It’s been over a year. I think I’ve already clarified this, but I’m saying it again: it’s been one year, one trip around the sun, three hundred and sixty-five days plus.
My summer vacation consisted of me bouncing around to different places; first Seoul, then Austin, then Newport, then back to Seoul before Jeju for another year (plus, plus). My time in America meant going back to my hometown, where the days were long, the sun was relentless, and the people were just the same as they have always been: loving everything gluten-free, vegan, and farm-to-table fresh. I was witness to too many people running outside as if they had no idea it was nearly a hundred degrees, and outfits that fit somewhere between workout casual and southern hipster – a generally Texan selected style due to the fact that I think people there are determined to prove that truly anything can be paired with cowboy boots. While I wasn’t home for long, it was long enough for me to come to terms with a really depressing reality that I wasn’t prepared for when I graduated last summer: Being an adult is incredibly isolating. To the point where I would almost like to cross my name off the list of growing up and jump back a few years. Maybe I should be a little more specific with the exact brand of adult I’m referring to. I’m talking, freshly grown, raised and harvested, newly appointed adults. The ones that haven’t landed a job that makes them look around and think, yes I can see this as a potential career, nor the ones that have managed to find someone they would consider getting down on one knee for. I’m referring to the adults that shrug and think while things could be worse, they aren’t exactly great either. They have a job, some money put away begrudgingly in a bank account, and their last Tinder date wasn’t a complete disaster, though it didn’t exactly leave them with a desire to fulfill the shallow “we should do this again” promise to call. If all of those above descriptors sounded slightly autobiographical, it’s because they are. You guys, you older adults, this is really difficult stuff, and I almost wish there was some kind of class on this so I could feel a bit better about the idea that I truly have no idea what’s going on anymore.
As I boarded the plane back to Seoul, I did what I always do when forced to sit in a seat for fourteen hours and thirty minutes – I watched a movie or two, listened to the same ten songs, and reflected. This last trip home, this last hurrah in my old stomping grounds, smacked me across the face with a horrible thought. Despite how much I love being with my family, I’ve established my life elsewhere, and I can no longer trek back as often with promises of seeing old friends and faces because of this. I spent the first few days in Austin clicking back through old text messages, attempting to reach out in what eventually felt like a moot point as I was mostly left on “unread.” Perhaps this is an understandable occurrence, most of us graduates have moved on with our lives, and maybe it was wishful thinking to believe that it wouldn’t happen so quickly. It’s incredible the rate at which things that were once comfortable have managed to become so strained and fragmented with time. Then, they become the things that were really just that, once comfortable. Past tense.
I felt strange. Not really a tourist or visitor, but feeling like one in my own city. Connected, but not necessarily, and really only just in the occasional situation, and occasional environment. I felt a bit fragmented like I had been unraveled and was desperately trying to piece myself back together, yet I was always missing a few bits, and I found that they were much more important than I originally thought they were. I spent much of my time in America wandering, both mentally and physically. Much of my days passed at the backs of coffee shops alone or wandering through bookstores trailing my fingers along shelves, yet buying nothing. The worst was, I was so glued to my phone I turned into someone I never wanted to be – someone who looked down too much, phone clasped in my hand, texting constantly. But, that was really the problem with going back to my hometown. The connections I had once shared with old friends changed. They became something new, something different; and maybe I’ve become someone different too. So, I sat by my phone and dedicated those hours, between 6:30 am – 1 pm, and 10:30 pm to 2:00 am to talking and texting friends back home. Yeah, home. Funny how that happens.
Starting over as an adult is hard. It’s hard to turn around and feel like you’re suddenly in middle school again, having to make friends at a new school, put on a new face, grin and bear with the awkward pleasantries while trying to figure out who can become someone you can see yourself getting close to. It’s silly really. In college, I would be so easily irritated with others, constantly questioning why I couldn’t seem to get away, why my roommates insisted on hanging out and going to happy hour, why I couldn’t go to a coffee shop without a few tag-a-longs, why I couldn’t just enjoy my solitude. If I could have just one minute with my college self, I would shake her, then hold her face and look her in the eyes and say “you entitled assh*le, you better f*cking enjoy this!” I would give her a glimpse of my life right now, take Friday night, where I was out shopping in the overly crowded streets of Hongdae wishing some random stranger would come up to me and ask if I wanted to get a drink – because, sadly enough, I would have said yes. Yes. A thousand times yes.
So, that’s what my life is like at this moment. Not friendless, but more lonely in a sense. Is this what being an adult is like?
A lot of people have asked me in the last couple of months why I decided to stay another year, I mean, what is there that I could possibly like about Korea considering I come from America, home of the free, the conservative, the loud and so wonderfully overly opinionated (and yes, I think Americans are much more conservative than Koreans)? It’s difficult to answer, but in a sense, I think I’ve always felt out of place, generally, in my life. I’m not trying to romanticize that feeling, it’s just how my experience existing has been. I’m a little too this, and not enough that, and most definitely not enough of that, so when I’m in my head about anything and everything, I start to feel a bit far away and by extension, no longer connected to where I am. America turned into that for me. Perhaps it was because I was living somewhere with too many things I wanted to forget, perhaps I was looking for something new and potentially more exciting, perhaps I just wanted a 180 change – regardless, America, no longer so rose-tinted and wonderful became something I began to resent. I was frustrated that I was no longer comfortable in my hometown, nor in my college town. This is not to say I feel 100% comfortable in Korea, because I definitely don’t, but as of this moment right now, it feels more comfortable for me than America.
Figuring that out broke my heart. I mean, to think I had the audacity to believe such a thing while I was in the comfort of my own childhood home among my incredibly supportive and loving parents, next to my brother whom I love more than I can fit into words on this screen – that I could sit there on that couch and think, yeah, I don’t feel happy here anymore. What a selfish thing to feel. Even worse, everyone could see it written all over my face. And they reminded me, over and over again.
At this point, I think I’m somewhere between a shaky so-so and displaced. There is a part of me that is excited, as well as exceptionally terrified about my future, especially considering it has taken a turn for the random, the unexpected, the, wait, so she left for a year, but now thinks she wants to like, to like, really live there? This is the point I’ve reached. While I was laying on the floor next to the fan in my Airbnb (a relatively normal reclining position I had while in Seoul to the point where the rug became slightly indented into a cocoon that fit my body), listening to the cars honking outside the window, I thought, okay, so let’s just for a moment say, why don’t you try making this your home instead? What do you have to lose?
When I first told someone last year in a moment of spite that I was moving to Korea after graduation, and spit out some nasty comment about how I had no plans of returning and I didn’t care anymore, I assumed (as they probably did too) that maybe they understood that that string of words, the bare bones of that sentiment, was nothing more than an empty threat. Even though that dagger, while menacing in theory, was nothing more than a dull point laced with fear and distrust, here I am a year later coming to the realization that this statement carries more weight than before; it may even be wrapped now in potential and a bit of optimism. Scary, no?
Or maybe I’m simply running from something. But, even if somewhere deep down in my subconscious I am, I think it should matter that I’m also trying to run towards something else.