I'm not sure why I've been thinking about Korea lately, maybe because I've been reading blogs from friends, and talking to my Seoul sisters, the girls I went through Korea with- Rita, Gina, Sam, Jaclyn, Stephanie, this one's for you. Because "going through" is the correct term to use when talking about Korea. It was challenging to say the least, and I'm not sure why Korea was so difficult. Part of it is the abrasive parts of the culture I wasn't prepared for, and part of it was just myself, being young, innocent and unprepared.
Reading through some early entries I wrote on this blog, I realize just how frivolous and naive I once was, and how much the prissy girl that left Montreal was just not aware of what was awaiting her- and returned home completely changed. Many people ask me why I chose Korea. I don't know, really. I had a deep attraction to Asia from seeing Chungking Express back at McGill, and when my boyfriend at the time mentioned going to work there, I unmindfully followed him, seeking an adventure abroad.
I spent a better part of my year in Korea absolutely hating it, and counting down the days to my return. I daydreamed every single day about my white Montreal apartment, cupcakes, bagels, my friends, my mom's cooking, summer in the city. I had a strong aversion to Korean cuisine, hating the overwhelming spiciness, growing tired of kimchi on a daily basis. Pushy ajummas and drunken ajosshis would make me break down into tears regularly. Living and working with my (then) boyfriend proved to be a real feat, although I'm thankful he was there all along.
I tried to find beauty in Korea, and slowly I surely did. I made an effort to hop on the subway every weekend, searching for neighborhoods that would make me feel good, and I did- the traditional streets of Insadong, the shopping madness of Myeong-dong, swanky Apkujeong and Cheong-dam, Sinsa, and surprisingly nice cafes and museums in Itaewon. I also met a handful of friends (through my blog and the infamous Dave's ESL) without whom I wouldn't have survived Korea. By the end of that year, I knew Seoul like the back of my hand, my Korean friends even saying I knew it better than them. I also grew to love most dishes, eating kimchi and tuna gimbap for breakfast, and enjoying those lazy evenings cooking samgyupsal, washed down with copious amounts of soju. When time came to leave, I wasn't ready.
I returned to Montreal that winter (worst time to go back to Canada, never making that mistake again), back to my white apartment, cupcake shops and group of friends, realizing that everything had changed. No, rather, I had changed and just couldn't deal with living there. I was so homesick for Korea, in the same way I had been homesick for Montreal. It made my heart hurt to think about Seoul and all the memories I had left behind, and I mostly missed living abroad- I think it all comes down to that. To being a foreigner, an expat in a far away land, learning a new culture, every supermarket trip being an adventure. I had so many regrets about Korea: I regretted being so whiny and homesick, regretted not going out as much as I should, not learning the language, not soaking it all in instead of trying to make it like Montreal. Regrets, regrets, my biggest fear in life.
So after merely six months in my home country, I packed my bags again and left, this time on my own, for Japan. More prepared, more independent, looking for another adventure. I never tried to turn Japan into something I wanted it to be, I just accepted it the way it was, dug deeply into the culture, tried to understand cultural differences instead of shunning them, studying the language and partaking into the all-night drinking binges that are sometimes necessary to survive abroad. Somehow it turned into real life, and Japan is my home (away from home). No regrets this time.
I never went back to Korea since I left that February afternoon in 2009. Sometimes I think unconsciously it's too difficult to go back, too many memories, and firmly closing that door on that part of my life, and on that person I shared that experience with. I really want to go back, I've been itching to lately. I want to set foot on the land of the morning calm (which is everything but), walk those streets again knowing things are different this time around, and make peace with that huge part of my life I seldom talk about in Japan.