Our first year living abroad is coming to a close in a few weeks and we shall travel back to Wisconsin to visit friends and family. I'm excited to get back "home." I expect some people may be interested in how this year has changed me. And while I've given thought to what I've enjoyed this year, what has been challenging, and what I've missed from back home, I haven't yet given much thought to how I've changed.
So let me try it here.
I would have to say the biggest change is that I've been untethered from the USA and North America. We used to think, "Let's go to Utah (or Florida, or California, or Mexico)" now we think "Let's go to Malaysia (or the Philippines or Australia or Cambodia or Vietnam or Europe or on safari in Africa)." Our children used to think "Let's go to the Dells." Now Anna says things like "When can we go to Paris, the city of Love?" This is pretty huge because it implies a different world view than before (for all of us). Globalization already had been making the world smaller (or flatter, depending on who you read), but now globalization is also a part of my existence and very real.
Changing from living in a house to living in an apartment has been less significant that I thought it would be. Some friends and I were musing about this today. We worried that living in a big city would mean the end of nature in our lives. We used to sit on the deck in the back yard and enjoy the flowers and trees, etc. We worried that apartment life would feel so confining without a back yard to go to. What we've found is that Korea (at least Seoul and the surrounding communities) has made a concerted effort to create green spaces (extensive parks and biking trails) for people to enjoy. Also, the mountains are replete with trails. It is not hard to find nature here at all, and that makes apartment living less sterile and confining than one might think. So, while I yearn for a back yard BBQ and the chance to sit on a lawn chair, I've also come to love hiking and biking on trails and playing with friends and family in a local green space.
In some ways, using public transportation has changed me. First of all, I'd never used the city buses in Green Bay (and I don't know that I would now). But now I feel more comfortable taking a bus or a subway or a train. I did know how to ride a subway before, but now I know how to get around by bus waiting as much as 20 minutes for it to show. An odd side effect of being on a bus with strangers who probably don't speak much English is that you stop talking all together. No one on the buses talks unless it is to quiet their child. Mostly, they listen to ipods, read, or doze. But rarely does anyone talk. Yesterday I was on a bus that was so crowded all the seats and the aisle were elbow to elbow people. Probably 55 - 60 people were on the bus, and the bus was SILENT. Between the quiet nature of public transportation and the language barrier, I've found that I no longer say the customary "Hi. How are you?" or "Excuse me." etc. No more potential for "small talk" with a stranger, unless that stranger speaks English too.
Recently I realized that this year has allowed me (or forced me) to explore different interests. For the past few decades my hobbies have focused on singing and acting and walking. These are three thing that I love! While in Korea I've not had the opportunity to sing or act BUT I have been able to resurrect old interests like playing volleyball and piano. About two or three times a month I've been playing duets with a friend from work. I've also taken up yoga once a week. There is a pretty large group of teachers who like to play volleyball, so I've been able to do that again (even ended up on this weekend tournaments' winning team!) I've taken up hiking and more biking. It's been fun to pursue new interests and resurrect old ones! I believe I'm becoming more physically diverse. That's pretty cool.
The last way I believe I've changed is that I've gotten spoiled. To define that further, my job here has spoiled me, and I love it. I haven't had to work at a dizzying pace this year nor have I had to work tirelessly at home with a huge paperwork load every night. This is an amazing thing! It means I am pretty much stress free and relaxed for a good portion of each day. This is not to say that I am not working hard or to my fullest potential. On the contrary, I believe I've got more time for planning, thinking, and creativity. I have more contact with my students since I have fewer students to care for. I get to be myself in the classroom and that is a joy. I believe it would be hard to return to 150 students to care for and 150 papers to mark. For one who has sought balance for much of her life, I believe I've found the best balance here. Lots of time with family; lots of time with friends; productive time at work; (more time needed at church, though).
If any of these changes sound intriguing to you, I encourage you to think beyond your usual "world", even if it is just to look at a National Geographic magazine or go for that bike ride you've been talking about but never do. You're never too old to learn something new. Give it a go!