Reflections: Two Years in Korea

Today is the first day of 2018! Time flies, as they say. This past month, as I’ve finished my last full month of teaching for the school year, I’ve been reflecting on all of my time here.  Two years ago I arrived in this small town in rural South Korea, knowing next to nothing. I was nervous out of my mind and filled with self-doubt. I couldn’t stop thinking…how is it possible that they hired ME to teach a bunch of middle school and elementary school kids who speak a different language than me?

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From the moment I stepped into my first classroom, nothing was what I was told it was going to be. Nothing could have been farther from what I had imagined it was going to be. Before I moved here I thought I would be teaching cute little elementary students every day and working at the same school at least most days of the week. None of these things were true. I taught at five different schools, one different school each day. Middle school was especially a challenge for me as I hadn’t expected to be teaching that age group at all and I just do much better with younger students in general.

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For my first three months, I barely slept at all. My coffee addiction jumped off the charts. From finding the right buses to get me into the countryside at the right time to planning twenty unique lessons a week to trying to understand the social norms of a new culture and society and the stress that comes with starting a new job in general…I was a mess, to say the least.

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Despite all of the madness, I ended up staying a second year.  This was partially due to all the work I had put into my first year–planning lessons and figuring out life here, and partially due to the fact that I actually started to (gasp) LIKE it here.

My friends here like to joke “If we can make it in this job, we can literally do ANYTHING.” And I really do feel like I can do anything now. Everyone’s job in Korea is different due to different school settings and different coworkers, but generally we all share the “WHAT IS HAPPENING” feeling at the end of the day. To my friends here…we made it through the year. Congratulations, you’re amazing.

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Last year, I made some New Year’s resolutions on this blog, so I thought I’d revisit them to check in with myself, and see if it’s even worth making new ones this year (haha).


  1. Hike 3 Korean mountains.

  2. Intensify my Korean language studying. Finish through TTMIK Level 3.
  3. Yoga Revolution! And a continued exploration of yoga throughout the year.
  4. Visit 3 new countries. (I’ll start with Hong Kong in January!)
  5. Blog once a month, rather than sporadically as I have been.
  6. Stick to my new budget and pay off my last student loan.
  7. Choose to be happy and light in the everyday madness.

Well! It wasn’t so painful after all. I hiked, I studied Korean although I took an online class rather than continuing my self-study (I plan to continue that once I get back to the US and have a lot of time on my hands). Yoga! Always saving my life, one breath, one asana at a time. I visited Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan this year as well as (kind of) North Korea on the DMZ tour. Does that count? I DID pass the border underground. As far as my student loan goes, it’s not quite finished but will be in February(!)

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I can’t say I chose to be happy and light EVERY day, because, you know…I’m human. But I felt a definite weight lifted this year…a weight of caring too much what people think and worrying about small things. I feel a lot more in tune with what I need for myself and open to the continued search for all things true and light in the universe. In that sense, life has been lighter.

2018 should be an exciting year. I will visit northern Vietnam in January, finish up my contract in Korea in February, and travel around China and Japan in March and April before heading back to the USA.

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In the US, first I’ll visit my mom in Colorado, head to Minnesota to see the majority of my family members and then head to the west coast to visit friends and my little sister, who is having a BABY! That’s right. I’m an auntie now. I have no words for how exciting this is. After that, who knows! I predict more exploration of myself and the world around me and even more freedom as I finally move about the world debt free! (Wooo!)

If you have read this far, thank you for following along on my journey. Thanks for being a part of my life, or if we don’t know each other, thanks for existing and fulfilling your beautiful part of the fabric of the world. Here’s to the new year, lovely people!

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three years ago today

You know how Facebook has those reminders? “On this day in ‘x’  year…” Today Facebook reminded me I was in Amsterdam three years ago.

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Well, three years ago, I was a mess. My life had fallen apart and I didn’t know what to do with myself.  I had lost all sense of who I was. Or maybe I realized I had never really known who I was.

So I quit my job and got on a plane. I wandered around six European countries for almost two months trying to find myself… or at least survive the winter in lovely places.

