Monday, May 31, 2010


Finishing up my time in Korea is finishing up a marathon: more willpower than endurance, more psychological than physical.

When I got the acceptance from Arizona State a few months ago, I started looking forward to the time that I would be in the United States. I started planning for things: furniture, apartments, cars. I left Korea and mentally I moved. I was there. I was here, of course, but I was there.

Then in this last few days, I got pulled back here. I started realizing that almost every day every time I said goodbye was potentially a real goodbye. See you later, I'd say, but I wouldn't see them later. Goodbye, I'd say, and I meant goodbye forever. These were people I had known for 3, 4, 5 years. People with whom I had had Thanksgiving dinner, rang in the New Year, and celebrated my birthday. They were family more than friends.

And when I went back to America, I knew that I might see one or two of them here or there, maybe a visit as they passed through my new city. Maybe I'd stop by their house as I passed through theirs. But the vast majority of my goodbyes were real goodbyes. Even if I saw the individuals again, I'd never see the group again. The family would never be together again: no holidays, no birthdays, no reunions.

I realized then what a profound affect Korea has had on me. The culture and the language have shaped me certainly, but it's the people that have shaped me the most. Some of them Korean, but some of them not. Some of them just people passing through like me. Many of them have already moved on. Many of them will, like me, soon move on. And we'll say goodbye--a real goodbye.

It's rare when you're aware of this kind of finality. In high school, you're too naive to realize how final it is. In college, you think you won't make the same mistakes in high school. And in general, we delude ourselves into thinking that we won't lose touch, that it won't happen this time. But when you're on the other side of the world and you watch as your friends scatter, there are no illusions. You can know it's the end, and you can be happy that you had that time together.

You just put your head down, close your eyes, and push through--otherwise, you'd never leave at all.