I know it has been a while since I have written anything on my blog! I apologize. I originally wanted to write a blog post every week but I don’t know if that will be possible. If I can get to that point, I will not be doing as much work as I should be!
I can’t believe that it’s been nearly two months since I left home to come here as a YAV to Korea. It feels like a lot less time and also a lot more. I have never gone this long without seeing my parents or my brother in my entire life and I’ve honestly been majorly homesick and crying almost every day for some reason or another. The difficulties of this year are hard to explain in a blog post or a conversation and I’m sure when I come home at the beginning of next August I will be unpacking all of my emotions and experiences for months if not years afterwards.
I also understand now how difficult it can be to explain to someone what being a YAV is like when YAV alums have tried to explain it to me. This year challenges you in ways that you couldn’t have prepared for or expected and is definitely a time where God is constantly telling you, “okay, it’s time to grow now!” There have already been many moments of stretching and pulling and discomfort that have surrounded me at every turn and I know there are many many more to come.
One of the biggest discomforts has definitely been going to Korean class every day. It’s a good class and I’m learning a lot, but at least once every hour, I think to myself “I already have a degree, I don’t want to be in school anymore!” People who return to university for any additional schooling past their bachelor’s degree deserve a lot more credit than I’ve been giving them! I cannot even imagine what willingly committing to more classes would even feel like.
Another big struggle has been going to my worksite on Mondays through Wednesdays. I am trying to help and teach English at a children’s after school center called Beopdong after the district it’s located in. I enjoy everyone who I work with there, but no one who is there regularly speaks English. This has made understanding what my worksite even expects from me extremely difficult, and everyday I am there has been a constant battle in my mind to try and figure out how to be a good teacher and an actual helper there.
Learning a new city and how to use public transportation has been both a joy and a huge pain in my butt. I can honestly say that I love the city of Daejeon, but trying to understand where I am when I can’t understand any street signs is next to impossible. The bus system has been very helpful and has certainly saved me and the YAV program money while I have been here but it’s very difficult to figure out how the routes work and how exactly the schedule works.
In all of this, I have been extremely helpless. I have definitely described myself as a baby to many people since arriving due to my illiteracy and general lack of understanding who to be here and how to act. In it all though, God has sent me as many resources and help as He can, and I can feel His presence through each of these people that have been willing to help me and change me and my perceptions.
For instance, I was coming home from E-mart (a major grocery store located in a mall; think if Kroger was in a mall) this evening and was laden down with numerous groceries and as I rushed through the rain to the bus stop, I missed my bus back to Hannam. I figured this was fine, there would always be another bus, but as I watched the scrolling bus routes and times, my route (105) was not listed. I instantly was filled with a panic and stared at the screen in disbelief for a couple minutes as the list repeated over and over without the route I needed. I then glanced around helplessly at all the other people mingled around the stop in disarray. I looked up and down the busy street wondering if maybe there was another stop nearby that was my real stop, because this certainly wasn’t it. But as I recognized landmarks around me, I realized that this was my stop and somehow the bus I needed didn’t appear to be coming. It was right about then that an older gentleman who smelled strongly of alcohol stepped up and covered me with his umbrella and spoke to me in quick Korean while gesturing at the screen with the bus routes. I was very uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to do and he was standing uncomfortably close to me, but I did my best to respond and told him the route number I was looking for. As we watched the screen, route 105 suddenly appeared and this man told me how long it would be until the bus would arrive. It would be at least 10 minutes and so I expected that this would be the end of our conversation, particularly because I wasn’t sure that I wanted to keep talking to this nice but buzzed man. However, this kind man kept speaking with me and told me what his route number was and said a lot of things I couldn’t understand in fast and slightly slurred Korean. During this time, he rested his hand that was holding up the umbrella covering us both on my shoulder. Every part of my body said “move away, he must have ulterior motives, this isn’t safe, you have to be safe”. (I will be honest, friends. I don’t have much experience around people who have been drinking, let alone strangers who have been drinking, so I don’t know if how I felt in this situation was necessarily how I should have been feeling, but just go with my inexperience for the time being). I also felt that I could not trust this person because he was a man and it was dark and night time (even though I was surrounded by big city lights) and I have been taught to not let myself get into those situations because I have been taught that I can’t trust strange men. The minutes ticked by with my discomfort still bubbling under the surface as I pushed it down. The man continued to try to speak to me so I tried to respond and told him I was learning Korean at Hannam University. He laughed and would inform me how many minutes were left until my bus would arrive every time route 105 showed up on the helpful little screen. When it got down to 3 minutes before the bus would arrive, I started to move towards the street so I wouldn’t miss the bus and to my dismay, the man followed me slightly. I squashed my fears and reminded myself that he had been nothing but helpful to me in the entire time that we had been speaking, even if he had been touching me in ways that I would normally not allow from a stranger. When bus 105 pulled up, I tried to turn back to my helper and thank him for his help, but he urgently shuffled me towards the bus and wouldn’t allow me to pause for even a second. As I sat down on the bus, I breathed a little lighter and then was frustrated that I had been so judgmental and mistrusting. This man that I didn’t even know was so concerned to get me onto my bus that he hadn’t even allowed me to thank him properly before I’d gotten on. He had shared his umbrella with a stranger and foreigner. He had kept me informed of the timing of my bus route constantly and had made more than sure that I was getting on my bus. I would even bet that if I had somehow managed to miss my bus a second time that he would have waited with me even after his bus had come and gone.
This man, this 아버지 (abeoji), was a simple but significant person in my story of being here in Korea. I do not even know this man’s name, but he has changed a lot in those 10-15 minutes that we stood together under his umbrella. I am very grateful to him and am grateful to God for sending me such a helper who was able to guide me in something as simple as finding my bus but was also able to show me and teach me a lot about Christ’s love and how to show it, which is a language that I hope can one day be mutual among as many people as possible.
So whoever you are and however you have helped me in these past months, years, or the entirety of my life, thank you for the lessons you have taught me and the lessons we can learn from each other in the coming time.
(Special shout out to some special helpers I’ve had since arriving here: 지혜 (Jihye, my dear friend <3), 정운 (Jeongun, my dear sister who hosted me at Chuseok and has watched out for me ever since!), and 서윤 (Seoyun, one of the girls I work with who has worked very hard to make me feel at home at Beopdong))
“If you focus on what you left behind you will never see what lies ahead!” -Gusteau, Ratatouille
“You will also find that help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
“When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured” – “Help!”, The Beatles
“I cannot be everywhere at once, people
I’m in dire need of assistance…” – “Right Hand Man”, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton