All it took was 35 days for me to fall in love. Now this was the real kind you see in films; dirty, painful, asphyxiating, unforgettable, and life changing love. I was 21.
But my story isn’t a traditional boy meets girl, girl falls in love, yadda yadda. No. It was girl meets world; a part of the world unknown to her.I fell in love with a place, not a person.
Back story: I have always had an admiration of Asia every since I was in elementary school and I obsessively watched animes like Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Powerpuff Girls, Stufio Ghibli films, etc. Then in Junior high school, I learned all about Asia (particularly Southeast and East Asia) and I become instantly more intrigued by their persisting traditions and culture. The architecture of China, Japan, and Korea captivated me. The music had its way with me too. I was 13 when I wanted more than anything to go to Japan and China; I made it a goal to walk the entirety of the Great Wall of China (or at least as much is physically possible) and to hike Mount Fuji and explore the whole great island of Japan, paying particular attention to Nagasaki, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Kyoto. Anyway that takes me to 2015, as a Junior at Arizona State University. I had plans to backpack Europe after the spring semester ended, but that wasn’t enough for me; I needed to quench this thirst for a land unlike my own- I needed to go to Asia. I never considered studying abroad because I think its just another way for universities to cash in on poor 20-something year olds, but what the hell, everything is worth a try (or a check in this case). Well that ended up being the second best decision of my life at that point in time; the first being getting a passport and accepting solo travels. Upon inspecting the ASU study abroad page I saw a program going to South Korea for 35 days to teach in two summer camps and then travel around. This program was not set in stone, however. I spoke to the coordinators at my school and asked when and if the program would be finalized, and what I could do to secure my place in the case that it was offered. They told me to go ahead with the application process and they’d contact my if the Korean government was going through with the program (since it was sponsored by them). This was in March, mind you, meaning the program would commence in only 4 months, and I left for Europe on May 10, so I had essentially no time to prepare alternative plans or anything really. Anyway, a few weeks later, I was told that the program had a green light and they chose me out of hundreds of applicants to do further interviews and see if I could make it. It was then that I realized how competitive this program was; only 14 ASU students could go, and since I had ZERO TEACHING EXPERIENCE, I had a mini panic attack because I HAD to go. I needed this. I couldn’t think of a better opportunity. So at my interview, I gave it my all and before I left the room with the hiring committee, I straight up broke out of fake professional complex and told them that while I may not have the teaching background they are looking for, I do have the travel experience and the adaptability, that I need to do this because I know it will change my life in a way I can not explain yet but the feeling about that is so strong. One week later I got the phone call I had been eagerly awaiting. See, its funny because in my head, I WAS going, there was no way I wouldn’t be chosen, I just HAD to be one of the 14. I had no plan B; Korea was all there was. And to this day it is all there is.
So July 16th, 2015, I left for the greatest adventure to this day.
The first week was spent in Gwangju and Mokpo, two very beautiful and vibrant cities.We were housed in a Football (soccer) center, so through my window I could watch professional soccer players practice and play. My roommate was seriously godsent too; we had the same personality so it just worked.We both happen to find Korean men VEEEERY attractive so it was kind of heaven on earth walking through the halls and smiling at all those soccer players. I love working out so I spent a lot of time in the center’s gym which luckily for me, is where they liked to hang out too. So ya know, Megan strikes gold once again. The Mokpo International Football Center is where we all had orientation and teaching training. I believe that 3 other universities took place in the program as well, Missouri State being the biggest school there (they had the coolest people, not gonna lie). We had all meals provided at the Center, and it was served buffet style (thank god because being vegan I need to eat a tooooon of vegetables to maintain weight/health).
Week two: Middle School Camp in Gokseong. All the ASU students and the Korean coteachers we transported to a science college in Gokseong and we were given a class to teach; I got cooking!! So for 10 days, we taught six 45 minute classes a day plus an additional half hour in the morning and another hour in the evening with our homeroom to practice a play and have journal writing time. I’m not going to lie, it was hard work, we were all tired and cranky and hungry and we were not expecting working days from 7am-9pm. The students felt the stress too. Summer camp is supposed to be fun, but we were all working so hard. Honestly though, I shouldn’t complain, I was in Korea for gods sake. But at that point we hadn’t seen much of the country (literally only 2 small cities briefly) and we were told we couldnt leave the campus (who follows rules though??) Had we all have been adequately prepared for the mountainous amount of work we had, I think we would have enjoyed the first camp so much better. The kids were incredible though! They were all so witty and smart, and one of my boys was doing Organic Chemistry and speaking better english than me at just 14. The kid was inspirational, really, so smart and so kind, and so humble. I hope we meet again. The rest of the kids were just as fabulous. I miss them all so much and remember each one, and despite being 8 years older than them, I could see me actually being friends with them because they were so much like me; plus they were hilarious and loud and overly excited. I LOVED IT. Leaving the first camp was heart breaking. I was crying so hard and my fellow ASU friends were saying that it sucks that we’d never see them again, but I very defiantly said that I would. Without a doubt, I had to see them again.
This is where the dream of moving to Asia grew.
