Monday, February 25, 2013

Leaving Korea Behind

My last day in Korea has come to pass. As I sit writing this, I'm currently suspended in air "on a big jet plane," (see: Phoenix/ Angus and Julia Stone) destination: Bangkok. In less time than imaginable I will be trekking around Thailand for five weeks on yet another personal adventure. This morning I awoke feeling a bit frazzled, definitely anxious, and  although I hate to admit it... just a tad fearful. It seems fairly plausible for a girl of my age who is about to embark on a journey of this stature alone. However now that I'm S.E.A. bound all I really feel is excitement... and also, I'm hungry.

My last two days in Korea were pretty full of ups and downs. When I say ups and downs, I mean, bordering bipolar disorder. In the past 48 hours I have cried, laughed like a hyena, stared blankly at an empty room while showing no emotion, bounced off the walls with an energy that would be  impressive even for a sugar crazed five year old,  crashed like a drunken zombie, had a broken heart, had an elated heart, and felt contentment, fear, excitement and everything in between. WHAT A ROLLER COASTER. I always did like rides.

Thursday seemed to be the day when the finality of everything seemed to really sink in, making it my hardest day. The day before I had said my goodbyes to my dear friend and coworker, Eunhee. That in itself was hard enough. Saying goodbye to my co teacher, Ga Jiyoung, on Thursday proved to be harder for me than I had expected. During an ice cream date and  just before parting ways, Jiyoung placed a generous amount of "pocket money," into my account to help me with the costs of my last two days and the beginning of my trip. Ga Jiyoung has been there for me since day one. We taught together everyday and  confided in one another. She was the person who helped me get my life situated in Korea. Whatever it was I needed, she has always been there to help. She calls herself my Korean mother. I couldn't keep from crying as  we parted ways, knowing that the next time we will meet is very unsure. I got into the elevator with tears in my eyes which turned into a full on sob once the doors were closed. I drug my feet back to my room, plopped onto my bed and just let the tears flow. I wanted to call home but I knew that due to the time difference I would wake someone so instead, I picked up the phone and dialed Aileen. Two missed calls and a returned call later, I answered the phone with a voice disguised by tears and heavy breathing, "I just can't do this, Aileen! There are too many goodbyes.. I just.. I don't know what to do!" Aileen is an angel and that's all you need to know about her. By the end of our phone call I had laughed and had begun feeling better. Two hours later, I met her and all the other girls for our last dinner together.

On Friday morning I awoke knowing that it would be my last day in Korea and my last night with my best friends. I laid in bed for about an hour before getting up to take care of the last of things. I packed up the rest of my clothing and  other items into two boxes, cleaned the apartment and washed all the bedding, and before I knew it, it was time to leave. I turned on my headphones, sat down on my desk, and had a moment to myself. As I sat there, I eyed my apartment carefully, retracing each memory in my mind. I shed a tear or two, grabbed my boxes and my backpack, said goodbye, closed the door, and  left it behind.

After I shipped the last of my boxes home, I was standing at a cross walk; backpack strapped into place, waiting for the green man to guide me across, when a small old lady approached me. She began looking at my face fiercely and thought, to myself, "oh, here we go." I smiled in acknowledgment and just then she grabbed  my arm and began to tell me how beautiful I was in Korean. Her smile was the essence of sincere kindness and she spoke with such excitement. She continued speaking to me in Korean and with the small amount that I know, I was able to distinguish what she was asking and responded accordingly. She told me I was beautiful, asked where I was from, asked if I had a boyfriend, and if I was leaving Korea. As the green man appeared, we moved forward, crossing that street for what would be my last time. I had thought I was alone again until I felt a pull on my sleeve. As I turned toward her she reached out to give me an orange. I shook my head, "Ohhh.. anniyo! Genchiniyo! (Ohh no... I'm okay!)" She continued to urge it towards me so naturally I graciously accepted. As we both stood waiting for the bus, she continued to look at me and smile before finally letting out a another, " Ohhh yaepudda! Sarang hae yo!" (Ohh beautiful! I love you!) I smiled and blushed some more, thanking her, just as  my bus approached. She looked at me and then to the bus pointing and I nodded as to confirm that, yes, I was  leaving. She waved me off with a warm smile, two flailing palms and a "bye-bye!" I got onto the bus with a silent grin, thinking to myself, "Korea, you've gone and done it again." I rode the bus to my next destination smiling all the way. Sometimes the universe speaks to us in special ways and some times the timing it just right.

My last day in Korea seemed to continue in this way. I found myself really appreciating everything around  me.  One last short trip to my school left me feeling pleased and appreciative. Across the street I waited for my train to take me away from Wolgye (it was late as always but on this day instead of becoming perturbed I felt myself grinning about it). As I waited, I stared across the way  at Yeon Ji Cho. The sun was falling on it so nicely,as if it was being silently glorified, in the way I have glorified it all year. All I could do was smile, and instead of being sad, I was happy that it will always hold a piece of me.

I spent my last night in the airport jimjilbang with Kimberly and Aileen and it was perfect. In the morning Kim Jiyoung and Semi also showed up to see me off. I felt like such a lucky girl to have four friends with me at the airport. The hugs and goodbyes were hard, as expected, and  tears were shed, as expected. Just before I passed through the gates to security I heard four beautiful girls yell together, "We love you Rachel!" At that moment I couldn't help but cry, both for the goodbyes and for the love I have found in these people in Korea. I looked back with tears in my eyes and waved. With that, I stepped through the gates and disappeared out of sight. And so began the next adventure in the story of my life.

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