I'm writing this entry – which may not be posted until my arrival in Nepal – from a bus en route from Tongyeong to Seoul, where I'll fly out of in less than 24 hours. It's a strange feeling, and I don't know that my emotions have ever been so mixed up at the end or beginning of a new journey. And this certainly qualifies as both.
Thursday, September 8th was my 29th birthday, and although I knew that my life had been amazing for the last year, it really hit home for me when I was Skyping with my parents, and they asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I thought about it for a few moments and wasn't able to come up with anything. At this moment I knew that I was genuinely happy.
For the last year, I've had an easy, relatively stress-free, decent paying job doing something I would never have imagined myself doing back in my high school days. Teaching Korean elementary school students English was, although extremely trying at times, an amazing experience that I wouldn't give back for the world. And with the completion of my contract, I've saved close to $10,000 to spend over the next 5+ months, as I travel around Nepal and Southeast Asia.
I lived in a beautiful coastal town with one of the most closely-knit communities of expats I could possibly imagine. There were probably about 30-40 native English-speakers working as teachers in Tongyeong, and of that group, perhaps 20 at any given time could be counted on to hang out together with regularity. I say 'at any given time' because the crowd was constantly changing, as year-long contracts were always expiring and being refilled. The bonds I formed with some of these people will last a lifetime.
And I had an amazing Korean girlfriend that I'm going to miss like crazy when I step foot on my flight to Kathmandu tomorrow. I debated sharing the following few sentences because it's kind of embarrassing, but what the hell. I don't think I've actually cried in … well, since I don't know when. I was close to it when I said goodbye to my favorite class of adorable 8 year olds. I almost cried when I read a 'thank you' letter from one of my students a few nights later. I was on the verge when I said goodbye to my friends and fellow Tongyeong expats last night. I came close when the bus I'm now on pulled out from the station, and Melody said “Goodbye Tongyeong.” But tomorrow when I get on the plane, I know it's going to happen. Don't pick on me too much.
So when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday, it was an unbelievably liberating feeling to be able to say that I didn't genuinely want anything. I've got everything I need, and shy of a new Ferrari or another overpriced and unnecessary camera lens, I've got everything I could even really want.
So why am I leaving this almost-perfect life behind me? That's tough. I know that as amazing as my life here has been, the next 5 months will be even better. I'm ready for the end of 'the grind,' even though 'the grind' been great in Korea. I'm ready to hike over 18,000 foot passes with 20 pounds of camera gear strapped all over my body. I'm ready to see monkeys steal food from my plate. I'm ready to see the Taj Mahal, Mt. Everest, Angor Wat, Vietnam, and the countless other things that will occupy my life over the next few months.
I'm ready for my next adventure.