I’m now back in Denmark but I wrote this post a few days ago while I was still in Seoul.
As I’m writing this in my airbnb apartment on the 17th floor overlooking the Han River, I’m overwhelmed by so many emotions. I’m leaving Korea in less than 36 hours and for the first time ever, I’m leaving the country without any concrete plans to come back. I’m sure I’ll be back someday – I just don’t know yet when that will be.
The truth is, I feel my ties to Korea are weakening. I still love the country but I’m painfully aware that my reasons to return to this place I’ve called home for several years are gradually disappearing one by one. My best friend and soulmate, Geonha, is no longer here, and he used to be my main reason for wanting to be in Korea. When he first passed away, I seriously considered moving back to Korea alone, just so I could visit his resting place whenever I needed to and be closer to his family. Obviously, no one should ever make life altering decisions while consumed with deep grief, and I’m glad that I realized this early on and kept my stays in Korea during 2019 within the three-month limit. Just enough so that I could feel that I lived here for a while when I needed to.
In the aftermath of Geonha’s passing, I’ve grown close to his family, and seeing them is always a priority when I’m in Korea. In the early days, the meetings were very painful as we were all shattered into pieces. Here, a year later, the grief is still present, albeit less raw than in the early months. We are now able to meet and talk about other things as well, and I’m happy to see that they are gradually improving just as I am. But grief recovery (I don’t really believe that’s a thing but I’ll use it for want of a better word) is a double-edged sword. Because while I’m happy that we’re all doing well, there’s a sadness to that happiness that people don’t always consider. I had never imagined this sadness when I desperately wished for us all to feel better.
The truth is that the better we begin to feel, the less we need each other for comfort. When I was at my most miserable, I took great comfort in knowing that I had the support of Geonha’s family and that I could be of comfort to them. It gave me a sense of connection to him, and a part of me is reluctant to accept that we no longer need each other that desperately for comfort as we’re all slowly finding our way in a world without him. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve felt that they were not happy to see me or that I wasn’t happy to see them. We were extremely happy to be reunited and they even showered me with presents. It’s just that I now feel that we are all getting on with our everyday lives, tending our wounds and carrying our grief, but without the need to cry our hearts out every day any longer.
With knowing that they are alright (as much as they can be) and that I’m on my way to being alright again, a major reason to return to Korea any time soon is gone. They are still my Korean family and I know that we will be staying in contact forever but I can easily call and text them from Denmark without the need to fly out and see them several times a year. That’s both liberating and painful at the same time, which is in perfect keeping with all the mixed and oftentimes contradicting emotions I’ve been feeling the past year.
In addition to this, my network in Korea is gradually dissolving. With my job now in Denmark, I will no longer be teaching in Korea and nearly all my foreign friends have gone back home or will go home soon. I used to have tons of people to meet with in Seoul but these days, even aside from the one person I miss the most, I find that I don’t know that many people here anymore.
Finally, with my new unyielding companion, Anxiety, I no longer enjoy travelling and living alone like I used to. In my raw state of grief I much preferred solitude over company but lately I’ve begun to suffer from separation anxiety along with light PTSD, and I’m painfully aware that it’s not doing my mental health any good to be alone for so many days at a time to say nothing about being so far away from home. (Yes, I just called Denmark “home”.)
While there was a time when I didn’t believe that I would ever truly feel at home in Denmark again, I’ve felt an emotional shift over the past few months. As I’ve started to teach Korean and share my passion and excitement for the language and the country that I love so much, I’ve finally found a new purpose in Denmark. Something that actually makes me feel excited and that gives me joy. In addition to this, I’ve been rehired as a lecturer at my old university and will start teaching economics again from the start of the spring semester. I’ve also come to greatly appreciate the importance of having friends and family close by, because when things were looking the most dark and grim, they were all there for me and helped me through the darkness (if there is such a thing as being through it). Finally, the ability to breathe in clean air everyday without worrying about poisonous smog, something most Europeans take for granted, is a thing that I have come to value deeply. This winter, the air has been particularly bad in Seoul and the mere thought of breathing in the clean Danish air is enough to make me homesick.
So there you have it. Korea, I love you but as you can see, I’m running out of reasons to come back to you in the foreseeable future. You’ve given me both the greatest joys and the most unbearable pain of my life, and therefore you and I will always be tightly connected. For now, however, I suggest we take a break. 한국아, 우리 당분간 헤어지자.
Note: I’ll obviously still be blogging regularly about Korean culture and language in the future, as I’ll continue to study Korean and follow all developments in my second home country closely. So stay tuned for future updates on all things Korean. I want to give a special thanks to all my readers and particularly to those of you, who have sent me heartwarming and encouraging emails and messages during 2019. I appreciate your continued support for me and my blog and promise to work hard to deliver interesting content for you all in 2020 as well. Feel free to mention in the comments if there are any posts you’d like to see in the future.
Happy new year!