Homesick for Homecoming

After almost six weeks of living in Korea, I experienced by first bout of homesickness. While it only lasted for a day, it was still enough that it was front and center in my mind throughout the twenty-four hours.

There are a lot of different events that can trigger homesickness for people. For some, it’s being surrounded by people speaking an unfamiliar language. For others, its being outside of the bubble we’ve grown accustomed to, such as certain foods, TV shows, and surroundings. And probably the most common: not being able to see friends and family for extended periods of time.

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For me, homesickness came creeping in when I was online and saw photos and videos from the Homecoming football game at my alma mater. I had attended homecoming every year for the past five years, but this year, I was on the other side of the world. Even more, many of my friends would be heading back for the event and Misericordia is on a winning streak, something I never witnessed in my time living in Northeast Pennsylvania.

The homesickness was unexpected, and came over me suddenly. Even in the months leading up to my move to Korea, I didn’t experience any second thoughts or doubts, I knew I was making a good choice for myself. I was more than ready to leave Misericordia and Northeast Pennsylvania behind without a second thought. But there were times, though few, that I enjoyed being in Northeast Pennsylvania. Homecoming Weekend was one of those times.

If I learned anything from this small encounter with homesickness, it’s that it is inevitable. There will always be something, however small, that makes us miss the place we came from. But the anticipation of homesickness, knowing that it will happen, should not keep us from taking chances and pursuing new experiences. After all, it isn’t just the positive experiences that help us to grow, but the painful ones, as well.

Life in Jinju: My First Month

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve been in Korea for an entire month. I waited months that felt like an eternity for the day I would board my flight to get here, and now an entire month has passed since my plane touched down in Incheon.

Reflecting on this past month, I’ve noticed that for the first time in quite a while, I feel truly happy and at peace with where I am. After years of unrest and discontent, this change in demeaner is a welcome change. When I think about my future, the door is wide open with possibility, and I no longer feel trapped in a place I have no business being (looking at you, Wilkes Barre). Perhaps this happiness is simply me living through the honeymoon phase that comes with moving somewhere new, or perhaps it is the overwhelming relief that comes with finally leaving somewhere I was desparate to escape. Either way, I hope this peace has come to stay.

And while I could say that every day has been a constant high, that would be a lie. There are moments where I feel overwhelmed and moments that are mundane, but such is life. But as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping an iced vanilla latte, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of life, I know that I am in the right place. I’ve met so many incredible people who come from all walks of life, but we all have one thing in common: we left the comfort of our home countries to come to Korea in search of something more. Not all of us are searching for the same thing, and I don’t know that all of us will find what we are looking for, but I know that this journey has brought us together.

As I continue through this period of my life, I’m sure I will be met with surprises, obstacles, hardships, and overwhelming joy. I can’t wait to see what my second month in Korea brings.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

Adventures in Teaching: My first two weeks as an educator

After two weeks of teaching, all I have to say is that teaching is hard. Quite possibly, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried not to kid myself going into it; I knew that my babysitting experience and time as a tutor for other college students would pale in comparison to what it was like to stand in front of a classroom full of children who have a limited working knowledge of the English language. While I knew what my experience wouldn’t be, I didn’t really have expectations for what it would be.

So far, teaching has been a learning experience, probably more for me than for the kids. Every day, I’m challenging myself in new ways to get into a different headspace. My first task as a teacher was making lesson plans for the first week of class. My perception of time has never been great, but the entire first week, I found myself with extra time at the end of lessons, at a loss for what to do next, which usually just resulted in rushed games of hangman and pictionary. I like to think that over the last two weeks I have gotten better at predicting how long activities and lessons will take, but it isn’t an exact science.

Another area I’ve been struggling with as an educator is determining what it appropriate for each age group. At my academy, I teach elementary and middle school students. What works well with one group obviously doesn’t work well with the other, so getting in the right mindset to make lessons for each one is difficult. It seems like finding the right balance between instructional time, learning reinforcement, and fun activities to really help the concepts stick is another area where there isn’t an exact science. While one grammar lesson may take 15 minutes to present, another may take 25 minutes.

