28 June 2010


Text of my reflection given at the Fulbright Korea ETA Final Dinner on Saturday, June 26, 2010 at the Dragon Hill Lodge, Yongsan Garrison, Seoul.

So, here we are. I promise I’ll keep this short both because when Emily asked me to say something she told me to keep it short. But, mostly because I’m not really sure what to say to sum up my last three years and relate it back to you. That’s odd for me because, as I looked back at all the blog entries and emails home I wrote over the last few years, I realized I used to have a lot to say about my time here.

You see, you should understand that I like writing. A lot. Proof-reading is something awful… But writing is fantastic. When I first got to Korea, I would write these 11-page single spaced emails home documenting every thing I saw and experienced. It was all so new and exciting and strange and it gave me something to write about so I would just write and write and write. But I wouldn’t proof-read. I would just write.

I just wrote because, let’s face it, proof-reading is boring. Writing is where the excitement is at. The first pen stoke on the paper, the first word padded out on the keyboard, the first recollection of the story that your friends will read in all its vivacious lack of clarity and because of that lack of clarity you get comments and questions and you enter into dialog and conversation and it stays exciting and fresh and new.

Eventually though, the new becomes familiar, the strange, routine. And so, I stopped writing.

You see, I always write when I am traveling. I think it was a habit ingrained from my youth when my mom would make my sister and I write diary entries to keep track of what we did everyday on camping trips. When I first got to Korea, first experienced orientation, first met my host family, first started teaching, I was traveling. I saw something new everyday and I did something new everyday and so there was something to write home about everyday. But at some point, I stopped traveling. At some point, I looked out the window of my homestay in Pyeongchang, out the window of a bus leaving Incheon for Pohang, out the window of my apartment at school to watch the sunrise against the glorious background music of my students’ morning calisthenics routine… At some point, I looked out and I said, “I am home.” Now, when I look back and “proof-read” those pages and pages that I wrote so long ago, I laugh at myself. How naïve and foolish and even foreign I sound to myself now!

It is strange for me that when I start grad school this fall in Seattle, I will most likely start writing again, and not just because I’ll have papers due, but because it will be a new experience. It is strange for me that, over the course of a year, two years, and then finally three, I should consider a foreign shore more familiar to me than my native land (though I’m sure I’ll adjust to Seattle much quicker than I did to Korea).

But I have come to understand that this is the nature of our work here. To put down our pens, our cameras, and our laptops and not just view our time here through a window, but to step beyond and build a home with the people that we have met, known, and loved. Over the past one or two years, you have not just been an observer here. You have lived here. You have had a home here. It is my hope that—as you “proof-read” your blogs, your emails, and your pictures—it is my hope that you find that Korea has been as good a home for you as it has been for me.

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