who did take us was very friendly.

Today I went to Daiso to get some basics. A pillow, for one. I don’t fancy stuffing clothes into my pillowcases every night. Slippers, as well, and a trash can. No more leaving trash on the ground. I’m not a dirty college student anymore.

I won’t have internet for a month or so. It takes a long time to get the Alien Registration Card (ARC), and I can’t get phone or internet or a bank account until I get that one. They say the first month is the make or break. If you don’t go mad, you’ll be fine. I didn’t realize how much I used internet until I didn’t have it. However, I love that I don’t. It’s hard since that’s the only way I can contact family, but it’s giving me an opportunity to do other things I normally put off. Like writing, practicing ukulele, reading, and exercising. Most importantly, I can study Korean.

August

Today was the first day of school. It was really, really good. I didn’t have anything to do at first, so I followed my friend as she showed me the place and looked over the textbooks a bit. We have a new curriculum for Language Arts so all the teachers are trying to get used to it. They just finished camps so everyone, including me, is preparing at the same time.

In the afternoon we had two hours of CPR training with a certified instructor. He also talked to us about general heart health, which led straight to a sales pitch on L-alginine, some supposedly miracle drink that will clear up all your arteries. For only $400, you too can feel a few pounds lighter and have fat come out in your urine! Awesome.

August

Today we have the day off, since tomorrow is Independence day and otherwise we wouldn’t have a holiday. So I went to pick up my health check, all by myself, and then stopped at Home Plus and Daiso for a pot and skillet.

I’m very pleased I worked the buses and remembered where everything was all by myself. It wasn’t hard or scary and I’m beginning to feel like I live here. As opposed to what, I’m not sure. Visiting, I guess. It’s annoying not having a phone or anything but I can live without it for a while, I suppose.

August

Today is my birthday! It doesn’t feel like it. But I did get to Skype with mom and dad and the brother, so that was good. Seemed birthdayish. Actually, it was funny – I went out this morning in search of wifi, and found one outside a building, so I stopped there and checked messages and things. I was heading to the mall to see if they had some there, but I went down into the subway to use the bathroom and found some from Daiso, so I sat on the bench outside and called home. It was great. We spent a lot of time talking and they got to see the subway.

I stopped to get kimbap on the way home – enough for lunch and dinner. I need to go grocery shopping for real food again but until I can stock up on basics like spices and oils I don’t want to try cooking much.

I just did some cleaning. My friend said the girl who lived here before wasn’t clean, and I can tell. Mold by the door and grease all over the backsplash. Ugh.

Why does this kitchen view seem so familiar already? Why does it seem like this is the life I’ve always had? Time and my memories have condensed strangely, until I’ve always been living here, like this, waiting for school to start. My whole universe has been this desk, with that green tile wall in front of me, and Monday I open the door to another universe…