“On this day in 2014” I was cold, so I went into a small cafe and ordered an espresso and a scone. Two men were running the cafe, and there were no other customers. They asked me where I was from and told me they were from Turkey. With my espresso and pastry in front of me, a giant window to my right side and two men rambling about whatever was on television in Turkish to my left, I took out my notebook and began to write.

I wrote it all. All of my regrets and fears and hopes. I wrote down the truths I had lied to myself about, finally being honest.  And before I knew what was happening, I was sobbing uncontrollably in that little cafe with the two Turkish men and the news on TV and the beautiful view of a canal through the window. I was embarrassed, but there was nothing I could do. The floodgates had burst open from within me.

The men quietly slipped to the back room, turning the volume down on the television. They could have rolled their eyes and carried on, or they could have turned up the volume. Instead, they gave me a minute alone (a rare thing traveling around from hostel to hostel).  After I recollected myself, one of the men reappeared with a second espresso. “Here,” he said with a small sympathetic smile before disappearing into the back room again. I tried to protest, but he was already gone.

The kindness of strangers, for real.

My memories of Amsterdam in general are nice, but faded. But I can vividly remember this particular hour. I remember the realization of loss, the deep sense of regret and the sensation of my self returning to my physical body, ready to feel the painful things.

I didn’t return home a totally changed woman. I had a lot of things to let go of before I could really start to be free. The process of unlearning all of the things I thought I knew took months…years…honestly, I am still unlearning and relearning every day.

Three Decembers later, I needed the reminder of how far I’ve come. I needed to look at myself through the eyes of the Amanda in that cafe in Amsterdam that day.

If you feel like your wheels are spinning too, look back. And then look forward at yourself through the lens of the person you were back then.

I think you’ll be surprised. I think you’ll find that you’re doing just fine.

x

 

 

updates and reflections from the great plains

fargo, the city I know so well.  the city of dreams… dreams of summertime in the midst of long winters, that is.  dreams of mountains and oceans, dreams of air that doesn’t hurt to breathe.  the weather’s getting a little warmer around here and people are stripping off their winter parkas, feeling slightly uncomfortable in their relative nakedness.

my new little apartment is just my size.  it feels a bit naked as well, with its lack of furniture and other people.  i like to think of the emptiness in terms of extra room for yoga and late night (or early morning) solo dance sessions.  my cat makes it feel like home though, and i am eternally grateful for her incredible listening skills.

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my new job also has cats, and one of them sits on my lap sometimes.  i can look out big windows at trees and my coworkers are beautiful and there is a limitless supply of coffee so i’m quite happy there.

i’ve now finished a class to become tefl certified (teaching english as a foreign language) so as soon as i turn my final papers in, i will be qualified to teach english overseas, which i hope to do next year.

today I was daydreaming a bit…remembering my first day in belgium on my most recent trip.  being so tired and out of it, it didn’t register how ridiculous it all was.  want to hear a story?

I was up late in dublin with my couchsurfing hosts and several of their friends.  we went out to a bar and had a few hot ciders and mulled wines and laughed and I listened to their beautiful french speech and talked to a new spanish friend about writing and cats.  as we walked home that night, my two lovely couchsurfing host ladies and I found a stray cat wandering the streets of dublin.  we spent about an hour earning its trust and eventually coaxed the poor lost kitty back to the apartment with us.

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three hours later, i was in a cab on my way to the dublin airport.  the sun shone through the windows brightly during my descent to brussels, and needless to say I was exhausted and totally unprepared to enter a new country.  but, i entered a new country….right into a total public transportation strike.  now, if you know me, you know I travel on a budget.  I did not have a taxi budget, and although there was room in my funds for emergencies, a taxi into brussels city center would have costed me about €50…that’s something like $75.  when your budget is 50 USD per day, you fret about that kind of cab fare.

staring out at the emptiness in the underground area of the airport where the trains usually run, i looked up at the dingy ceiling and whispered a little “help” to God.  “help,” I said, and a young belgian gentleman suddenly appeared at my side.  “you know the trains aren’t running, right?”  he said to me.  i nodded sheepishly, “I thought I would come down and check, just in case.”  “yeah, me too.  i’m from here.  i’ve never done anything but take the train.”

