One of the hardest things about moving to Korea is saying goodbye to family and friends. I'm still in the process of doing that, but this thread on Dave's ESL Cafe, inspired me to get a little reflective about the process. If you don't know already, "Dave's" is an online message board for EFL/ESL teachers worldwide, but pretty much the default message board for such teachers in Korea (not the only one or even the best one, but a good enough place to start). While it is a super resource for anyone who is thinking about moving to Korea to teach English, you have to muster up a lot of serenity to ignore the idiocy and ridiculous negativity that frequently drowns out the conversations there. So while I was inspired to reflect on the whole good bye process, I thought it best to post those thoughts here instead.
I remember thinking (back in March when I made this decision) that the people who really mattered to me would be supportive of my choices. I felt blessed that this is the case, but it does come after years of making good choices most of the time and having people around who are mature enough to separate any gut reactions of abandonment/rejection/fear they may be feeling from their real understanding of who I am and why I need to do this right now. Once I realized this, I felt all my lingering feelings of obligation to stay near them slip away... This revelation enabled me to finally decide to go (and generally to stop basing my life decisions on other people's expectations and needs--I'm 26 and the only real responsibility I have is to myself and my cat).
Of course, I've been ambivalent about leaving people (and places) behind ever since.
In general, I was right--most people in my life have been supportive, some enthusiastically so. Many people ask the whole "North or South Korea?" question, I hope out of momentary shock or genuine inquisitiveness (because if they actually let Americans as aid workers into North Korea that is the kind of crazy thing I might get in my head to do...). To them, I simply quip about my lifelong desire to be for Kim Jong Il what the three blondes are to Hugh Hefner. The people who don't get it after that wouldn't get it anyway.
So anyway, back to THE POINT of this whole post: saying goodbye and the reactions I've gotten. Part of it boils down to how I tell it and the follow up questions they ask, but basically I explain that I'm going to teach there on a year-long contract, but plan to stay for a bit longer than that (maybe 2-3) because I want to learn the language and culture. Honestly, I don't know what I'm doing after that because I change my mind every three or four days (usually boils down to pursuing the Ph.D., coming back and settling in the Maryland area doing whatever, or becoming a country-hopping, English-teaching gypsy), so I just tell people that I don't know when they ask when/if I'm coming back.
I'll start with family. They were pretty easy.
My parents are down to just a couple e-mails a month about bad things happening in Asia (you know, any heightened terror alerts, food poisoning reports, weird diseases and such), which is their own special way of letting me know they are worried about my leaving. They are pretty supportive otherwise (they did Peace Corps straight out of college, so they get the global-living bug thing...). Dad gives me helpful pep talks whenever I get overwhelmed by some of the preparations, and Mom is making plans for her and Sarah to visit. They've both offered to help in all kinds of unexpected ways with "back home" business while I'm overseas.
My brother and sister do not understand, for very different reasons. Brian seems apathetic, as he does about most things in my life. Honestly, I wouldn't know how or even if he feels about it, and I won't be so arrogant as to hazard a guess here. Sarah expresses her hurt about my leaving openly, but I think she's ok with it overall. She is probably the person I'll miss the most--but only because of what I'll miss in her life while I'm over there--she's graduating from high school this year and starting college and I won't be there for any of that and that will be very hard for me... and for her. But my siblings are still pretty ok with my going.
My closest friends from high school are all spread to the four corners of the earth. Seriously, a few are in their grad school towns in the states, but others are in Germany (after spending most of the summer travelling around southeast Asia and eastern Europe), Brazil, Guinea (French), and China at the moment. The ones who are still in the states are all over the US or moving about soon. I'm one of the last still living near DC, so these pals were pretty supportive. Even Sam accepts my leaving, as he must, though I know he'll miss me.
But those are the people I know I'll stay in touch with in some form or another forever--they are family. I knew they'd be supportive because I know we'll be in touch and reconnect whenever we can (see my post on visiting Rose from a few days ago to understand this one).
My college friend group dissipated in a spectacularly awful debacle, for which I was largely responsible, and I only really still keep in touch with a couple people--my former roommate and my friend who now also teaches at Roosevelt. I hear from others now and then and think of them fondly (often wondering if I should reach out and try to repair some of those rifts, since I really don't hate any of them and feel sorry about some of the things I said and did--especially to Dana and to Nik), but I don't think just before departure is the appropriate time to try to rekindle lost relationships...
The other friends were harder to say goodbye to for me. The ones that I value and love, but our relationship is based around something we do together (other teachers at the school, folks who work with me at the crisis hotline, friends from my community theater, etc.)--it's hard to know whether we'll stay in touch. Most have been supportive (or at least playfully jealous) and expressed a desire to "hear all about it" or to see pictures when I get back. I give them my e-mail and the blog website (because that was a major reason to begin blogging about what's going on with me!) Interestingly enough, this is the group that all assume that I will be returning to my life in Maryland in a year or two at the most because that is how they know me and how I exist for them. Hands down, this is the hardest group to say goodbye to. I am glad I have other friends because if all my friendships were geographically bounded, I don't think I could ever do this.
The oddest goodbye I anticipate, for me, will be the male friend I would be interested in dating if I weren't moving to Korea in three weeks. I don't think he'll really notice all that much, but it's hard because I know I will have to aggressively pursue the friendships I want to preserve from Korea if they are to last, but that's not good dating etiquette for a young lady. I suppose I should just relegate him to the friend category and hope he stays in touch like all the other people I hope will stay in touch. I guess those people who insisted "timing" really mattered were on to something...
Man, that post was long-winded.
I think I love too many people. I'm trying to see most of them before I go, but it's hard. If you read this and you want to see me, send me an e-mail or something and I'll try to squeeze a visit in to see you.
I haven't even started saying goodbye to places in Maryland...