One moment that sticks out in my memory from my first week as a teacher is the day I realized that some of the words I use regularly are not words my kids are familiar with. I was teaching a grammar lesson and as a part of a comprehension check, I asked “does everyone understand or is this confusing?” I got a lot of blank stares and eventually one kid asked “what is confusing?” My response was, “I don’t know, I need you to tell me what’s confusing.” That went on for a while before my co-teacher told me that the kids were asking what the word “confusing” means, not that they were confused with the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing but enlightening moment.

While teaching hasn’t been easy, I like to think I have gotten better with each lesson. My understanding of what my kids know and how to present new information to them has improved. It’s so rewarding when a concept clicks for the kids or when they come into class with smiles on their faces ready for a new lesson. As a teacher, I’ve seen each day as a new opportunity to stretch myself and grow in my new role, and as a chance to make a lasting impact on the kids I work with. Each one of them is so dynamic and eager; I am so grateful for the opportunity to educate them, and I am excited to see how far we all come by the end of this semester.

Why You Should Major in the Humanities

Every morning I wake up and the thrilling thought goes through my mind: I am living in South Korea. While it was a long and winding road that brought me here, I know that the underlying factor that ultimately landed me in Jinju is the fact that I chose to major in something I loved, despite the constant questioning and criticism of pursuing a discipline in the humanities.

After working in admissions for the past year before moving to South Korea, I can state with confidence that there is little regard for following one’s passion, and high regard for only pursuing money. Yet to only study something because you know it will result in a high paycheck, even if it comes at the expense of your happiness will have lasting consequences. In my four years as a student and my year as an admissions counselor I met so many people who would have been better off studying something within the humanities, but chose to pursue a career in the medical field or a STEM profession because they were led to believe there were no job prospects within the arts and humanities. Even in reading news articles about higher education I find this attitude littering the comment section. But I am here to say with confidence, if you love the arts and you love humanities, don’t let that go, pursue that.

The world needs people in the humanities, because these people, by nature of their studies, understand what it means to be human. Without the understanding that at our core we are all human and all one, my journey to South Korea would look drastically different. In fact, it may not have happened at all. Even in my brief interactions with the students in level testing I could feel the desire to understand–to understand me, and for me to understand them. That desire is present in all of us–but it is in pursuing the arts and humanities that allows us to nurture that desire and satisfy the longing to connect with the world around us.

So if you are someone who, like me, cannot quiet that voice inside of you that longs to understand the people around you, to understand what it is that makes us all human, study the humanities. Despite the well-bolstered narrative that you will not find a job or you will be working for a fast food chain, there are endless possibilities out there for someone like you. You may just have to search a little harder than others, because a job post isn’t just going to jump out at you and say “ENGLISH MAJORS WANTED.” Instead, you will find your place as a content writer, editor, social services provider, media coordinator, admissions counselor, resident director, engagement analyst, event planner, year of service volunteer, public service representative, or maybe even as an English as a foreign language teacher halfway around the world.

A life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

A few weeks back I was reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time after my best friend and I bought the book to read together. Spoiler: she read it a few months before I got around to it and just kept telling me how much I needed to read it. So when I finally had time to sit down with it, I quickly understood her hype.

Early on in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert references the Bhagavad Gita, explaining that it is better to live life following your own path imperfectly than it is to perfectly imitate someone else’s life. This part of the book stuck with me, as I’ve always felt a lot of external pressure to live a traditional life, one that included marriage in my early-to-mid twenties, having children, owning a home, and working in a mind-numbing job.

And the more I reflected on that path in life, the more anxiety I felt, because deep down I knew that I would never be satisfied living that life. My goals, dreams, and aspirations could not fit within the confines of a traditional life. Instead I wanted to travel, test out different careers until I found one where I felt I was making an impact and growing, pursue a masters and potentially even a doctorate degree, and wait well into my thirties to get married. I don’t foresee home ownership in my future, because I see myself always on the move, not settling anywhere long enough to justify such a large investment. I know that this feeling could change, but like marriage, I don’t expect it to come until much later in life, if at all.

Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t considered that maybe it would really be okay to follow my own path, even if it meant making a lot of sacrifices and taking risks. In the back of my mind I would still try to factor in when I’d get married and how to explain over and over again that I don’t want children and that I don’t really think I will change my mind. Trying to explain that the life most people live is not the life I want for myself is difficult, and I often feel unheard. When people ask me invasive questions about dating and about whether or not I think I should hurry up so I can get married and have a family, I know that they are asking from a place of concern, but it often feels as though they are minimizing my own personal goals in life and tying my purpose more closely to a domestic life than the purpose I feel called to.

