When asked if I could stay in Korea forever (or long term, anyway) I have confidence in my own ability to do so. I could learn the language (deeper than my already intermediate grasp), I love the food, I'd adjusted to the culture, and I could even bear with the winter. There is one problem though, and that's friendships, I mean real, true friendships (and relationships but that's a whole other issue). Foreign friends come and go, many settling here for a year (maybe two) while they pay off student loans or save money for future endeavors, but then they move on. I'm more interested in building friendships with my Korean counterparts, but that's often easier said than done.
This was made even more apparent this year as I was intertwined into the hagwon lifestyle. Everyone talks about the differences between public school and private academy teaching: less vacation, odd hours, smaller classes, and paying mothers, but the relationship factor is one I overlooked. At my previous school I had opportunities to build relationships with both my co-workers and the students. There was break time, the all important lunch hour, filed trips and teachers workshops, all of which offered valuable time to get to know these people I spent a majority of my time with. I didn't realize that entering the academy world meant saying goodbye to all of that.
Don't be fooled, although every academy touts their great teachers and ability to enhance your English/Math/History or other abilities, each of them are only in it for one thing, and that's the money. I'm getting off topic a bit, so I'll save my academy life rant for another day, but the point is this year my teaching position made it hard for me to fall in love, with Andong. I had little to no interest in meeting the other foreigners in this city, but it was clear making friends through work wasn't going to happen either. I often found myself running away to Gumi, Daegu and various other cities to nurture and maintain the friends from before, but it's not easy.
As my time away from home grows longer and I bounce from one country to another I'm beginning to realize the importance of friends, real friends. I don't mean people to grab dinner with or meet for a coffee, I mean the type of people you can call at 3 am just because, share a bottle of wine with, cry with, complain with, and laugh with. I do have friendships like this, lucky for me in a few different countries, but the longer I roam the harder I fear it will be to maintain them. One of the struggles with building a life abroad is that I now have these types of friends in two different countries, ones separated by 5000 miles. Maybe that's what draws me to keep traveling, not being able to be close to all my friends, I may as well just bob from one to the other.
I realize how lucky I am to have made friends in so many different countries. Last summer my Aunt's "You're social life sounds like a full time job" comment really made me smile, but it's hard. It's hard to always be floating on the surface of friendships, missing the deeper connection we need. For now though, I'm doing it and it's "working", I just have to cross my fingers and toes that these friends feel the same. Not minding it when I pop in for a weekend or take off for a few months, promising a 'see you later' that I can't put a time frame on. To each and every one of them though I'm appreciative, from High School and College friends back home, those here in Korea, and travel buddies: hostel mates, bus buddies and couch surfing hosts, I thank you all and promise I will see you again.