So it has been 8 months since I’ve been in Korea and it has been quite the mental journey. When I look at my calendar and see only four months left, I can’t help but get excited. In four months I get to see my nephew again, whose second birthday I missed. I get to see my parents again, who are getting older. I get to see my brother and sister again. As someone who has always had a close familial relationship, moving out of the country really was a big deal for me even if I tried not to show it. But this was an experience I truly wanted to happen in my life and I am surviving it. No matter how hard it’s been, I’m surviving it!
I have learned quite a bit working in Korea. While most people come to the country for vacations, I am someone that gets to see what work life in Korea is actually like; how the school system is in Korea; what younger Koreans are into socially, musically; and what rural life is like for both adults and young people. I get to experience “the Korean way” and anything and everything that entails. It’s something that I will be sure to take back with me and remember for many years to come.
It’s been 8 months but I still get stared at by just about everyone I come into proximity with, despite them having seen me multiple times. There are times that I will even catch my students staring at me. Not doing the class work I’ve given them. Not talking to their friends. Just….staring. And it’s the strangest thing to have to experience.
I’ve had people gasp at me when they see me, obnoxiously scream hello at me from across a street. I’ve had two young children run when they saw me and a woman try to get her friend to stop talking just so she can blatantly tell her to look at me as I pass them. And nothing beats the people slowing down in their cars as they pass me with their faces pressed against the window. Countless times I have also walked past a group of people where they will completely stop talking and just stare at me as I walk by, turning full body to watch me. I understand the curiosity. But it’s freakin annoying. Rural living is not my forte.
I have pretty much turned my apartment into a little oasis. I’m safe there. I can speak English there. Video chats with my family happen there. I don’t have to be a representative for all black people in the world there. No one can stare and point at me there. I am a human there.
Have I spent weekends hiding out in my apartment? Yes. Because there are days where I just don’t have the mental capacity to put up with being made into a foreign spectacle. But there are other days I can go out in town and have wonderful interactions with the lady that works at the grocery store or the lady that owns a little kimbap shop around the corner. I’ve had positive interactions with the lady that always smiles brightly when I walk in her café, and there have been some young kids who haven’t been afraid of me and actually smile and wave excitedly. Those are the moments that make me feel like things aren’t so bad here after all.
But as the days tick away and my contract comes closer and closer to its end, my excitement grows that I get to return to see my family again. That I get to return to my home and know that it’s the place I am supposed to be.