This is the story of my path to Korea. The story of my dream.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by Asian culture. I can’t pinpoint the reason, other than its otherness. Reason enough for the human soul to be caught and captivated. The strange and beautiful things I saw in books and on TV thrilled me. My mother had lived in Japan when she was small, and so our house was laced with influences of the Orient. Chopsticks when we made stir-fry, the entire series of Godzilla movies on VHS, beautiful dragonware china, pokemon cards, Japanese language books, and of course, Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z on TV.
But it wasn’t just that. My parents had lived in Belgium after they got married, and my mother had studied French, so we also had French song tapes and Spanish song tapes, and books about the Arctic circle and sled dogs. We grew up, my brother and I, surrounded by the rest of the world. It never seemed too big or far away or foreign. We never felt that it was closed off to us. I dreamed of traveling the world my whole life, and spent most of my time deep in books. I think those early days also gave me the love of language I still have. Singing along in French and Spanish just for fun, finding funny ways of saying everyday words, imitating accents…it taught me to love and to play with sounds, important for a future linguist.
When I was a child, I had normal dreams. Artist, vet, then when my horse phase was strong, horse-breeder, jockey, Olympic equestrian. In junior high school it was illustrator overseas, living in Britain with a house in Japan. In high school I started getting interested in languages, after pulling Mario Pei’s The Story of Language randomly off the library shelf. Bless you, Mr. Pei. I started seriously learning Japanese, then Swedish, looking back to my ancestry. I entered college, with one eye ever on my freedom after school to travel. To do something.
Then came Taiwan. The turning point. I don’t know how many people my age can claim a turning point in their lives, and maybe it’s too early to see if it actually was. But certainly Taiwan has given me the dream I’m currently working towards. Before Taiwan, I just wanted to travel. I wasn’t keen on teaching (another story), so that part was actually kind of awful for me in the beginning. I was dreading the teaching part of the experience. But a year in Taiwan halfway through college… Dream come true, my friends.
While in Taiwan, so very many things happened. I have a backlog of stories and anecdotes, so I’ll save that for later, but suffice it to say that it was the best year of my life. I was independent for the first time, working a full time job, living in a foreign country, with the freedom to do anything. I was also making more money than I had ever before. Eight hundred a month without paying rent! Riches.
But a funny thing happened there too. I began to love teaching. I don’t think I saw it that way at first. I thought I loved playing with my students, in class and out, that I loved making them laugh or getting interested in what I was saying.
Slowly, I realized what was going on. It was a bit of a revelation, I can tell you, and actually one that I still fight, believe it or not. I grew up NEVER going to teach. That was the one thing absolutely outside of my identity, probably due to all the bad experiences I had in public school before I was homeschooled. The me, the soul part of me, reeled from this abrupt change. But it made sense. I had been a natural teacher my whole life, enjoying helping my friends with work and sharing (teaching) my friends and family things I’d learned or read. The world was laughing at me.
I accepted it quickly though, because I was also getting interested in Korea at the same time, and it was the easiest and most logical way to live there. I still can’t explain “why Korea” when someone asks. I say it’s because I was already interested in the Korean language, and that’s true. I think Korean is the most beautiful language there is, but that’s also hard to explain. Do I need to? Cookie dough is my favorite ice cream, Korean is my favorite language. Done. Fine.
But that was just the impetus to look into Korea as a whole. I was also already watching Korean dramas, and while I knew that dramas are not any good sort of representation for real life (I’d also watched a LOT of Taiwanese dramas before going to Taiwan), I was intrigued by the kind of ideals I saw portrayed through their show writing. The culture behind the shows, so to speak. How they made characters react to certain situations, and who was slated as the good or bad guy and for what reasons. Deep stuff, I tell you.
At any rate, I read about Korea, I found Eatyourkimchi and watched all the videos, I tried Korean food for the first time and nearly died of joy…a lot went on in Taiwan to fuel my passion for Korea. Despite your warnings, dear school nurse, of Korean men.
So Korea it was. I had notebooks full of plans for living there, teaching there, blogging there… It was pure joy. But there was also the Big Gap. The two years of black hole college waiting to suck my fervor and joy away. I’m exaggerating. Slightly.
I’m on the other end now of it now though. Graduated, job in hand, counting down the weeks. Weeks.
I wonder what other people’s dream stories are like. Whether they’ve changed as much, and as often, as mine. Whether they’re working on their dreams now. I hope you are, friends. I hope you never let go of dreaming.