It is no secret that these past seven months in Korea have been some of the most challenging I have had. As the holidays approach my homesickness is amplified, making it all the more difficult to be here and not at home with my family. However, the holidays also offer a unique opportunity to reflect on the good things in my life, both near and far.
With that in mind, this week I introduced some of my students to Thanksgiving, a few holiday traditions, and the concept of being thankful. Brainstorming with my 3rd and 4th grade students, we came up with a (non-comprehensive) list, in no particular order of things we are thankful for: chocolate, chicken, candy, moms, dads, marshmallows, TV, grandparents.
This exercise left me mulling over that same question on a more personal level. Of course I too am thankful for chocolate and family (although marshmallows probably would not make my top 100 list), but, particularly in these most challenging and lonely times, what are the things that I am especially grateful for? What am I thankful for right here, right now, despite the circumstances? What reliably influences my life positively here in Korea? In the spirit of giving thanks and counting blessings, I took this week to reflect on these questions and came up with a brief list of my own.
As a whole, the lunch ladies across all of my schools are some of the nicest Korean women I have encountered. In a culture where old people can basically do whatever they want—cut you in line, physically push you out of their way—I value these kind older ladies. At one school, they will pick me up and give me a ride if they see me walking to school; at another, one takes the same bus as I do and uses her translator app to chat with me.
These women speak little to no English, and yet they go out of their way to help me out more than many of the more English-adept teachers. They also prepare lunch, and Korean school lunches are pretty delicious, always consisting of rice, soup, kimchi, a fruit or vegetable dish, and protein. Oh, and don’t think I don’t notice when my lunch lady friends dish me out extra large servings; they hook me up.
Ondol floor heating
Ondol is the traditional style of heating homes in Korea. It heats the room from below, making the floor delightfully warm underfoot as temperatures start to regularly fall below 30*F. While my schools are heated by radiators and wall heaters, my apartment (where it really matters) has ondol—and I am all about it. As a girl who loves to be cozy living in an apartment that is decidedly not, when I combine the ondol, a few candles, some Peaceful Piano, and a good book… I can pretend.
Han’s Climbing Gym
Joey and I have found the closest thing to a community here at the climbing gym in the large city between us. Although it is far enough from me that I can only make it there on the weekends—they playfully call Joey and I a “weekend couple”—it is one of the few places here where I feel like I can really be myself. The people at Han’s Climbing Gym are friendly, supportive, and inclusive, inviting us to partake in birthday parties and chicken parties and even climb outside (or in competitions, if you’re Joey).
Friendships that outlast distance
Currently, some of my closest friends live in Washington, California, Colorado, and Wisconsin. These friendships have survived multiple moves and time abroad on all of our parts. If I was in Oregon now, we would be closer in distance, but still not together. FaceTime and texting have kept me connected to the lives of my friends, but that would not be possible if the relationships were not strong enough to begin with. This goes for relationships with family and friends in Oregon as well; I appreciate you people who keep me feeling like myself.
A home that I miss
Although it might make being away from home harder now, it is not lost on me that having a home city, life, family, and friends that I miss is truly a blessing. To have something to miss is a valuable thing, and daily I think about the things I am going to be excited to get back to: Portland weather, drinkable tap water, craft beer, friends, and my parents (and their dogs) to name a few. In my lower times, optimism about the future keeps me going.
There are numerous other things both big and small that I have to be thankful for right here, right now. The opportunity to travel and experience new countries and new cultures is never something to take for granted, nor is the ability to learn and grow every day. I would be going crazy here if it weren’t for Joey, and I am grateful to be on this journey together. Sometimes a good meal, kind stranger, walk in nature, or song are enough to turn a day around. Here’s to remembering to notice the good things.