July 28, 2012 8 Comments
My ability to worry is epic. For this reason, I only managed to get about 30 minutes sleep last night. My mind was racing like a hamster on a wheel so, around 6:00am, I just let go of the frustration (I haven’t slept a full night in over a week) and got up. The bathroom and kitchen got cleaned, the sweeping (I was dreading that) done, the documents sorted and last of the packing finished. Insomnia and anxiety won the battle but I won the war by actually dealing with some of the the stuff making me nervous.
Sitting in my emptied out apartment at 7:39am, it seemed as good a time as any to start to write about what I’ve learned this year in Korea. I started jotting these thoughts down months ago but I knew I wanted to wait until the end of my time here to share this. That time is now. Tomorrow I get on a plane and travel backwards through time so that I land in Canada on the same day that I leave Korea. I’m excited to see family and friends, glad to be finished with the job I had this year…and almost as anxious as I was when I came to this country.
Keep My Mind on the Prize, But My Eyes on My Feet
I’m anxious for all kinds of reasons. I want to come back to Korea and there are no guarantees that it will happen. There’s all the visa paperwork to do again and even though I know what I’m doing, somehow it’s still nerve wracking to even think about. There are loose ends here in Korea to keep on top of from the standpoint of no longer having legal status in this country. There’s a whole new job to find with the hopes that it will be one that I enjoy a lot more than the one I had this year. I have a much better sense of what questions to ask and what to watch out for, but there’s never a foolproof system, and then there’s issue of getting the location and pay that I want. There are some complicated travel plans that need to be worked out for while I’m in Canada and budgetary constraints to keep in mind when making those plans. And there’s a budding relationship that I’d like to pursue which requires me to be on this side of the world without too much delay.
It might be safe to say that the one thing I did not learn in Korea is how to stop sweating the small stuff. But I have learned that it’s the baby steps that get you through everything. The tiny movements towards a goal, rather than the giant leaps and bounds, are usually the stuff of dream-making. Getting to Korea was really a series of very small steps and getting back here will be much the same. Cleaning up my bathroom and kitchen this morning–essentially cleaning up my space so that I could think straight (I’m one of those people)–those are tiny steps towards getting me to where I want to be. I need to keep the prize in mind, but my eyes on the baby steps in front of me.
Slow and Steady, Baby, Slow and Steady
On the topic of baby steps, they also happen to work well with major changes to my habits. I did not exercise before I came here. Period. Now I do. I don’t do it everyday and I probably don’t look like someone who exercises regularly, but I am. It took a lot of really small baby steps to get there. There were days when it was all I could do to go out for a 15-minute walk, but as of a month ago I was walking nearly 10km in about 90 minutes. That was a huge leap forward for me, but it happened in very small steps. The cool thing about it was that the shift from entirely sedentary to exercising wasn’t immensely painful because I didn’t try to do it all at once.
I was listening to a podcast recently where this guy said it really never pays to make massive changes all at once. They generally lead to no change in the long haul; in fact you should always make the smallest changes possible at any time because that gradual change will stick. Go figure!
It got me thinking about small changes in terms of a lot of things–weight, exercise, money management. I have generally felt like a failure because I didn’t save any money this year. But I serviced my debt and this year I did change one habit–I barely used my credit card at all apart from emergencies. That was a big change for me from the last few years. So maybe in a couple years I might turn into a saving master of sorts. But to expect my behaviour to change 180 degrees after YEARS of retail therapy probably wasn’t reasonable.
We’re trained to believe that change always has to be dramatic and difficult rather than slow and steady and frankly, kinda easy. It’s far less impressive to save money or to lose weight over years, but it’s a lot more reasonable and likely successful. While there are probably times when dramatic change is the order of the day, I think that’s probably 10% of the time and not the 90% that we all think it is.
They weren’t lying; slow and steady really does win the race.
People! People! People!
Another thing I learned, or perhaps re-learned, is that it’s the people that make the place. Korea is a fascinating, quirky and fiercely proud country and it’s been incredibly interesting to start to get a taste for what it’s all about, but it’s the people I’ve met here who have made it what it is to me. Tonight I said good-bye to a co-worker who really helped to keep me sane this past year and that’s when it really hit me that I’m leaving. Realizing it was the last time we would stand at that corner where we part ways every night on the walk home from work, I started to choke up and knew *this* was the hard part. Not making sure the school doesn’t screw me on pay, not getting the apartment cleaned, not dealing with the myriad details of moving countries again, but leaving the people who have made this year special. She’s leaving Korea for good so she won’t be here if/when I come back and for that reason, Korea will be just a little bit poorer for me. It’s never about location, location, location but always about the people, people, people.
There are other things I’ve learned this year–to think more highly of myself, that anonymity is a precious thing, to ask for what I need without guilt, that it is possible to live and function in a place where you don’t speak the language, but that it is far better to speak the language, that trying and failing is always better than inertia, that for all the ways that Korea frustrates me, this place has carved out for itself a special place in my heart.
A few weeks ago, when I was just relieved to have my plane ticket taken care of and the end of my job in sight, I was really already gone in my head and my heart. But unlike the sad strains of the song, I was happy to go. Now, with all the details taken care of, every last moment is precious. After spending a day wandering around this neighbourhood that is so familiar to me, I realized that I don’t want to be gone long.
And to you the readers, thank you for taking this journey with me. Your comments, encouragement and feedback have been so very appreciated. I have grown and learned so much this past year and you have been part of that process. You’re the best. I heart you.