Seoul-journ

20150916_105930 20150925_215922Two months ago, my family moved across the world . . . from Essex, Vermont, USA to Seoul, Korea. Why?

Some days I can’t quite answer that question myself, and I look forward to exploring the answer in a future post.

But, today, I want to write about “home,” and what it means to me, and to my children.

As we pursued this international journey, applying for jobs and researching places for much of the past year, and even before then, I kept thinking that home is a place we find inside ourselves, a place lit up when we’re with people we love. This means home isn’t a physical space we reside in, but rather a space deep inside. What does this mean? Home can be found anywhere, everywhere, if we’re willing to look.

20151004_185450But, can it?

When we broke the news of our big move to our kids (two boys, ages 10 and 7) in March, our older son responded with squeals of glee. He asked if we could leave right then and there. Our younger son was a bit more cautious. He wanted to know how thick the floors on planes are (he had never flown) and if we could travel by boat to Korea. After navigating their responses, we put our home on the market in Vermont and began to disassemble the only life they’d known, saying goodbyes, selling bedroom furniture, gifting/donating many items, and listing a huge part of our sons’ Lego collection on Craigslist. Through it all, I kept saying, “Home is where we’re together. We’ll be at home wherever we are, as long as we’re together.”

We’re now doing a real-life test of the hypothesis.

The results?

So far, it seems “home” is about more than just being with those you love, or finding that settled space inside oneself. For me, Seoul feels like home—at times. I delight in no longer owning
a vehicle, and having less stuff; we now have a smaller residence and fewer possessions. Having less to tend to, clean, and take care of opens the window to so much more . . . more family time, more friendship time, more down time, more exploring time, and more writing time. I do miss my books, though, and some of my writing journals. We somehow managed to bring a ridiculous number of hand towels with us in the eight suitcases we were allotted for our family-of-four move, but my spiral with my novel-in-progress notes in it did not make it, nor did a favorite sweatshirt, or two, and the rest of our boys’ Legos. I love that anything/everything is a walk, bus, or subway ride away. I like walking my sons to school and walking home with them, aside from slightly perilous road crossings. It’s hard not being able to communicate, but we’ve landed in a great community, with people who have gone before us willing to help light the way.

Other days, I wake up and think, what are we doing here? I reflect on friends and family now far, far away. And I long for the green mountains and woods that surrounded our physical home in Vermont.

A few weeks ago, my younger son cried himself to sleep at night, missing his family of stegosaurus stuffed animals (“stegies”), that are either in a storage unit in Virginia or at my dad’s house in North Carolina. Either way, they’re not where he would like for them to be—here with us. I couldn’t help but to cry with him and lay next to him to help comfort him as he fell back asleep.

We each shed tears, but for different reasons.

To my husband and me, the move across the world seemed a way to cultivate all of those big, bold values we want to live and model for our kids, but weren’t sure we were. Resilience, leaps of faith, trust, perseverance, a deep understanding that the world is so much larger than the one we see before us—we wanted to nurture respect for, and connections with, the broader world.

My boys are long past the baby days, but since we arrived in Seoul, the closing lines from the book Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers have been running through my head, “Everywhere babies are loved for trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful … just as they are!” This quote makes me smile . . . and keep going.

On the days when it is so hard to literally understand the world around us, I think we have traveled so far and we’re pretty wonderful . . . just as we are. We don’t need to know or have more than we do, right in this moment, right now. Just celebrate that we made it this far. And be grateful for the strangers whostep in to help us when we’re stuck, like the bus driver who realized we were still on his bus at the end of his route and far from our intended destination—home, so he took our emergency card (the one with our address written in Korean, since we still can’t communicate it), and flagged down a taxi and sent us on our way. Experiences like this happen on a regular basis!

An exchange student myself to Austria in 1995, I mark that year as a positive pivotal point in my life. Leaving the only home I’d known at the age of sixteen to cross the ocean and live with strangers for a year, helped me find my roots and the truest sense of “home” I’d ever known. Embarking on this family journey, I wondered if we, too, could grow us a family, and as individuals, if we found a new home abroad.

I like to think that everything we need is already right here, that happiness is a choice, that home is right there, if we’re willing to see it.

Still, there are days when I struggle because the language and cultural barriers feel so vast, like navigating my first appointment for thyroid cancer follow-up at a big hospital here in Seoul, and there are other days when we feel settled and at ease.

But, isn’t that how it was, too, back “home” in Vermont? Weren’t there days when the pieces fit together and it just felt right and other days when we didn’t feel at home in the world?

This is part of what motivated this journey, too—a sense in my life of being other, not part of the majority I may belong to in the parameters of place, or life circumstances, this hint of never quite belonging. As an outsider, I don’t technically belong here in Korea, which might allow me to feel like I fit right in.

I cannot have this conversation without also thinking of those without homes, or those forced from homes, of refugees I served in Vermont and the stories they carried, of defectors I’m tutoring here and the stories they carry. It seems downright indulgent, and certainly unjust, that I should have the privilege of choice in where to make my home, choosing not just a new home state, but a new home country, while so many live without that choice, where so many . . . how do I even end that sentence? You’ve seen the recent photos, footage, and articles in the news. You know our collective history.

And, yet, perhaps this step, this choice, is anything but indulgent, if seen from the perspective of deepening our ties to the collective whole. The more we can instill in our kids a sense of we’re all in this together, perhaps the deeper our potential to nurture change, within and outside of ourselves. And, perhaps the greater the likelihood that we’ll find our own personal home, that space inside ourselves that allows us to feel a sense of belonging and connectivity to the wider world.

My younger son has gone from asking nearly daily when we can go back to the U.S. to visit, and specifically go to American Flatbread in Vermont, to just the other day, saying, “Can we go back to the U.S. for a month and then come back to Korea?” Or, saying on a walk home recently, “Our apartment is starting to feel like home now.”

So, is home somewhere physical or always right here, with us wherever we go?

In my heart, it’s both, which is why this move is both joyous and heavy. I celebrate the home we’re discovering here, while longing for Austria. A little bit of my heart is always there, with my host mother in Kapfenberg, and a bit more of it is with my godparents in Evans, Georgia. Still other pieces of my heart are scattered with friends and family throughout the U.S., and around the world.

Yet it is also here, reading a book in bed with one of our sons in our new apartment in Seoul. It’s in the writing zone I enter occasionally, or in the connecting with a long-lost friend when five hours pass like five minutes. It’s one of my first new friends here being a woman from Germany—someone I can speak German with! It’s going to the new coffee shop right by our home here in Nowon-gu, Seoul, and the barista knowing I like cinnamon in my coffee and my husband doesn’t, so she has taken to asking, “For you?” or, “For your husband?”

So, maybe that’s a start . . . home: a place where we feel understood, where we feel welcome.20151002_131808

 

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