May 8, 2014

nostalgia is a four letter word

I've been weepy recently. I know, what else is new, right? My thoughts have been drifting towards Korea a lot. First it was the absolutely horrific ferry accident that rocked the country several weeks ago. Then I was distracted by the pictures from those who are living the life I lived over there for more than eleven months. Some I know, some I've never met. But I feel a connection to them. We've walked the same streets, taught the same children, lived in the same apartments, yet the people over there (with the exception of several) have no idea who I am, though I feel as though they are kindred spirits.
I'm slightly jealous of them. They're doing the things I did and falling in love with a place that I'm in love with. Their present is my past, but that means nothing to them. It's hard to not look at that experience through rose colored glasses. Sometimes I wish I could just teleport myself back to soak up some of those experiences again. The truth is that if I were to magically arrive there, it would be entirely different. There would be no Cameron & Lisa, no Kait & Doug, no Thomas & Bethany, no Seo Kyung Hwa, and no Shim Hyun Seok. My life over there wouldn't really exist like it did in 2011 and 2012. The people that made that place home aren't there anymore, they're back in America. 

Sometimes my mind drifts back to that place and those people, our experiences that are so precious simply because we shared them. I think of how terrified I was when I went to LAX, knowing full well that I was saying goodbye to my family for a while. There was no "see you soon," it was "see you in a year." I remember hugging my dad out at the car. He couldn't come in to the airport with us. He said it's so we wouldn't have to park the car and he could just drive it around, but I think it's because he is emotional and he knows he would have shown it. I think of hugging my mom and sisters that one last time before leaving to go through security. I remember being in line, turning around to get one last look and seeing my mom waving frantically, with tears rolling down her face. I quickly turned around before all of my courage left me. I wanted to be strong and brave, but really, I felt like a little girl going on an adventure far too big. 
I remember spending my first weekend holed up in my teeny, tiny room. I ate McDonalds and watched endless hours of Friday Night Lights. We all cope in our own way. I then remember meeting Cameron and Lisa. They invited me to go to Costco with them and showed me where the best place was to do laundry. I was grateful to be included in something. We instantly connected over shared taste in books, music, and television shows. We swapped quotes from The Office. Life started to feel normal right around that moment. I felt slightly settled. It's funny how a little bit of comfort can go a long way when you're so far from anything you know. They introduced me to Doug & Kait. We formed a little family. It was the five of us. There were others, of course, that we would spend time with, but at the end of the day- they were the ones who I spent most of my time with. 
I think of the weather changing and how when it became cooler, my heart followed suit. I experienced the second wave of homesickness that I thought I'd be immune from. Thanksgiving was hard. I tried my hardest to be thankful, but in reality, I just wanted to be back at home. Slowly but surely, I began to feel okay again. It took a while. I remember a lot of tears. I remember feeling guilty that I wasn't thankful for the experience. I remember walking home from Seo Kyung Hwa's apartment after she had brought me home from school and I made myself vocalize my thanks the entire way home. Some of them were big and important thanks and others were small, like my thankfulness for endless colors of nail polish that were less than a dollar at Etude House which was conveniently located just steps from my apartment.
I remember when Thomas and Bethany arrived. We connected over coffee and board games at the coffee shop by our homes. They were such a seamless addition to our little family. Sometimes I think about the nights we spent at Baby Bar. None of us actually know what it was named, but we called it Baby Bar because there were weird baby dolls all over it. We loved that place though and I spent far too much money on their large glasses of house wine that turned out to be Carlo Rossi. They served this weird little crackers and whipped cream. It sounds like an odd combination, and it definitely was, but we ate it up because that's just what we did. 
One of the things I yearn for most when I think about that experience is the simplicity of it all. I walked to and from the school I worked at. I didn't know my students names but that was okay because they wanted me to call them things like "Mario" and "Harry Potter" instead. I ate simply and enjoyed my routine of running after work or walking to the gym on the street corner where a Korean friend helped me negotiate a membership. I would always see Shim Hyun Seok there. He was a blessing. He worked at the same school as I did and managed to always end up in my office at the end of the day to chat or watch silly Youtube videos. We still keep in touch, but it's not the same. I miss those moments we spent together. 
I was so ready to leave Korea that sometimes I think I didn't fully grasp how wonderful it was until I had been back in the states several months. I know that I romanticize things, so it should be noted that not all of my experiences in Korea were lovely. Some were hard, some were very trying, and others were down right discouraging. I was ready to come back and now I have a job that I could have only dreamed of having, but sometimes I think to myself what life would look like if I went back. It wouldn't be the same, it wouldn't be nearly as wonderful. I think we got lucky when we discovered each other over in that city halfway around the world. I can't fathom having those experiences with anyone else. 
I sometimes fear that I'm doing the same thing to my job now that I did to my time in Korea. I'm not soaking it up and being entirely present. I have this problem of getting too concerned with what's next. I have trouble setting down my anchor and letting myself just be. I'm fearful of looking back on this time, this truly wonderful time and realizing I didn't savor it enough. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it can be a real beezy. Maybe I'm just overcome with sappiness because I'm getting ready to say goodbye to the girls that I've spent the last nine months with. Whatever the reason, it's interesting to think that so much of my hear resides over the ocean, without a home. I reallythink when you exist for so long in one place, there's a part of you that will always remain there. 


  1. What a magical time you had there Jess! Love the stories with your little family, and all the funny names you had for different places. Praying that you can live in the moment and focus on the blessings that God has put in your life right now. It's hard to just be, isn't it?

    1. Thank you for that sweet prayer. I think I need to be reminded (and probably often) that each phase of life we're in is such a beautiful blessing and should be soaked up. Hope you're well!


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