As I sit here waiting for my return flight back to Orlando, Florida, USA, which happens to be hours upon hours away, I can not help but think. I am thinking about the strong bonds of friendship I have acquired in South Korea. I am thinking about the tears, laughs, hugs and smiles I have enjoyed with my loved ones over here. I am thinking about the culturally enriching experience that has been given to me and how I have become a much more tolerant person and a higher quality human being. I am thinking about the love I found over here and the fact that sometimes love just isn’t enough. I am thinking about the sadness that comes with the sacrifices we make to achieve success and greatness in whatever we desire to do. Since arriving in South Korea, I have tried to not become attached. I have tried to be as objective as possible and see the world from an aerial view, so to not get involved and consumed by the menial emotions that bind us and trap us to the grind. I have tried for years to separate myself from the nature of life, but in the words of the famous English poet John Donne: No man is an island. Nevertheless and with huge amounts of gratuity, I did become a part of a community. A community full of struggle, love, mistrust, loyalty, appreciate, and harmony, it sounds just like a normal family. This community will always and forever be known as The Banghwa Group.
When you are so far from home and in a place so unknown to you, linguistically, geographically and culturally, you truly understand the idea of being lost. Being lost in both life and in your travels have very similar qualities. Both of these emotional events present similar challenges emotionally, spiritual, and physically. Both events cause great amounts of fear, confusion, sadness, and the illusion of dismay, but fortunately these two events foster and teach qualities such as perseverance, tolerance, humility, self-reliance, courage and honor. I could not have made it without the Banghwa group. A group of friends not by choice but out of necessity. The group loses old members and gains new ones, but always remembers. It is always willing to open its arms to the unknown and without judgement, accepts differences and contrasts. The group is as alive as any organic being I can think of. Life can be very difficult in South Korea for a foreigner, but this band of misfits always has each others backs no matter the cost or reward. It is quite cliche to say ” You only appreciate what you have, until you don’t have it anymore”, but all the same very true. I now have an emotional understanding of that strong phrase. To all in Banghwa-dong, Seoul, South Korea, distance has no bearing on my appreciation for you all, true love.
Like all journeys, mine has ended. I have spent over 13 months in South Korea and without a doubt I can say that it was 13 months well spent. Like those I have left behind, our voyage continues. As we all scatter around the world, our bonds remain. We are all now a part of something bigger than our individual selves. I can not help but remember a letter that one of my students wrote to me before I left. This young boy of 10 years old, teary-eyed, and looking down handed me a letter, gave me a strong hug and demanded I not open this letter until I was on the plane going home. Well, I did open the letter but it was after my contract at my school was over and it was touching and so revealing about the beauty of life and its possibilities. This 10 year old boy with broken English and a big smile was able to make the complexities of life so simple. He wrote to me “Teacher, if you read this, maybe you will in the America and we can’t meet monday or wendsday so I give present for you, cube (Rubix cube) that I bought when I went Japan, Universal Studio, that is in America, too. Cube is my symbol. and I have same one, too. When you see that cube think me. Bye-bye is new start! Love you teacher!”. This young boy and I had a great connection and that neither 5000 years of cultural difference of 16 years of age difference could conquer. I have been told that one should not measure their success by how much money one makes, by how much power one has, or by one’s status, but instead, success should be judged by the shiny and shimmering eyes of those you have touched and been touched by. Happy travels and Push it!