In one week, I’ll check in my one-way ticket get on a plane headed for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, followed by another to Austin-Bergstrom, and I can’t believe my time here in Korea is coming to an end so quickly. This wasn’t what I had planned when I moved here nearly 11 months ago, but here I am.
Over the course of the last 11 months, there have been a long string of events that I never could have predicted when I left Texas that have led to this journey home for me. It’s a hard story to share in one sitting, and more than enough for a good Hollywood blockbuster or a New York Times bestseller, but it’s not time to go into those details now.
Eleven months ago, on my way home from Steel City Pops after saying my see-ya-laters to friends, I drove down Camp Bowie Boulevard with the windows down and my sunroof open. I played my music too loud, and when I got to my cross street, I found myself doing a U-turn and going back down the brick-lined road again, and then again and again, trying to soak up all of my home from the past seven years. When I first moved to Fort Worth and was depressed and struggled sleeping, I’d go for long drives in the city, learning the roads and the lay of the land. This was before I had a smart phone, and I was learning the streets by feel. I used to roll the windows down and cruise down that same stretch of road. Sometimes I’d pray. I was lonely, and I prayed for friends. I prayed to live in certain parts of the city. I prayed it would be a city that would some day feel like home. That night, I stopped and walked out on the lawn of the Amon Carter Museum, and just stared at the skyline and wondered if I’d ever come to love and recognize the Seoul skyline in the same way. As I stared at the skyline that night, I realized how incredibly blessed I am. God answers our prayers in His own time; He answered every one of those prayers.
Seoul doesn’t have a proper downtown. It’s a mid-evil city that has several different business districts, and is spread out and scattered between mountains. It’s the kind of city that has ancient city walls and gates that are still standing. I never did learn a particular skyline of Seoul. But I did learn to recognize landmarks and buildings. The Lotte Tower close to the soccer field where we practiced, the Shinsegae Department Store at Express Bus Terminal, The Hamilton Hotel where my home church meets, The Han River, and finally, Namsan Tower, which always shone like a beacon, guiding me home on Saturday nights. From now on, whenever I see pictures of Namsan, I’ll be able to point and say, “I used to live halfway up that mountain, right by that tower.” That night I was in Fort Worth, gazing at the skyline, I prayed for Korea to feel like a home to me in the same way Fort Worth had.
I suppose God always knew my time here would be short, so He made a point to answer that prayer quickly. I found a church early on, and found a wonderful community there. They allowed me to grow and be brave and strong and cry whenever I needed to. I learned how to be soft here. I learned that bravery doesn’t always mean you aren’t affected by others or the world around you. Bravery often means being vulnerable and admitting you’re struggling; it means allowing yourself to feel; it means admitting that you don’t know what to do next, and trusting that God will work it out. By this definition, one could argue courage is founded on faith.
Little by little, God made me brave here. I learned how to pick out laundry detergent in Korean. I learned how to tell a cab driver where to take me. I learned the subway system, and I’m still mastering the busses. (They’re crazy complicated!) I learned how to read in Korean. I did not learn what most of it means, but I can read it. I learned how to buy high-speed train tickets and bus tickets, and I learned that one should bring gum on high-speed trains because your ears will pop. I learned where to go to find certain foreign foods, and I learned how to make some simple Korean foods. I learned that Korean strawberries are the best strawberries on Earth, and I learned that produce markets on Saturday mornings here are one of my favorite things. I learned a million little things that are so simple and so wonderful, and some that are complicated and hard. In short, Seoul has felt like home. So here I am now, trying to soak it all in again, and wondering if this is my perpetual cycle now. I always missed Texas while I was here, but now that I’m leaving, I know I’ll always miss Seoul. I have no idea if this is normal for expatriates or other global workers, but I hope so. I need to not be alone in this sentiment. I need to know there are others who miss public transport after months of missing driving. I need to know there are those who would prefer to do all their produce shopping in local markets, possibly in other languages. I wonder if there are those who, even after months of missing a nice dryer, they might also still appreciate laundry on a clothesline.
I am a mess of conflicted emotions. I am homesick for Texas, but anticipating my homesickness for Seoul. At least experience and wisdom has taught me the best way to handle it: enjoy every step of the way, trusting God has you through it all.