“You’re on your own, and you know what you know, and you are the guy who’ll decide where to go” — Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!
We’ve been living, on our own, in Korea for 6 months at this point, which is one half of our planned stay. More than being a cultural experience, these past months have been an exploration of personal growth. My girlfriend and I have learned a lot about choosing our own paths and the little things that make a self-directed life.
I’m sure many of you are wondering how we’re doing at this critical juncture.
The Domestic Life
I’d say that the biggest challenge of this year has been learning to share a life with another person., except that my wonderful, patient, understanding girlfriend makes this less of a challenge and more of an adventure. We have settled into a fairly comfortable routine of exercise in the mornings, a mad-dash team effort of food preparation before work, teaching classes in the afternoon, and a bowl of cereal with a TV show in the evenings before bed.
We do our shopping on the weekends, and what was initially a complicated and stressful process of meal-planning for the week has become mostly intuitive. The change in how we coordinate our shared responsibilities and budgets has really been encouraging. Instead of remaining stressful or getting more frustrating, most everything we share has required less discussion and has grown more secure and trusting.
We’ve decorated the apartment with A’s gorgeous photography and various souvenirs from around Korea, and every now and then we’ll find a nice piece of furniture sitting on the side of the road that we bring home. So we now have a stylish bookshelf and a side table to store our magazines, Wii, and laptop. I’m sure our successors will appreciate what we’ve done with the apartment.
I finally ditched the iPhone as a personal organizer and spent a few hundred thousand Won and many, many hours building my own personal organizer that is both useful and personally inspiring. I can keep my tasks, my thoughts, my inspirations, and my budget on me at all times, easily accessible to remind me of what I need to get done. It’s the first organizational system that has worked for me consistently.
The writing has not fallen off, though you may not realize it based only on the frequency of blog posts. I have been writing a book, and given the limited time I have to write, that is where it is all going. I’m really excited. I’ll be launching it at the end of July, so stay tuned.
The other major aspect of my personal life has been exercise and martial arts. I’ve been following a traditional strength training routine at the gym. If you’re familiar with Starting Strength you’ll understand why implementing this chalk-and-iron routine in a regular fitness club would be difficult and humorous. I’ve taken my more interesting gymnastics and Parkour training outside, to the local skate park, where running around doing rolls and inversions is less awkward.
School is going well. We have become quite comfortable as teachers, having finally gotten the hang of running classes and handling kids.There remain some concerns over the educational system in general, but I do my best to help the kids out when I can. They seem to like us, and we’re doing what we can to improve workplace relations.
Being a good employee is also harder than I thought. It’s easy to just do your job and keep your mouth shut and your head down, but I have learned that I really don’t take well to that. Balancing the need to work within the organization with my constant desire to change and improve things has given me some interesting insights into myself. Staying true to my principles has been tricky, but I guess that’s why integrity is such a valuable trait.
I have been helping out at my martial arts gym in Seoul with fitness classes. Trying to instill my unique vision of fitness has not been easy, but overall, I get the impression that the people I teach appreciate what I offer.
Nightlife in Korea is big, it turns out, and we are not so big on it. So making friends has been tricky. However, the friends we do make are certainly some of the most unique and interesting people ever (you know who you are). Most of them are not Westerners just passing through, but instead are Koreans or foreigners who have made their homes here (one of them just got married).
New connections pop up constantly when we’re open to them, and they all lead to interesting experiences. We have yet to try Soju, Korea’s most famous and pervasive social lubricant.
We have not yet learned much Korean.
We still can’t handle the spicier Korean dishes. We seek out Japanese food whenever possible.
The rat living in our ceiling was taken care of.
I’m expressing my barefoot tendencies more openly in this country that has a weird relationship with feet.
My respect for the Korean people generally has been increasing (toddlers on mountain peak hikes), though there are still a lot of things I don’t understand (toddlers on mountain peak hikes).
Korean healthcare is awesome! For the equivalent of 16 USD, I got an x-ray of my thumb, a consultation from an orthopedic doctor, and a splint. It took about 2 hours, but I was happy.
I still get a kick out of referring to myself as a foreigner.
Six months is a deceptively long time to live somewhere. It is actually the longest I’ve lived away from my family without at least a visit. We’ve passed the halfway point, and instead of looking eagerly to a return home, it feels like many of the seeds we planted are finally starting to bear fruit. The pace of life is quickening, and we feel like the fun is just beginning, with new opportunities, new friends, and new challenges coming up every day. Things certainly are not winding down for us.
PS: If anyone is inclined to send us care packages, we’re really, really missing organic peanut butter.