“are you headed to the city center?”  he asked.  i nodded again.  “want to share a cab?”  he asked.

now, before i left home, i made no promises to anyone except one:  the promise to my father to not share a cab with anyone.  too many sequels of “taken” had come out for him to not give me this sound advice.  so, dad, this is a disclaimer for you: please forgive me.  but know that my intuition is strong and my general rule in life is TRUST NO ONE.

so, i followed this man to the taxi line, where we were going to pay our €25ish each to get to the city center.  he suggested we try to catch an uber taxi instead.  i seemed to be doing a lot of shrugging and nodding that day, and this i did again as we climbed over the fence together and headed upstairs.  we wandered around trying to find the one that showed up on his phone, finally found it, and met the man who would be our taxi driver.  the taxi driver only spoke french, and in this moment i had to turn on my body language reading skills to understand their conversation and see if this was still a wise decision or not.  i could tell the driver’s french was broken, and the two men did not know each other.  being unfamiliar with uber prior to this, i wasn’t expecting an unmarked minivan…but i noticed the driver’s uber keychain as well as his kind and gentle demeanor.  i sensed that he was new to belgium and that he had young children.  i could sense his fatherliness and compassion for humanity in general.

so i handed him my torn and crinkled piece of paper with the address to my hostel and hopped in the minivan.  we first dropped off my cab-mate who wished me good luck in my travels and explained to me in english that we were not far from my hostel.  after he shut the door, the driver, who had shown no sign of speaking any english, asked with some embarrassment, “can i try english with you? sometimes i am afraid of english.”

i laughed and told him his english sounded good, and he let go of a little fear.  he told me how he had always wanted to visit the united states, because he had family in california.  he told me about his children and about how he drove the uber taxi as a second job because he wanted his wife and children to have nice things.  he thanked me for letting him practice his english and proceeded to drop me off at my hostel, where he told me my first uber ride was free and gave me coupons for more free uber rides. thanks for the help, God.

collapsing onto my hostel bed, i thought i was going to avoid any socialization and instead sleep for a whole day and a half.  that was before i met my sole hostel-mate.  she entered the room smelling like vodka and carried an air of the belief that she used to be lovely when she was young.  she ignored me at first.  an hour or two later, we began a conversation that would last deep into the night.

she was a french speaking woman, homeless, and full of regret.  she carried photos of her young daughter who was doing well in school and was being raised by another family.  a few hours later we were both sitting on the floor telling each other our stories; she was drunk on vodka, i was drunk on lack of sleep.  we exchanged bits and pieces of our lives with each other in english and spanish.  “i used to be young and beautiful, like you,” she reminisced.  “i never thought this is what i would become.  please do not become like me.”

“there is still hope for you,” i said.
“that’s what i believed when i was your age,” she replied.

a pain in her back had persisted for years.  she said she had seen many doctors who rejected her because she was a crazy homeless woman who had no money to pay.  the only reason she was able to stay in the hostel with me, she said, was because the homeless shelter had paid for it after she had broken a glass over a man’s head when she had had enough of his sexual advances towards her.  “what i want more than anything is for my daughter to love me again and for this pain in my back to be gone.”

now, my spiritual journey at this time was one of pure confusion and aimless wandering.  what compelled me to ask her if i could pray for her, i am not sure.  i hadn’t prayed in my own head for a long time, and to hear myself talk to God out loud felt foreign on my lips but it also felt like the right time for a prayer.  i put my hand on her back and prayed.  we cried together that night–she cried because no one had touched her in love for years; i cried because my dry soul felt the water of communication with the divine once again.  “i used to know God,” she said between swigs of vodka.  “i used to know that he loved me.”

we cried together that night–two women whose souls hurt for very different reasons, two women brought together and connected by humanity.  two women who would then go to sleep, and wake up to say a short goodbye and never see each other again.

and that….

was my first day in belgium.

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