A Year in Closing

With only a few weeks before I’m back in the US I’ve begun looking back over the past 10 months. Boarding that airplane in Seattle seems both near and far in memory. Near because the memories of saying goodbye are so fresh, yet far because of the many experiences that fill in the space between then and now. Obviously I can’t encapsulate the past year into a pithy sentence, or even an entire blog post. This is partly because the things I’ve learned and ways that I’ve been shaped have not been linear. I’m still working through a lot of it.

At the beginning of the SALT term in Akron, PA a prayer/poem by Bishop Ken Untener written in memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero was read to all the SALTers. This poem has done a lot to frame the way I’ve thought about my year. It’s a bit long, but here it is:

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How We Make Joy

About a week ago I had the opportunity to talk about joy with a group of Korean middle and high school students. Everything had to be translated into Korean, so for the sake of brevity and clarity—and because of my young audience—I tried to keep it really simple. Neither of those factors are present here, so here’s the long version.

I chose this topic because Korea has the second highest suicide rate in the world and suicide is the number one cause of death among people aged 10 to 39 in Korea. I think suicide is very high in Korea because many people feel stressed, isolated, and disappointed by the current structures they are told to find meaning within. Many people work hard in school or at their job because they are told success and achievement will bring them joy and make others accept them, but that’s not how joy works. This is not an issue specific to Korea, but I think it has a high tendency to make individuals in Korea feel trapped because of firm social patterns in which young people feel unable to escape or challenge the expectations of climbing the social ladder. Of course, I’ve met several Koreans who don’t fit into this generalization, but I believe they are an exceptional minority, and that this generalization is still true for many young people in Korea. Continue reading

Quirkiness in Korea – Part 1

Having been in Korea for half a year, I’ve had the opportunity to stumble upon some of the less obvious quirks of my new home. A few of these oddities have taken a little getting used to, while others simply offer comic relief for the sometimes disorienting experience of living abroad. I expect I’ll make another post as I continue discovering unique little pieces of my life in Korea. For now, here are some of the things I’ve come across!

Where Are All the Garbage Cans…

I’ve gradually noticed that Korean cities have an incredibly sparse number of garbage cans. Several times I’ve had to pack around an empty bottle or a wrapper searching for a receptacle. If you see a trash can or recycle bin, make sure to take advantage of it because you may not see another for a while! The thing that is more surprising than Korea’s lack of garbage cans though is how clean so many of the Korean cities are. If Seattle had so few garbage cans people would likely just drop trash on the ground…  Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

The Beginning of a Korean Adventure

With my departure date for South Korea quickly approaching I have loaded my schedule with as many coffee dates and evening outings as an introvert a sane human can reasonably (and maybe even a little unreasonably) fit into a two-week span. In the midst of this bittersweet transition from being in Seattle to setting my gaze fully on the approaching year God has begun to teach me things, which in theory I knew, but in reality I understand very little about. Mainly I’m learning about the importance and value of relationships.

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The Land of the Morning Calm

Until 108 BC, northern Korea and Manchuria were controlled by Gojoseon. In contemporaneous Chinese records, [the name of this region] was written as , which is pronounced in modern Korean as Joseon. An early attempt to translate these characters into English gave rise to the expression “The Land of the Morning Calm” for Korea, which parallels the expression “The Land of the Rising Sun” for Japan. While the wording is fanciful, the essence of the translation is valid; however, this interpretation is not often used in the Korean language, and is more familiar to Koreans as a back-translation from English.” – Wikipedia

 In the past week I’ve: watched my first Korean movie, become acquainted with another person who will be serving with MCC in South Korea, sent emails and letters to my friends and family formally sharing the details of my assignment, and submitted documents for a visa in the Republic of Korea. My year in Korea just became much more tangible, and with it I realize what that entails. Continue reading

Austin Moves to Korea!

The conclusion of this post is that I will be moving to Chuncheon, South Korea in August for a year of volunteer service with the Korean Anabaptist Center. However, the timeline leading to this decision begins several months ago, so I will start there.

Until the end of last Summer I was set on attending seminary in Seattle for the next four years in pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. I had applied for financial aid, enrolled in classes, and even purchased textbooks for my first quarter. But three weeks before classes started I began to question this decision. I realized I was no longer certain I wanted to be a pastor or teach theology in the traditional sense, which was the reason I wanted to go to seminary to begin with. After weeks of talking with just about every mentor, professor, pastor, and friend whose voice I value, I made my decision. I met with the associate dean of the seminary three days before orientation and officially withdrew. Continue reading