Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thoughts on Leaving for Korea

Hopefully this will be the only self-important, stream-of-consciousness entry in this blog. Once I get to Korea, I'll be able to write about the actual experience itself, as opposed to just the overwhelming thoughts and emotions I'm experiencing. I just wanted to get some stuff in here before I left, and we'll eventually see if this blog was even worth the time and energy.

In the fall of 2005 I studied abroad in London. I remember that I was doing quite well, nerves-wise, until the day I left. I had an evening flight, so I was spending the morning packing. As I struggled to fit all my stuff into one large duffel bag and one medium-sized suitcase, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated and emotional. None of the packing techniques I tried were working - there was no way I could fit everything I wanted into my bags. My luggage was officially overstuffed. After what was probably several hours of straining and swearing, I lost it. I started crying, babbling to my mother about overweight luggage fees and the impossibility of carrying all my stuff on the Underground.

Of course, it wasn't really the overweight luggage fueling my emotional breakdown, or at least it wasn't just that. I was mostly afraid of - well, everything else. Leaving my family for an extended period of time. Living in a big city for the first time. Being unable to cope with the unfamiliar place and the independence and responsibility that would crash over me like a wave the moment I stepped away from my mom at the airport. I wasn't sure I could handle it. At best, I told myself, I'd have friends and classmates to help me adjust and love it.. At worst, I would basically collapse emotionally and hate the entire experience. My fears weren't even entirely warranted. I would be living and taking classes with other Grinnell students the entire time. I had a friends who would meet me at the airport, one in Baggage Claim and one right outside Customs. Looking back, I know that my fears of adjusting to urban life, finding a flat, and staying on top of my budget were not worth the tears and yelling they produced that August afternoon. I'm especially aware of this now, almost two years later, having successfully navigated my study abroad experience and, truthfully, having loved nearly every moment of it. But at the time, I only fixated on how poorly everything could go. I had no idea what I was capable of, what my limits were, and moving to a huge, complex, expensive city did not always seem feasible.

Now I am once again about to embark on a new travel experience, and I'm just as scared and uncertain - if not more so - than I was last time. Korea is very different from London. A radically different culture, founded on Confucius' values, not Aristotle's. A language with an alphabet, syntax, and root unlike English in every sense. A group of people I've never met. A job I've never done. A time and distance from home I've never faced.

Don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly excited. I know now that I can adjust to an unfamiliar place. I can be independent, responsible, and mature and handle challenges. But what if I'm not mature enough? What if the culture shock is more than I expect? What if I fail to learn the language, bond with my fellow Fulbrighters, bond with my host family, do my job properly? I am once again faced with the fear of the unknown. Frankly, despite my added experiences and years of maturity, I wouldn't be surprised if I had another freak-out in the days or even hours before I depart. So mixed with my definite excitement is a healthy dose of terror. Fortunately, like in London, the presence of that terror now will make it all the more satisfying when - if? - I overcome it and prove to myself that I am capable of this fresh, huge challenge called Korea. It will be painful, it will be exhilarating, it will be difficult, it will be life-changing. And I guess only time will tell if I'm up for it.

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