We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves ― Dalai Lama XIV
When I first landed at Incheon International Airport last year, it was around 4 in the morning. After a 14 hour nonstop flight from Chicago on a plan filled with people coughing, snoring, sneezing, fidgeting, or crying (in the case of the littles), I was thankful to be on solid ground again, albeit in a strange land. I made my way through the massive terminal towards the airport spa for a hot tub soak and shower. After cleaning up, changing clothes, and getting oriented to the reality of being on the other side of the world, I did the only logical thing for a newbie expat to do: I went to Krispy Kreme.
I still cannot believe I’ve been here for (just shy of) a year. I can’t believe how much progress I’ve made in learning to read/write/speak/understand Korean (sometimes with significant resistance). I can’t believe how well I’ve adjusted to eating food far spicier than I ever tolerated in America (things like 떡볶이/tteokbokki or 닭갈비/dak-galbi). Hardest of all, I can’t believe how, after a year, I’m still regularly dealing with some of the same old demons, anxieties, frustrations, and challenges that haunted me before I ever stepped foot in Asia.
Running 10,000 miles away from my home country means the distance between me and myself has changed by a measure of zilch/zero/nada. I’m still right there by myself, and whatever internal, emotional, spiritual, or relational difficulties plagued me in America hopped on that plane with me in Chicago, and they hopped right off with me in Incheon, perhaps despite by most valiant efforts to leave them behind.
I kid… mostly. I didn’t expect to leave behind my faults/flaws/hardships in the US when I came here. I knew full well they would expatriate with me. I guess I hoped to have made more progress in taming them in a year’s time. I hoped to be less anxious about not having control, less irritable with people for not simply doing things my way, less reactive to people not paying attention to me, less despondent to feeling invisible or insignificant… the list goes on. And yes, If I’m objectively honest, I know I’ve made progress in many areas. Hell, I even sat with some Korean colleagues for a solid 30 minute conversation (in Korean) for the sake of just trying to understand them. And I didn’t get frustrated. That’s progress.
Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
― Brené Brown
Living in Korea is not easy. It’s hard dealing with so many cultural differences. It’s hard being in a place where the dominant representation of Christianity is akin to that of my childhood (and thus triggers old wounds on the regular). It’s hard tolerating the regular commentary on my body (whether it be on my baldness or on my belly, though I thankfully get called “handsome” or even “pretty” from time to time). It’s hard doing a job that often has me feeling like an animal on display (talk to any foreign teacher and I’m sure you’ll hear similar stories).
As difficult as living abroad has been and continues to be, I can’t help but be thankful for learning to deal with me. Not deal with. Accept. Embrace. See clearly. It’s a blessing to be able to see even my darkest corners and respond with grace and hopefulness. It’s amazing to have the time to reflect and work on becoming the man I both am already and want to grow into (think “now but not yet”). So many of us — and I say this with no shame or judgment — spend a LOT of time trying to escape our anxieties and sadness, our faults and flaws, and perhaps most of all, our grief and regrets.
When we stop expending all our energy on trying to escape that which we don’t want to see or acknowledge and instead invest in being present, noticing, and transforming/allowing ourselves to be transformed into the whole people we already are (but often can’t see), something shifts inside and out. Suddenly, we can start seeing not only the beauty outside of us but also the beauty inside. In claiming and accepting ourselves, the kind of acceptance that fosters growth and change, we become better equipped to show that same acceptance to others.
I don’t know when I’ll call the US home again, but for as long as I’m on this wild ride, I’m going to continue using every moment I can to strive for goodness, kindness, acceptance, and change.
photo credit: Marco (via Flickr)