Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Monday, July 13, 2015

reflections, man

Hidden little park near my home - Ulsan, Korea

One year. I made it! I've survived.

I say survived like being here for one year is something to endure, and not enjoy. As much of a challenge as it feels like sometimes, living in Korea has been exceptionally pain free. My quality of life is good in all major aspects. I have a job I enjoy, friends I love, a country that is exciting to explore, and enough money to make the most of all of it. I've done so much in my time here. I'll do my best to sum some of it up. SUM SOME. Ha!

Taxi rides with my baby

I've survived without Mexican food, my own car, easy access to organic goods, and some of my favorite extracurricular activities.

I've visited two countries, and have two more (at least) to knock off the list before this year is over.

I've become slightly more well versed in "extreme" sports and getting my adrenaline pumping in the form of scuba diving, rock climbing, zip-lining, ropes course, caving, and rafting. To be honest, the latter weren't all that extreme, unless we're talking Korean standards.

Namhae Island, Korea

I've opened up a whole new underwater world that's going to be, undoubtedly, my favorite and most expensive hobby for the entirety of my life. It's worth every penny. It's been months since I last dove and every time I see a picture of any underwater creature or look back at my experience in Thailand - this WAVE of nostalgia and longing crashes over me (pun entirely intended). I don't understand why I'm not always in the water, swimming with fishes in the calming and quiet depths of the sea. 
Samsung Lions baseball game - Daegu, Korea
Street performers, hypnotizing young girls with their fresh dance moves - Hongdae, Seoul

I've watched countless Korean dramas and listened to more than my fair share of K-pop. I've used these weapons to my advantage in the classroom, connecting with the kids on a level that excites them. Dramas also do this thing where they play the same three songs from the soundtrack, depending on the mood of the scene. Romantic scene? Cue romantic song. I've accumulated quite the list of Korean songs I can *almost* lip sync. Oh, and I've become more comfortable belting out love ballads in a Norebang (karaoke) room than I could have ever imagined.

I've learned enough functional Korean to allow me to order food, haggle, and express my excitement about the opening of a new tunnel to my taxi driver (who thankfully shared my joy). I, by no means, am anywhere near able to speak Korean. Throughout this next year, I'm sure my database of phrases will grow. Maybe I'll even be able to piece together cohesive sentences. I'm not going to get my hopes up too high.

That being said, I've learned how to communicate with a very limited vocabulary and quite a creative assortment of hand motions/facial expressions. I have a deep appreciation for western grocery stores and customer service, although I have learned to do without reading nutrition labels and returning items. I've learned how to adapt recipes using the ingredients I have on hand, and how to live without a proper oven.

I have gained weight and lost it and gained it again. I've struggled with body image a lot, not only in Korea. When I first arrived here, I was the healthiest and smallest I've ever been in my adult life. When I was home, it was easy to maintain. Unfortunately when I moved here it wasn't quite as easy settling into a diet and lifestyle that would have been effective in maintaining that version of myself. The excitement of new foods and effects of having a full time job and extracurriculars have taken a toll on my waistline. For a while I've had this, "OMG I need to lose weight before I visit Vegas. I need to look the same as when I left." Despite all the things hindering that goal (mainly my lack of desire to work out three times a day) I have done my best to foster a mindset that accepts myself as I am now - not worrying everyday about where I use to be and where I want to be. I've started living my life by making the best choices I can each day, and not beating myself up if I don't go to the gym. I feel much healthier and happier just by changing my mindset.

I've developed myself as a teacher, although not quite in the ways I was imagining. I've learned to roll with the punches and get kids to talk to me - and how to not be offended when they won't. I've figured out how to incorporate real lessons amongst boring book work. I've had a blast teaching my little students the different between "r" /"l" and "b"/"v". I still have to hold in my laughter when they just can't figure it out (despite my explicit, ridiculous examples of tongue/teeth placement).  Sometimes, especially with my younger students, I can feel my self becoming a bit agitated. I wasn't "taught" how to teach students I couldn't effectively communicate with. Let me tell you though, I am quickly learning. I raised my voice more than I ever, EVER imagined I would - mainly because sometimes that is the only way to get them to understand that I am upset. Thankfully my students are more accustomed to me at this point and I need nothing more than the "look of shame" to coerce them. There have been countless moments where I have been on the verge of losing my cool. All it takes is a breath or two, separating myself from the teacher perspective and settling into the observer role. Just watching them interact is enough to calm me down. Still, when I am feeling a bit out of control - I look at their cute little faces and innocent smiles and it's SO hard not to be happy. Even the most destructive ones have the ability to make me laugh when they are being unmanageable. Behavior management isn't one of my strong points. The line between teacher and friend will be endlessly blurred. 

I've learned more about English grammar than I thought was possible. I've discovered explanations for things I didn't even realize had one. Past Participle? Gerund? All new vocabulary to me. Psssh. I often have to warn my kids that most of the time, we are doing this whole "learning" thing together. Not only that, but I care more about grammar than I ever have before. Check my recent Google searches if you want proof.

I've experienced experience on top of experience, some of which can never be categorized or put into words. EXPERIENCE. My favorite word and ultimate goal in life. Sue me for saying it a thousand times; I would still think that being sued was a great learning experience. 

Pyeongchang County, Korea

It was two years ago that I was frolicking throughout Europe. Between my Timehop app and Dropbox account, I've had constant reminders of what mischief I was up to. It's weird looking back on those pictures and memories. I get this feeling. A weird combination of nostalgia and desire. I can remember what it felt like, living for a few weeks in a little Italian village or waking up spooning my backpack in a train station - but the specific and detailed hard copy memories have faded.

In a few years time, these moments I am living now will be reduced to not much more than a feeling. A feeling that categorizes my time spent in Korea. An association with a time that once was, triggered by a smell or a word or a song.

It's crazy, and almost humbling, to acknowledge this fact. I will constantly be replacing what once was with what is now. Shuffling through old memories for more current ones.

Eoreumchi Village - Pyeongchang County, Korea

Everything I do won't always be fresh in my mind. I can take thousands of pictures and write until my fingers are tired, the memories will still dwindle. Regardless, all the things I've done can never be undone. They will never become less meaningful. They will never stop having an impact on me, even after they've been forgotten.

Throughout my life there will be small, nanoseconds of recognition of the moments that had previously been lost in the jumble of my mind.  It's almost like a little gift that my brain is giving me. "Hey Ellie, you haven't thought about x, y, and z in years. Here's a little reminder."

To me, this is why it is SO important to be continuously be present. Not only is it increasingly difficult to be consumed with what has happened in the past and what you want to happen in the future; it takes away from what is happening now. Appreciate this moment for what it is RIGHT NOW. This is the only chance you have to feel it. Take it all in. Don't worry so much about recording it. Don't worry about the video footage or potential Instagram post. Focus on the smells and the sounds and how hard your heart is beating. Listen to the people who are speaking. Let the taste of the food sit on your tongue a little longer. Acknowledge your anxiety and how relieving it is to finally take your seat on the train or check into your hostel. Look around. Slow down. Live each moment wholeheartedly, because it will never be the same. You will never be able to do it justice through pictures, storytelling, or video compilation. Take as much as you can from the moment and let it become apart of you. That is your best chance at preservation. Expect less and experience more. EXPERIENCE.

Namehae Island crew, round 1

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