Four Korean Months in Review

Today marks four months since arriving in Korea! To celebrate, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve learned in Korea so far.

I Am a Part of My Country

As much as I’m sometimes frustrated by practices, policies, and general social patterns in the United States, it’s still my home country.  It also happens to be one of the most powerful countries in the world. As a citizen of this country with the ability to vote, protest, and be heard I’ve come to realize I have the privilege and responsibility to do so. There are many stories I’ve heard about the US acting in ways I absolutely do not support in countries throughout Asia. As a Christian seeking justice, mercy, and humility I realize these stories must motivate me to advocate to the leaders I can influence. 

I Am Limited

Living in a foreign country is a stretching experience on multiple levels. It’s pressed me up against my limitations and forced me to acknowledge what I can do and what I cannot. For example:

I like to think I’m okay at learning languages, but I’ve had to admit I can’t internalize an entire language in four months. This means I won’t understand everything everyone is saying all the time; I’ll need to ask for help (a lot 😅); and I’ll need to learn grace and humility as I navigate the complexities of a language barrier.

Learning about some of the history and culture of Northeast Asia has taught me that there are vast sections of the world that I just don’t understand. I like to think my college degree and YouTube have made me a well educated person, but honestly, I’m not as insightful as I often like to tell myself. In truth, I simply cannot grasp the depth or nuance of all the things that happen in all the places. My vision is just too limited to do so.

I’ve experienced multiple occasions where I’ve ignored the small sensation in my chest that says, “Quiet empty space to breathe, now!” in an effort to continue participating in community, only to soon feel my soul face-plant and a headache begin. I’m learning I cannot be extroverted all of the time most of the time. My emotional energy is just too limited to do so.

I Am Resilient

While my time in Korea has drawn a lot of attention to my limitations, it’s also made me realize how resilient a person I am. Each of these has surprised me:

Food in Korea is quite different compared to the typical food in the US, with some of the flavors being quite strong and dishes often having a bit of spiciness. However, I’ve only encountered one food I won’t eat, and the spiciest of the spicy foods have yet to vanquish me. I think the only challenge Korean food will offer me is its scarcity back home! 🍜

Prior to leaving the US, a good friend asked what my biggest concern was, and I told him I was concerned I wouldn’t be flexible enough. However, I think flexibility and patience have been my greatest strengths thus far. Adapting, bouncing, and going with the flow haven’t been nearly as challenging as I expected.

During my last Sunday at my church in Seattle one of my pastors left me with a powerful prayer. She said she wasn’t sure what the word “play” meant to me, but she felt that God was going to give new meaning to this word during my time in Korea. For me being playful is a form of humility and a rejection of fear and violence. Playfulness is a realization that God is going to rock the boat, so rather than battening down the hatches on life I must learn to move my feet and bend my knees. Playfulness is the courage to be vulnerable with others by offering compassion, humor, and authenticity even when they’re grumpy because they haven’t had coffee yet. Playfulness is the ability use love to disrupt and protest against evil. Korea is teaching me that my capacity for play is deeper than I thought.

When I first arrived in Korea my connection with God was subpar. I wasn’t engaging with Scripture in any meaningful way, I wasn’t praying in any regular fashion, and I was generally peeved at God. But like Jacob, I was determined to wrestle with God until God blessed me. This blessing came in the form of a renewed freshness in my connection with God. This has taught me that even when a relationship feels like it’s in the deepest hole it can be revived with a bit of a lot of honesty, humility, intentionality, and grace.

I Am Who I Am

To sum it up: I’m learning how to hold the various aspects of my personality in harmony as I stumble through the world. I’m slowly figuring out how to be simultaneously playful and perceptive in a world the desperately needs both. A quote I recently read about Theologian Walter Brueggemann says it well:

Walter Brueggemann writes in The Pro­phetic Imagination about the two elements of prophetic vision. One is criticality, recognition of the world’s pain. Second is hope, recognition of the world’s possibilities. Young people come of age with a critical eye and a hopeful heart. It’s that combination of critical eye and hopeful heart that brings change. That’s one reason why so many young people were and are involved in movements for social change.

I think it may be the case that the further we lean into the work God is doing, the further we lean into a more whole version of ourselves. Perhaps it’s out of these “whole-selves” that God is healing the world.

The tl;dr version is pretty much, Korea is teaching me: 나는 나다~~ ^^ (I am who I am)