Excerpts from my journal; Early June 2017

June 1

I have no clocks because I don’t like to be reminded of the passage of time. I don’t remember what the book was called, but something I read once talked about how we took power away from God when we made clocks and set them up as our new idols, forever worshipping the efficient use of time. Killing time, spending time, allocating time; all new ideas that turned time into currency, to be bought and sold, and, most condemning of all, wasted. The notion that we could waste the seconds, that they somehow should be wrung out for all they are worth, is not ingrained in the human psyche. Rather, it was invented along with clocks. The ticks, so arbitrary in reality, march our lives along to a beat, and woe to the one who steps out of line to admire the view. He will be crushed beneath the march of the future.

So I don’t keep clocks. The ticking drove me mad. I can’t sleep when I hear ticking, thinking of all the time I’m not sleeping, not using well, but lying awake as the hours tick by. You could drive me insane quite easily if you stuck me in a room with a clock. So I don’t keep them.

Going along the highway and being able to absorb the ads and billboards is like having your finger on the pulse of the culture. When I’m in a bus riding down the Korean highway system, I don’t have my finger there. I can’t feel it. Usually. Today I was able to (probably) correctly translate a phone company billboard. It said something like “Customers are family too.” It’s the kind of inane, cliche thing billboards usually say. It was weird, because in that moment something shifted in my perspective. All the mystery and attractiveness of foreign life flickered, shuttered, began to fall. The mystery is being shaken slowly down, until life in Korea becomes as commonplace and media-saturated as America was.

June 4

As soon as I sat down all my words dried up. The words that had percolated with the coffee while I was washing the dishes, that swirled and seemed ready to drip down my fingers, slid back up with gale force speed as soon as my digits headed for the keyboard. Is it because I forgot to close the cupboard doors?

Getting lost is not something to romanticize. Getting lost is scary and dangerous. What if you ask the wrong type of person? What if no one knows? What if no one will try to speak your language and you end up staying out all night? Getting lost is scary.

Who stopped by during the night to gurgle and wake me up, and drop me off a feeling of desolation? This is why I shouldn’t read about deserts first thing in the morning. I get all dried up.

And there is a bubbling sensation in my left shin. Like something has been blocked. Maybe I just need to exercise, or maybe I walked too much. It’s hard to say.

My body is only a vehicle for my head, after all.

I dreamed of a sunburn and blistered skin last night. I looked it up today to see what it meant. Dreammoods.com said “To dream that you have a sunburn indicates that there is an emotional situation or problem that you can no longer avoid. Some urgent matter is literally burning through to your soul and demanding your immediate attention.” Well that’s true. I have an external and an internal problem. Externally I am worried I might be deported. There is talk, and lots of teachers at some Canadian schools have been. So there’s that. Mostly I am afraid of dealing with a lot of stuff. Not the actual event itself. I would live, and it would be amazing writing material.

Then there is the matter of if I were, what to do with my life. That is always an internal situation, but this threat makes it seem more real, more immediate, thrust the question into the forefront of my brain. That frontal cortex so famous for making us rational beings. Anyway it was a burning question yesterday, so my brain turned it into a weird sunburn on my back and pus-filled blisters on my chest. I tried to go deeper into meaning but blisters didn’t turn up anything useful.

I listened to a sermon about Joseph and dreams today. I wondered if any of my dreams are like his, showing me my future. Or are they just my brain turning problems into pretty metaphors and the result of too much pork?

June 6

I just ordered pizza online. This is a huge moment in my expat life. I have never EVER ordered food by myself to be delivered. I have had friends call for me, and have gone to pick up food oodles of times, but this is my first time doing it all alone. I am stupidly nervous and proud. What if they ask me something in Korean? It will be okay. I am telling myself it will be okay.

They said they will deliver around 3:24. Seems oddly precise.

Travel writing. What is it? The definition I just found on Google says it is writing in which the author describes places they have visited and their experiences while traveling. Or something. Am I a travel writer? No. I don’t really travel. I just happen to live in a foreign country. But I do not travel around and have experiences on purpose. They happen more or less by accident. Just as interesting.