Week 3: excursions week!We could choose between staying at a Buddhist temple for a few days or going to various festivals. I opted to stay in the Buddhist temple, and let me tell you, that was home. Only a certain kind of person would choose to stay in a temple over the latter option. It was a humbling experience waking up at 4:30 AM and chanting at sunrise, bowing 108 times (full bows, okay? It huuurt) then having tea with the monks, eating vegan food (yaaaaaaaas), chanting some more, and doing meditation in the forest. One of the days while the others were napping or doing their own thing, I decided to hike up the mountain. I ended up on someone’s property without evening knowing. The homeowner came out of the woods and asked me what I was doing in Korean, and I responded that I’m just walking and I’m sorry. So he told me to follow him. Growing up in America, I honest to god was like ‘alright this is it. Goodbye world, I am gone.’ then I accepted my imminent death because I had, in fact, trespassed. But, the man took me to a little wooden circle on the ground which I would learn was a lid covering his little water hole. He took a wooden spoon and drank from it, then gave me the spoon and gestured to the water. The man gave me water after I ended up on his property. Let me tell you, that was the exact moment I realized I am where I belong. The following day, although nothing can top that experience, the main monk told us that it was much too hot to stay on the mountain, so he took us to a nearby city, Gangjin, so we could go to the celadon festival (so it turns out we got the better end of the deal because we got to do both excursions listed above). The festival was interesting and the hand made goods were lovely! That night we went back over to that general area, and walked along a very long bridge to an island so we could watch the moon rise over a mountain. I am not the same after seeing the moon rise from another country. That changed me. We heading back to the Football Center the day after to get our stuff ready for the next camp.
Week four: elementary school camp in Damyang Provincial College
After acclimating to the high work level, the second camp went so much more smoothly. There was no stress among the teachers and we all just genuinely felt better. My co-teacher and I checked out the town around camp quite often and got coffee at various coffee shops. One night we all kind of snuck out to go to Karaoke, and that was probably the most exciting night of all. We literally just bolted out songs, in English and Korean. Another night we went to a cafe, and being the hella nerd I am focused all of my attention on a stupid puzzle with my long lost twin- Lexie. It was beautiful; everything was. My co-teacher, the students, the food, the scenery, my classroom, the Korean staff, my room (with broken A/C), EVERYTHING. We were across the street from a river and a bamboo forest. My god, I miss Korea. The one thing I’d change about it was the communal showers and hella humid hallways. But honestly, this week made me forget about the stressful week prior.
Week 5: Korea tour!
First stop was a traditional Hanok village, then it was off to Suncheon! I met up with My co-teacher from the second camp and we walked around the Suncheon Bay garden together. It warmed my heart. I miss him a lot, I really do. And I was so honored that he came to hang out with me there. The bay gardens are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet and I had just got done learning about them in one of my ecology courses so I had put it on my to-do list, not knowing I would visit it less than a year later! Then we went to Jeonju, a cute little traditional village. I liked this one more than the other one because there was more to do. Then we went to the place we were all dying to finally visit. SEOUL. I was lucky and shared a room with my original roommate at the football center, because we and I also have the same travel style. We went shopping around MyeongDong all day, then the following day, we spent 7 hours walking ALL AROUND SEOUL to find a damn poop cafe. We walked 20 miles in the blistering heat, then a random rainstorm and finally found it. It was worth it. No ragrets. Then she and I went to North Korea, because you know, what else? That experience was pretty tight. We walked into infiltration tunnels North Korea made to attack Seoul, and explored around. One of the nights I hiked up the mountain with Namsan tower and admired the beautiful neon oasis, that is Seoul.
The day we all headed to the airport was the most heartbreaking day for me. I cried on the drive, and on the plane, and again in my dad’s car. There is not a single thing that made me fall in love, but several things, all intertwined. But looking at each individual aspect of Korea makes it easy for me to see why it was the first place I ever felt at home. Being the local celebrity, all because I look different has the child in me dying because I have always wanted to be in the spotlight. Having my coteacher introduce me as his ‘beautiful co-teacher’ had me swooning for days. One of the other super cute teachers (seriously she was a pixie straight out of an anime) grabbed me and shared her umbrella with me so we didn’t get burnt. Saw a boy band perform randomly on the streets of Seoul. One super sweet cafeteria worker would bring me out tofu every day and would go out of her way to find me so she could give it to me. I had students propose to me, hug me, make me stuff, and tell me they love me.
I knew without a doubt in my mind that I would call Korea home in the future. But its funny, because nothing is guaranteed, and I know this, but I also know I have never made a goal that I didnt or couldn’t accomplish. I had no real plan on how I would be going back to Korea, all I knew was I had to go back. I told my students and my co-teachers That I would be back in a year’s time. I was exactly right. 365 days later I would be making my return journey back home. For good.
I guess my main point is anything is possible if you want something bad enough, you will achieve your goal, without a doubt. There are always opportunities, so if you’re looking for a good time, its now. Truthfully, there will never be a perfect time to go but thats part of the great journey of life. You just have to go. Do the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Because if not now, when?
35 days was all it took me to find love. How long will it take you?