We Came Home

To be honest, finding the motivation to write in self-quarantine has been a struggle—ironic, considering all the free time it creates. But, alas, after fielding messages from concerned friends and family, I finally sat down to put an update in writing. So here we go.

To those who did not yet know: surprise! Joey and I are back in the USA. Returning a month early to a socially distanced country in panic after over a year in Asia feels surreal, to say the least. Add to that our final weekend spent in Korea involved a lot of anxiety (me), some panic (also me), booking a last minute flight (Joey), and making what felt like a great escape, it is safe to say I’m still catching up.

With uncertainty ramping up, we made the final call to pull the plug on Korea two weeks ago when the US government called for all foreigners abroad to return home immediately, or risk sheltering in place indefinitely. Indefinitely not being an amount of time either of us was keen to risk spending in Korea, combined with our teaching contracts slated to end the following month—and with them our housing, health care, and visas—we decided it was time to go home.

And, while once I mentally committed to this fate I was as good as on the plane, I would be lying if I said the choice came easily. I so badly wanted to stay and see this thing through to the end, as planned. I wanted an honorable departure and homecoming; to say goodbye to my students and hello to my friends. I so badly wanted a neat ending at the close of this difficult chapter.

Instead, coronavirus ruined all of that.

Instead of goodbyes and a celebratory last weekend in Seoul, we spent our final hours in Korea trying—and failing—to get any support from the organization that had employed us for the past year, while implementing a rushed tag-team effort to pack and clean both of our apartments before catching a bus (and then another bus) to the airport.

I love airports: the hustle, the bustle, people coming and going from all corners of the world. Incheon Airport the afternoon of March 22nd, 2020 was like no airport I have ever seen. No hustling. No bustling. Ghost town sounds cliche, but it is the best way to describe the sight at what is usually an international travel hub. After multiple temperature checks and a health survey, we were the only travelers going through security.

Incheon International Airport
Empty airport. || Incheon, South Korea
Doors are closed; we’re going home. || Incheon, South Korea

There were maybe—maybe—40 people on our flight to San Francisco. And after an easy 12 hours, we landed in a country vastly different from the one we left it.

In a way, living in my tiny Korean town was the ultimate prep course for self-quarantine, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bummer that I’m the closest to friends and family that I have been in a year and I still can’t hang out with them. Job- and apartment hunting is basically at a standstill, for lack of availability. I’m mad at coronavirus for stealing my long-awaited exit and robbing me of my return.

But sitting beside my anger is gratitude.

I’m grateful that we are home safely, for my health, and for the health of the people I care about during this scary time. I’m thankful to be quarantined at Joey’s mom’s house where there’s a dog and a full pantry and all the cooking appliances I might need to try out all the recipes I have been saving. I’m thankful for comfortable beds, walks in the sunshine, and FaceTime (and the free time everyone has to utilize it now).

I’m frustrated and I’m grateful; I’m scared but I’m hopeful for the future.

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