Take, for instance, that fear that many people have that when they are out and about everyone is watching them. If you’re a foreigner in Korea, that’s not just idle paranoia, but a fact of life. You either perpetually hate it or end up resigned to it.

June 8

This morning on my way to work I dropped my trash off. I hate taking out my trash. For one thing, I’m always scared my landlord will come and yell at me that I’m doing it wrong. For another, I have to walk by the convenience store and other shops there, and it’s weird to do something as personal and gross as taking out the trash so publicly. Like anyone sitting outside the convenience store has to watch stanky trash go by. Way to ruin the ice cream and chatting, yo.

At one point, I hated taking the trash out so much I had about six bags on my balcony, and had to take them out all at once on a weekend. I decided never again, and have since just taken them out like a danged adult in the mornings. Paying the bills is another danged adult thing I dread. It’s easy, really. We pay at that same convenience store, and there’s a nice young kid who does it in the morning. But I have to do it before work, and usually I’m just not up for anyone saying anything to me at all. I wish he didn’t speak English, because then the exchange could be in silence. Much like going to the cafe down the road.

June 9

Amazing how quickly a mood can go from great to terrible in the space of five minutes. Just give me three thousand questions from five kids and that’ll do it.

Today is Friday. Thank God It’s Friday. On the one hand, it’s really nice having a consistent daily schedule. On the other hand, it sucks feeling like you only get to live on the weekends and for about 3 minutes every night.

I bought a new ergonomic bag for my trip to New Zealand. It’s just as silly as it sounds. It has a billion pockets and zips in such a way that doesn’t let hooligans MUG ME. Come at me, bro! My zippers are body side and protected. It’s really only for the one trip, and maybe camping if I ever go. B said I should wear it in Seoul. That’s a laugh and a half. You don’t dare be unfashionable in that city.

June 11

I am writing in the early morning, around 10am, and it feels good. It feels flowing and natural. 6am might be too early, but 9 or 10 feels just right. Coffee in me, juice at hand, food in my belly.

Keep it locked up tight, the worries. Don’t borrow from tomorrow.

This is being a writer. This is being a real  writer. Forging ahead. Figuring it out. Working with zero budget and borrowed minutes from an already-busy life. Not knowing if you’ll get that dream agent, or if your book will ever be a bestseller, but sitting down in front of the page anyway  to make the sentence in front of you the most beautiful sentence that it can be.” – Lauren Sapala

This amazing quote will help me forever. Thanks, Lauren!

June 12

Today is going pretty well. I have a lot of extra time since we’re doing nothing but testing this week in LA. I should have lots of time to write and read. I could also be working on Summer Camp stuff. Oh yeah.

Well anyway.

Let’s see how creativity goes at school. I might read a book. I might write a new story. I might do none of those things. But whatever I do, I want to do it nicely and gratefully and not worry or stress out too much.

This week does feel a bit like a copout week. Like even the classes without a test feel like they should be lax, easy, not real, where I can sit and just relax. 

I just sent off my reports cards. It felt pretty anticlimactic. There wasn’t the feeling of intense pressure to get it done. That’s down to my incredible planning skills. I had as much of it done as I could do a couple weeks ago, and added in what I got when I got it. No hurry, no worry. Of course some of the teachers were late getting their grades to us, but we expect it by now, so we can plan in their lack of planning.

June 13

Last night was strange. My dreams were intense, but I can only remember part of one. At one point I woke up slick with sweat. Actually dripping. I don’t know if it was from the heat or some brief illness. Either way, I had to strip, and so then woke up cold around five. Interesting night. I feel okay now though. I did my meditation as soon as I could and listened to part of a TED talk from Ann Lamott. I’m really getting into TED. They’re bursts of inspiration for life.

I also found out I’m a multipotentialite, which is a word I love. Emilie Wapnick is my new hero. I’m excited to delve into that topic and explore more. I keep finding out that I’m not as weird or crazy or flightly or spastic or lost as I thought, but just very very different.

I kind of don’t like that though. I’m getting tired of finding out I’m super different than the world. I’m going to have a list after my name of all the reasons why I don’t fit in and am NOT LIKE YOU. INFJ. HSP. MP. When will it end? And I hate that this is a concern but I feel like I’m trying really hard to justify myself, and no one is going to take it seriously. Oh my gosh, they will say, you have so many things special about you. You must be the most unique snowflake to ever sputter and fall from the sky.

