Today is February 25, 2015. That means it has been two years to the day since I first set foot on Korean soil. It also means that in exactly ten days, I will board a plane at Incheon International Airport and depart Korea for what will possibly be the last time. I wouldn’t dare say I’ll never return to this country because who the hell knows? If you had told me five years ago that I’d spend two years of my life in South Korea before I’d turned 25 years old, I’d have probably said you were crazy. Even so, it will be a noteworthy milestone–the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. In three days, I will have my last day at work and will say goodbye to students at the English camp for the last time. My apartment is currently full of furniture and items that I no longer own because I’ve sold them to other expats at work who will take possession of them when I leave Daegu next week. What is essentially my entire life is already packed into two rolling suitcases in preparation for my flight next week.
When I leave Korea, I will spend a month in Seattle in a period of rest and reflection. I’ve never been to Seattle but I’ve wanted to visit for the longest time and I can’t think of a better place to spend a few weeks charting my course for the future than a cool city where I am utterly free of any obligations aside from eating, sleeping, and breathing. And, believe me when I say that I desperately need it. The past six months in particular have not been easy, for a variety of reasons. Living and working in Korea has been a fun and enriching experience, but it’s been no cakewalk. I’ve enjoyed the past year or so on the whole, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been happy at or felt enriched by my job and that is one thing in particular that I will not miss about Korea. Not even a little bit.
I take solace in the knowledge that a great many foreigners feel the way I do when they leave this country. Korea is a mixed bag, to be sure. It’s a country and culture that tests the patience of seemingly everyone, even the most docile and carefree people. I truly do believe that a Westerner could spend twenty years living here and still not fully comprehend the contradictions and idiosyncrasies of this culture. In fact, I really don’t think a lot of Koreans understand it either, to be honest. It’s a very highly developed and prosperous First World nation, and yet so many aspects of life here are reminiscent of its not-too-distant past as one of the most impoverished places on Earth.
In any case, my time here has come to an end. I am now in the final moments of the final act. The orchestra is in its last movements and in a matter of moments the curtain will whisk closed and the applause will commence. Or something like that. This weekend I’ll celebrate the end of my Korean adventure with the many good friends I’ve made here and, next Tuesday, I’ll make my way to Seoul for one last hurrah before I take flight. As mixed as my feelings about Korea are, I fully intend to savor my last few days here. In the end, I feel I’ll remember both the good experiences and the bad, but I think the good experiences will be the most palpable and I intend to have as many of them as I can.
So, without further ado, let these words stand as my farewell to the Land of the Morning Calm. Goodbye to my many and dear 한국 친구 (“Hanguk chingu,” or Korean friends) and I hope you’re all able to find the happiness you so desire. Goodbye to my expat comrades and I hope you enjoy however much time you have left. To you all, I say 안녕히 계세요 (“annyeonghi gyeseyo”), stay in peace.