I’ve been home for almost two weeks now, and I’m sad to realize my trip is coming to a close. In fact, by the time this is posted, it’ll be my last day in San Diego. I’ve loved every minute of my time at home, and I’ve also gotten to do a few simple things I’ve had on my 25 before 25 list – spend New Year’s with best friends and cook some delicious meals with my mom – to mention some of them.
Being home has also made me realize how much I don’t belong in Korea. For now on, my eyes are on the prize. Six weeks from now I’ll have finished my teaching contract, and I’ll be living the life I spent the last year saving for. As many of you know, my journey will start in India. From that time on, and for the next year or so, I’ll be able to live the life I want, choosing my path for happiness, and not monetary reasons.
Below, I’d like to reflect on a few of the great things, and simple pleasures, I’ve enjoyed in the last two weeks. I’ve left out the completely obvious ones, being with my family and spending time with my best friends have both of course been things I’ve fully enjoyed.
How nice everyone is
Maybe it’s the fact I go through most of my days unable to communicate with the majority of the population, and maybe it’s the fact I find some Korean habits really rude (staring, pushing, etc. And yes I know it’s cultural) but one of the first things I noticed upon arriving home was how nice everyone is. I’m admitting this opinion could be completely subjective, or maybe it has to do with the holidays, but still, I am loving all this niceness. How’s your day going? Can I help you with something? Did you find everything? Can I get you anything else? Frequent ‘Thank you‘s and ‘Excuse me’s are constantly surprising me. Even during the holidays, when most workers should be exhausted and in need of a break, I’ve found everyone we have run into so helpful.
Some might argue it’s not genuine, and in our tip-driven society, that’s it is just everyone trying to make an extra buck. Still, I haven’t found this to be the case. Someone isn’t making any extra money for walking me around a store searching for something random while chatting about my day in the meantime. These people haven’t made any extra money for being extra helpful and kind. By this point in my trip, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve thought to myself how nice that cashier/waiter/bartender was.
Maybe it’s also just a Southern California thing. While some parts of the country are shoveling snow and dealing with freezing temperatures, Californians are still enjoying the outside and getting some sun. Do we just stay chipper longer into the year? And that leads me into my next point..
Though my mom has been complaining about “how cold it is”, I can vouch, it really isn’t. While the wind can sometimes get chilly, and we most likely aren’t dressed anywhere appropriate for ‘winter,’ 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius) can barely count for cold.
Most of my days I’ve spent in a light sweater. Some days were sunny and 70 degrees (21 Celsius). I’ve walked around my house, inside and outside, barefoot. I’ve had coffee outside in my pajamas. I’ve turned on the air conditioning in the car when the sun on my side was roasting me. It’s fantastic.
From the snowy days in Seoul, I’ve wondered if it’s the snow and cold that really make the holidays feel festive and special. Coming back home I can say that the holidays are just as festive without the cold weather. We definitely make up for the lack of winter scenery with decorations on every corner and in every household. To me, the small worry of how I’m going to stay warm everyday is enough to damper my mood, and without it I feel freer and happier.
Being around other addicts
For a long time I thought my coffee habit was just a personal problem, and I didn’t realize how much of a part it plays in American culture. While I might still drink more than the average person, I am so happy to be around people with this same addiction again. For the past two weeks, I haven’t had to search for a decent cup of coffee or someone to drink it with. I haven’t had to use two or three instant coffee packets and shovel out the sugar to make a decent substitute for a brewed cup.
Spending a late morning over coffee with friends, talking about the night before, is just a simple pleasure I’ve gone way too long without having.
Now if I can just fully convert Simon into a full-time coffee drinker….
Ease of cooking (and eating) foods from around the world
I’m not one to eat, or cook, the same cuisines often. I love having the ability to have Thai one day and Mexican the next (literally). Being able to pick any recipe, from any country, and knowing I’ll be able to find all (if not most) of the ingredients to cook it is an amazing thing. Another amazing aspect of this is that it won’t cost me my week’s savings.
In Korea, Simon and I sometimes meticulously plan what we will cook and eat. We split the cost of most groceries because we find it so expensive. If we were to just buy any ingredients and produce we wanted, we’d be spending a lot (mostly to do with the fact what Simon and I want to cook is non-Korean and prices are especially high in Seoul). Also, some ingredients can’t be guaranteed to be found, even in the foreign food marts. In San Diego, I can go to just one grocery store and be able to find ingredients from all around the world.
I also love how diverse (and authentic) the restaurant options are. While of course some restaurants take a Californian spin on international cuisine, it is not hard to hard an authentic Vietnamese, Indian or Middle Eastern restaurant in any city.
Being around the same mentality & forgetting insecurities
Taking a break from the “lost in translation” moments and disagreements with common sense have done so much to refresh my mind. Especially in winter, when I’m cold and tired, I find the small annoyances at my workplace or dealing with people that have a completely different mindset than me pretty tiring. The exhausted and frustrated “why”s (like why are you making me come to work all day when the rest of the school will be closed and the heating will barely be on) have been absent in the last two weeks. After 10 months away, all this ease of life has been a breath of fresh air.
While I’ve been home, I’ve never had to explain myself to my friends, they know what I’m talking about. I haven’t experienced awkward silence when a joke didn’t translate between cultures. We didn’t argue about politics or international problems (well, most of the time). While these cultural confusions and disagreements are usually pretty interesting and funny to me, it’s been great to get back to some temporary ”normalcy”.
I’m not sure why it started or the source of the problem, but I also find that I’m much more insecure in Korea than I am while traveling or at home. I constantly second guess my actions or what I’m saying in fear I won’t be understood but judged. Just not having any of these thoughts for the past two weeks has been the biggest weight lifted. I’ve been reminded of the person I am again, and especially the person I am when I’m completely comfortable.
Overall, it’s been a realization of how happy I can be when I’m happy in my surroundings. And while this isn’t a realization that I should move home, it’s a realization of the aspects I want my home to have (and also not have), no matter where that might be in the year to come. Most of these aspects aren’t even tangible, but feelings, which after all this time in Korea I’ve realized are the most important.
It is certain that if I never left California for Korea, I would never be evaluating (and appreciating) my home for the way it is. And that really is the best part of long term travel – appreciating the little differences between places.
Wanting to see the world is a blessing and a curse. We leave the places that may make us feel the most comfortable in search for the places to test and confuse us the most.
What have I gotten myself into…..
India, Nepal & Southeast Asia – the countdown is on!
If you want to read more about by reflections on my home and the idea of travel, you can check out this article I wrote, here.