 

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? 

How to Deal with Homesickness as an Expat

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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.

The Truth About Living Abroad

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Aspiration – a stock photo (I imagine the photographer telling this girl to pose like she’s about to toss a large rock as hard as she can. Or maybe she’s yelling therapeutically about ex-boyfriends).

Everyday

Reality (actual picture of what I do most of the time – compute, read, plan, have dangly cords messing up my bed, and wear not so galactic leggings).

Alright friends, let me sit you down and share with you some truths about living abroad. That term, “living abroad,” conjures up ALL kinds of fantasies and images of beaches and train cars and minimalist backpacks and inspirational quotes with people holding their arms up in the background. Personally, I have never felt the need to hold my arms up to show I’m inspired, but that’s beside the point.

Growing up, I too held these lofty and longing-filled ideals of what a traveling life was. I dreamed about moving to England or Japan or France and being hip, and somehow always being out walking around neat streets or sitting in cafes, and never actually living. I dreamed of baskets on bikes or tote bags on arms full of fresh produce with, somehow, that baguette positioned so perfectly right, just peeking out the top, like a shout to the world that I TOO AM MODERN AND ADVENTUROUS.

Baguettes. Why is bread a symbol of adventure? I don’t know.

What I do know, intimately well, is that traveling around and living abroad are two different creatures. I know the every day of living an adventure. Actually, among my friends, “living the adventure” is kind of a euphemism for all the strange and irritating crap we deal with as permanent foreigners. Like the fact that I can only buy what I can carry home from the grocery store or have to deal with getting taxis since I can’t figure out the home delivery service and am too independent to ask a Korean to do it for me. And I hate taxis, but that’s another story.

That is one truth. The truth that living the adventure often means the really annoying, mundane stuff we deal with every day. Sure, it might be fun and exciting and thrilling the first time your heart hammers at the checkout line, but after the two-hundredth time, it loses its charm.

JUST LEARN THE LANGUAGE, you shout at me, smiling indulgently at this whining white girl who is so lucky she gets to live in a foreign country. But when? I should take night classes, except I get off work at 5 and get up at 6, so I do need to sleep at some point, and work is so tiring my brain probably couldn’t even retain what I hear, and all those projects I need to do, like writing and art and oh yeah, cooking and working out and stuff, would need to be put on hold, and never mind about relaxing because you can sleep when you’re DEAD, but in reality I get stressed out without sleep and then get sick and….alright, a series of unfortunate excuses. That’s my tagline. But it’s true. It’s all very well to say it, but quite another to do it. Yes, another excuse. The series continues…

Here’s the next truth; I will always be a foreigner here. Always. Even if I learned the language so well I could write Korean poetry. So I will always get stared at, always be spoken to in English or avoided because they don’t speak English and I’m SO SCARY, and always be the subject of amazed amusement when I divulge that yes, I do like watching Running Man.

Another truth; even the most exotic thing is normal to someone. So that means that after a while, it will be normal to you too. After a while, when you go back to the US, you will also bow and use both hands with cashiers, and it will be REALLY HARD not to. After a while, you will have a harder time telling the difference between two blondes you meet than two Koreans. I swear this is true. Everyone at the American airport looked the same to me.

Here’s another truth; if you’re an introvert like me, you will still spend all your time at home, and it will be even harder to get out. Living somewhere else does not turn an introvert magically into an extrovert just because there might be interesting things out there. There are way more interesting things in my own head, thanks.

Whew, you think, sitting back and doing that half-frown people do when they think, this girl is so NEGATIVE.

Well, here’s the last truth; it’s all hard. And it’s all AMAZING. Despite all these hard truths, I love living here. People ask me all the time why I moved overseas. It’s a hard question to answer, but the truest answer I can give is that I wanted to grow as a person, and by gosh, living alone in a foreign country helps. Living here has pushed me to mature in so many ways. I’ve learned about myself, about others, about relationships and work ethics, about everything. It’s incredible, and it wouldn’t have happened so easily at home.

Is living abroad easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes.

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