As I write this, I can’t believe the last four years of my life has gone by so fast. In 2009, which simultaneously feels like both a lifetime ago and yesterday, Steve and I were getting ready to move to Korea. Today, we are not only back in the U.S. but right back in Chicago.
Admittedly, I stopped doing the blog part of my journey abroad in favor of cooking videos (more of those to come soon), but our emotional move back home seemed like a good time to write a little something down, at the very least to save something for myself to look back on one day.
By January, when we left Korea, we’d officially lived there just over three years. It never felt like it, but that was the exact amount of time we’d lived in Chicago, which had always been our home away from home. And which I suppose will forever make Korea our home away from home away from home.
Throughout the transition, people inevitably asked, “Was it worth it?” I interpreted this to really mean, “When you get back, can you get a job with what you’ve done?”
So, was it worth it?
Absolutely, 100%, an overwhelming resounding hell YES.
The logical part of me reasoned all the ways in which my travel abroad made me a more well-rounded, culturally sensitive, wise-to-the-world type of employment candidate. But then I just thought Psssht! Employment, really. That wasn’t what this was about. The heart of it, everything I feel in my guts and to the core of my being says that I couldn’t have done anything better with those three years of my life. Besides marrying that Superman-looking guy, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
To know the daily ins and outs of another country, the nuances of a people so different than yourself, to purposefully transplant yourself in a place that, at times, feels like another planet – these things can’t be quantified. But it reaches even further than Korea. All the other places we visited are now permanently weaved into our tapestry. I can say from personal experience, not a movie (or God forbid some “reality” show), things like:
-The overnight train down the coast of Thailand is a phenomenal time if you’ve got a book, a deck of cards, and a beverage of choice…and it’s actually a smooth ride.
-There is a particular beach in Cambodia that will food poison you beyond belief.
-There are sand dunes in the southern part of Vietnam that you can run up and down as long as you like because you’ll have them all to yourself.
-Spending Christmastime listening to carols played by a jazz band at the bar in Tokyo from Lost in Translation is as romantic as it gets.
-There is a place in this world (Indonesia) that green beans are not that disgusting after all.
-Depending on the city, $15 can either get you a hobbit-sized hotel room where you can’t stand fully upright (and there are ants on the ceiling) or a luxurious old house where someone will greet you with rose water at the door and serve you a big breakfast in the morning.
-Even in towns with no electricity or running water, life is still basically the same – dads going to work, moms making breakfast for their children, children running off to school.
-Watching plate after plate of little sushi bites roll past you on a conveyor belt and plucking off the ones you want in between shots of sake is a really fun game. There’s a certain giddy feeling in tallying up your plates with the waitress at the end.
-I can, indeed, live out of a backpack for an entire month.
And Korea, since I did a little list of things I would and wouldn’t miss about Chicago when I left, here’s my compilation for you. You were my home. I grew to know you better than any other place on this planet. Some things I will miss, some things I will not. But ultimately, I will always love your country.
Things I Will Miss about Korea:
-Full calorie count on all packaging. Not just per serving, but the whole thing. So if you think you can just eat a serving or two of some snack, do a little quick math in your head, and hope it wasn’t that much after all…well, there’s no rounding down in Korea. Yes, that bag of potato chips has a thousand calories in the whole bag, and yes, you’ll feel like crap if you eat the entire bag. Thanks for the heads up.
-Pocket change cab rides. There are few things as satisfying in life as paying for a taxi in coins.
-Food stalls. I have no idea why most American cities are so anti-food truck because who doesn’t love picking up little $1 treats as they’re walking? My favorite Korean goodies will always be boong-a-bang (waffle-like dough shaped like a fish and filled with red bean) and hoddeok (sticky cinnamon pancakes).
-Caprisun-style vanilla milkshakes in a bag in the summertime. Frankie will miss those too.
-Gimbap – a relatively healthy and inexpensive Korean-style sushi. Best on-the-go lunch.
-The people. The most kind and generous people I’ve had the privilege of knowing.
Things I Will Not Miss
-Spitting on the street. Oh, the spit! You could play hopscotch around it. Since being back in the U.S. for 5 months, I can still count on one hand how many times I’ve seen someone spit. The difference there is striking.
-Public urination too, for that matter.
-More bar/street fights than I’ve seen anywhere.
-Indoor smoking. And all that comes with it. Having to wash my clothes immediately upon returning home, planning when to shampoo my hair around a trip to the bar, not to mention the feeling of cancer being injected into my lungs every time an inconsiderate person blows directly into my face mid-conversation.
-Pushing. I’ve written before about the old ladies and their generous use of elbows. My rib cage just breathed a sigh of relief.
-Walking/driving like it’s a live-action racing game. If I really want to dive out of a car’s way on the sidewalk, I’ll go to Dave and Buster’s, thanks.
A little more on our transition to come (reverse culture shock was a REAL thing) as well as a great little video, if I do say so myself, on homemade almond milk.