The Big French Project

Bonjour readers,

I am updating you guys about a semi-secret project I started preparing this spring. I am leaving Korea. For good? Who knows. Probably. But I am ready for new challenges. A ticket has been purchased and I am heading to France this winter. Most of my friends and family don’t even know about this yet, so let’s consider this the public announcement.

I have been wanting to spend more time in Europe since my 2012 study abroad. This side trip to Korea (is two years a side trip?) have been illuminating, interesting, exciting, frustrating, shocking, and ultimately educational. But I know in my heart that there are many reasons I won’t live in Korea forever. It’s time to challenge myself and keep working toward my goals.

My problems with Korea are not culture shock– I got over that quite quickly. I am a very “go with the flow” kind of person, so I understand that things are done differently. There are just some social and cultural things that ultimately I don’t like about living in Korea. I think a couple of my Korean friends are a little hurt by this because Korea is very insular and patriotic. If you make a criticism about Korea, it hurts them on a personal level it seems. (When people complain about America, I’m just like, “Yeah sometimes it sucks, I know.”) So I try to refrain from making criticisms about the homogeneous side of the culture that puts anyone different in the category of “other” and therefore to be avoided and scorned….and about the out dated business culture that makes them the “least efficient OECD country“…. I don’t dislike Korea and I have loved many people I’ve met here, but it’s hard to work in this climate and live as someone who will never be accepted into this culture no matter how much kimchi I eat or how hard I practice my Korean.

This post isn’t meant to be a rant about what I dislike about Korea. It’s just a brief overview of some of the reasons why I’ve made this decision. I have had a ton of good experiences in Korea as well. And of course there are exceptions to these rules. There are small changes happening in Korea and young people who are interested in setting a different tone for the upcoming generation. Because age hierarchy is so integral to Korean culture, these young people are fighting an uphill battle, but slowly, some change is being made. As more young Koreans travel and study abroad, some of the enclosed exterior of the society is being chipped away at. I think it’s great. But I don’t want to wait another ten years until I can walk around my neighborhood without being asked if I am a Russian prostitute. Seriously.

But back to my French plans…

In Seoul, I have met many French speaking people who have reignited my interest in the language. I studied French in high school (because everyone else was taking Spanish and I had to be a special snowflake… and I was stubborn, I think my mom told me French was useless, so then I had to take French). This renewed study of French came at the time when I was searching for my next step. I started feeling fidgety this winter, like I needed to move on, but I wasn’t sure where to go. For a while I was actually feeling a little depressed because I couldn’t help but think that I either had to stay in Korea or go back to my microscopic hometown in America. Obviously, that’s not true.

So I returned to my first love: Europe. I am going on a reconnaissance mission for 3 months to France (with some side train trips to Belgium/Switzerland/Germany if money allows). I have some friends there who I will be couch surfing with to make my meager funds hold out while I look for a job in France (or Belgium). I may have to duck back to the US for visa processing which is annoying. I want to check the legality of me just hanging out in the UK and processing it from the embassy there since I will be bringing all my paperwork with me. Basically. I am going to collect hard copies and electronic copies of all my documents from Korean immigration, as well as picking up a Seoul police check to prove that I haven’t been naughty over here, since my FBI check from the US is two years old and I’ve spend a total of 3 weeks in the US in those two years.

Yes, of course money is a huge concern. I feel like most travel bloggers gloss over this. Basically, I am selling all the stuff I acquired here in Korea, selling my guitar (I can’t really play it well anyway), selling a lot of my clothes, collecting my Korean pension, and picking up a little part time online tutoring that I am hoping to continue on the road so that my account sees a little trickle going into it, not just all my money pouring out.

This has put a stop to a few of my plans in Korea. I have been working on a project called “You’re-a-Grown-Woman-With-a-Professional-Job-So-Dress-Decently.” A project that is not easy or cheap for me in Korea. But I feel I have made some strides, mainly thanks to mail order. But that tends to be more expensive, so I will have to take a break from that project for the moment. I also cancelled my summer trip to Japan, regretfully. I have really enjoyed traveling to Japan and Hong Kong and hope I will visit them both again some day.

I plan to do some reflection posts on the bests things I’ve seen, done, and eaten in Korea, as well as some things I am probably not going to miss from here. And instead of leaving the country for summer vacation, I will do some small day trips around Korea to see all the cool sites before I go.

I know that every country and culture has its less desirable sides. But I think that in the end it’s about weighing which problems you can live with day to day. And also choosing a place that will help you move toward your goals. I think it would be silly to stay in Korea longer if it’s not moving me toward those goals. I’ve proved that I can survive and live well here– it’s now a matter of deciding that I just want to live differently.

I am really excited to go to France (and avoid another Seoul winter!). I think it will be refreshing and exciting. Even if it doesn’t result in a job and a long term stay, three months in France and its neighbors will be an enriching experience.

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