So while I could have tried to perfectly play the part in a life that wasn’t mine, I took off down another road. One that looks dangerous and full of uncertainty to many, but to me is full of endless excitement and adventure. While I may mistep and while my journey may not be perfect, I know that I am living a life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

39,020 feet above the ground

There are few things I love to do on a plane more than watch the flight map. Something about seeing the little animated plane follow a destined path across the globe is incredibly satisfying to me, especially because I know that like the little plane on the map, I am also following a destined path across the globe.

I’ve never been on a flight so long. I didn’t even realize planes could stay in the air for almost sixteen hours. I also didn’t even think I’d fly up and over the North Pole, but it looks like I’m learning something new every day.

At this point, I am over halfway to Hong Kong, the first leg of my journey to South Korea. I made my way to the airport in evening of August 28, fully prepared to spend what would seem like a lifetime going through TSA and waiting in my terminal, drinking coffee so I wouldn’t immediately fall asleep when I got on the plane. To my surprise, going through TSA was quick, but passing time in the terminal was slow. Once 12:00 rolled around, everything was closed, and it was just me and a big group of strangers, all going somewhere together.

I passed the first 7.5 hours of my flight watching movies. The in-flight selection was surprisingly good. When I could no longer keep my eyes open through another movie I settled for music and games. When 6:30am EST rolled around, I decided that I could finally rest. By some miracle, no one took the seats next to me, and I was able to lay outstretched and sleep. Well, at least for an hour at a time before some sound or urge to roll over woke me up.

Now here I am, 10:30am EST and wide awake. I’ve caved and purchased in-flight WiFi. After all, I do have 6.5 hours to go until Hong Kong, and sleep seems like it may be a thing of the past, at least until mid-afternoon.

So here I am, 39,020 feet above the ground, just waiting to arrive at my destination and watching as the little animated plane makes its way across the world.

8/26 Two Days Out

I am now two days out from leaving the US and traveling to South Korea to begin my journey as an English teacher. Time feels as though it has been moving slowly, yet it is hard to believe that nearly three months have passed. When I first found out I would be moving to Korea, it felt so far off, an entire lifetime away, and yet the time has finally come. My bags are packed, my flight is booked, and I am constantly thinking about how on earth I am going to stay awake until 2 a.m. to board my plane.

People often ask me if I am nervous, and the answer has always been no. Two days out, that is still the case. While the path I have chosen to walk is not traditional, not typical, and not fully understood by others, I know it is where I am meant to be. I have always felt a strong pull out and away. In other words, I have never felt rooted, but always restless, ready for the next big adventure, perhaps because each adventure steers me closer and closer to the road I am meant to walk.

These next few weeks with be difficult, I understand that fact. I don’t speak Korean and I don’t know anyone, which I’m sure will feel incredibly isolating at times. I know that I will face these challenges, and I don’t know if being aware they will come, and come soon, will make my response to them any better than if I were going in blind. But somewhere along the way I learned that to let fear stop you from living will result in an unfulfilled life, one full of regret and what ifs, and that is not the life I want for myself. So two days out, I am still excited about the path I have chosen, and not once have I asked myself if maybe this was all a mistake. And I think that will be enough to see me through.

 

Feature image from: http://trip-suggest.com/south-korea/south-gyeongsang/jinju/

On Letting Go

Moving to another country helped me come to a huge realization: my life is cluttered with things. I didn’t even realize how much I owned until I had to sit down and pick through my entire life, deciding what stays and what goes.

Earlier this year, I decided to take on living life with less. And I did cut down on my consumption. I even went through clothing and some of my belongings, but there were a lot of things I did not want to part with at the time, and even more things that I didn’t even consider to be cluttering my life, like kitchenwares and the old prom dresses shoved in the back of my closet. But when I had to really go through everything to clean out my apartment, I realized just how much I had overlooked in my quest to downsize my life.

Some items were easy to get rid of. I donated a lot of clothing and packed up boxes of possessions that I didn’t feel served me in my life. With others I had a harder time.

In moving to another country, the most difficult things I have had to part with were sentimental pieces that I had accumulated throughout the years from family, friends, and traveling. While there are a few things I have decided to hold on to, most of these possessions have found new homes. I couldn’t simply take these possessions to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Instead, I took time to think about each piece: where it came from, who gave it to me, the stories and memories associated with it, and who those stories would resonate with. When I felt particularly moved by the thought of a specific object going to a certain person, I decided that would be who I gave it to. In every encounter of passing on a possession to a new person, the person was grateful, and often moved by the sentiment behind the object. Each time, I knew I made the right choice. This passing on of my possessions made it a lot easier to let go.

With each item I purged from my life, I felt lighter. I didn’t realize how much these possessions were weighing me down until I had to consider their meaning, their use, and whether or not it would serve me as I move on from my life back home. I don’t know that I will ever accumulate so many possessions again. Now that I am living a more simple life, I feel like my life is more in line with what I really value– meaningful relationships, experiences, being an active participant in my life, rather than a passive one. So even though letting go has been difficult, the positive benefits of truly minimizing my life have been far greater than any sadness I have felt in getting rid of everything I have accumulated. Because at the end of the day, the whole of my possessions does not represent how well I lived my life. Rather my stories, experiences, memories, and the people I have shared them with are the true measure of a well-lived life.

 

Feature image from: http://borntotalkradioshow.com/2017/05/word-day-simplify/

Where It Really Started

So I’m sure it has crossed your mind at least once: what kind of person just decides to move to a country that they have never been to, and what initially sparked that sense of

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adventure? I’ve thought about that myself, because I’d never been to Korea, and didn’t really know anyone who had. But I have had other experiences abroad which stick with me even to this day, inspiring me to see as much of the world as I can in the time I have on this earth.

When considering the experience that started it all, I can handsdown say it was my experience as an exchange student in Germany. When I was seventeen, I had the opportunity to participate in the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) through my high school, which has a sister school in Gladenbach, Germany.

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I started studying German in seventh grade as a part of the exploratory language program at my school. I was required to take an exploratory course in Spanish, German, and French. Once I went to high school, I was able to choose which language I would study, and I chose German, primarily because of my family ties to the country, as well as to Austria, another German speaking country.

I loved learning German, so when I learned about the exchange program, I immediately applied, and was fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. I had never been on a plane before, let alone left the country, and I was giddy with excitement.

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2012 GAPP

Traveling to Germany helped me realize just how big the world is, and how much you can learn just by being somewhere new. Before traveling abroad, I had a lot of misconceptions about the world, primarily life in other countries. I learned quickly that my views, which had only been informed by my hometown upbringing, were more narrowing than what this great, broad world really had to offer.

After arriving back in the States, my time in Germany was all I could think about and all I could speak about. I knew that one day I wanted to see more of the world, no matter what it took. I began researching other places to go, continued learning German, and started reading travel literature. My life really was changed by that single trip. Perhaps that’s why when I learned about teaching English in Korea, it was the only thing I thought made sense for where I am right now in my life. Without the GAPP program, I don’t know that I would have even developed such a strong sense of adventure and a deep desire to travel the world.

A Day on the Farm

Back in July, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Blyss in Ithaca, New York where she is doing summer research with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University. Knowing I didn’t have much time left to spend with her, I took the short road trip for the weekend and had an amazing time.

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Blyss is one of my absolute best friends. She’s is cool, compassionate, and has a deep concern for the environment and living things, which is the thing that really forged out best friend bond. So when I visited her, it was only natural that we would journey to the local farm animal sanctuary a few towns over. Originally, we had planned to go hiking and swimming at Watkins Glen, but a few quick Google searches told us that there was also a sanctuary in that area, which is something we had wanted to do together for quite some time.

Farm Sanctuary encompasses 271 acres and is home to over 500 farm animals, all rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Most days, you can take a tour of the farm, led by one of their guides. The tour includes seeing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and goats, all of which have their own unique personalities.

 

Even though it was a scorching hot day, Blyss and I loved every moment we spent on the farm. The animals brightened my day, and reminded me of all the reasons I decided to stop consuming meat and animal products. Even on the days it seems hard, the days I am craving cheese like you would not believe, and on the days I go to a restaurant and the only thing I can eat are french fries, it is worth it. Like people, animals can experience a wide range of emotions– but when they are living in the conditions prevalent in agribusiness, these beautiful creatures feel limited emotions– fear, anxiety, apprehension, and pain. By spending an afternoon with these animals, I was reassured that all the challenges of eating vegan are beyond worth it.