Me: “What would you do if you were a doctor and a patient had blue skin?”
Mr. Song: “I would hit his cheek.”
Mr. Song: “Then he would be red.”
If it were one year ago, I would be barfing in the shrubbery of a hospital with a Korean nurse smacking me on the back. In the morning, I would board a plane to Jeju Island, the hottest vacation spot in Korea. I can’t believe that was already a whole year ago. Okhee liked to say, “When you are twenty, life goes 20 miles per hour. When you are thirty, it goes 30 miles per hour. When you are forty, 40 miles per hour.” Coming home from Korea was like applying a little pressure to the brake pedal, which was really nice and, I think, a little necessary.
For me, the only adjusting to home required was overcoming jetlag. I wasn’t hit with a wave of nostalgia, nor was I bogged down with reverse culture shock. As soon as our car left the airport, everything felt oddly normal. The best part of coming home was the moment I walked in my basement door and my dog looked up at me in wonder, as if I had risen from the dead. I spent the next few months getting a fix of delicious home cooked meals, holding my year old nephews upside-down, fruitlessly job searching and consoling myself with minesweeper, and going out, or staying in, with my closest friends both at home and elsewhere. There was no catching up period with them, it felt immediately like old times except for the occasional moment when I wondered if I was annoying when I couldn’t stop bringing up Korea in conversations. But because I know how quickly the past can decay into blotchy memory, I have been trying to keep Korea fresh in my mind. Post-it notes covered in Korean vocabulary surround the toilet paper holder, so that the more frequently I use the restroom, the better my Korean. I cooked a Korean meal for my friends, and overestimating the noodles, ended up eating kkongkuksu leftovers twice a day for the rest of the week. I even dream I am in Korea every now and then, although half the time they are nightmares that I forgot to lesson plan for my middle school class.
This year, instead of Jeju Island, I am getting ready to embark on a new adventure. Apparently the job searching and minesweeper paid off, because I was accepted to an Americorps position with a non-profit that helps Mexican immigrants. In February, I will head to Burnsville, North Carolina to start. I hear that it is one of the most beautiful areas along the Appalachian Trail, with hiking and white water rafting, small town folk with a friendly southern drawl, and the hip city of Asheville a short drive away. Another draw, though, is that home will not be too far either, so if a holiday should come along, or if I should start missing my Springer Spaniel, this time I won’t be in a different hemisphere. I will be a hemisphere away from Korea, though, and I will have to postpone my visit until my one year commitment ends. The old, green mountains in Burnsville might look a bit like Korea’s, although I’m sure I will be hard-pressed to find kimchi in a 50-mile radius, not to mention a train with karaoke rooms or middle schoolers calling out my name on the sidewalk. One thing that is like Korea – I have very little idea of what I’m getting into. I’m hoping that, like Korea, I’ll be very glad I did.