On any given day, I use Papago, a translation app (far better than Google Translate by leaps and bounds), at least two dozen times. Whether it is to converse with my co-teachers, other colleagues, a stranger on the streets, or am employee at one of the local stores, because I don’t currently speak more than a few basic words or phrases in Korean, I’ve become accustomed to pulling out my phone and using this app to convey simple needs or messages. Without it, I would spend countless moments staring at my Korean neighbors blank-faced with a deer-in-headlights stare.
There is something brave about stepping into an unknown world, something admirable about walking the footsteps of a different people and culture. Every time I try a new food or speak a Korean word out loud, even at the risk of being embarrassed, I remind myself of just how big and beautiful and diverse this world is. I remind myself that my way of life is not the only one that matters. My language is not the only one worth speaking. My traditions are not the only ones worth practicing and protecting. This world has more sounds and flavors and movements than many of us will ever be blessed (or brave enough) to experience.
I’ve been in Korea just over a week now. Though frequently overwhelmed by signs I can’t read and words I can’t understand, I’ve been far more overwhelmed by countless simple acts of kindness. Ask my friends and they will tell you I am rarely at a loss for words. Here, though, the smallest act of kindness has left me speechless and almost in tears from feeling overwhelmed by gratitude and thankfulness.
Where I have changed and grown the most is in liberating myself to ask for help without any inclination to feel ashamed, inadequate, stupid, or any other self-critical emotion. Admitting “I don’t know everything” is something I do regularly. To be able to do so without any kind of emotional upheaval is a gift beyond description. When I talk about feeling stabilized and balance, this is what I mean.
The weather has started shifting here in Chicago, my own personal waiting room. I've swapped shorts for jeans, sandals for shoes, t-shirts for a hoody or a sweater. The changes in climate seems to be mirroring the changes in me. At the same time, these seasonal transitions are nothing new. By and large, every year, there is a point in the life of the city when the heat of the sun and the green of the trees gives way to cool breezes and leaves with hues of fire and warmth. Maybe that's one of the reasons I love autumn. I feel the heat of summer in the warmth on my skin, but in the fall, I see it in the crimsons and ochres, the marigolds and magentas. Autumn reminds me of the cycles of change that take place inside me.
Both in reference to my summer road trip and my move abroad, some people thought I was nuts. Thankfully, many more people offered me affirmations, calling me brave, adventurous, liberated, and countless other adjectives. Really though, I just wanted to spend time with my friends and family before I leave the country. Knowing I will be on the other side of the world from those I've called home so far in life, I wanted to store up memories, conversations, experiences, hugs and kisses, tears and laughs. These are the people I've stayed in touch with since leaving the Midwest, and my heart longed to be with them one more time before I go. So I ignored the naysayers and embraced this new side of myself, free-spirited, goofy, spontaneous.