Life Somewhere Else


[pullquote align=”left”]We all dream. Both asleep and in consciousness.[/pullquote] As a kid, I remember of dreaming about people’s lives in big cities. I chose to believe those big-city people also dreamed about the country life in rural Arkansas, USA, that I lived.

As an adult, I have been able to live and work in South Korea and travel to multiple countries. My childhood daydreams of leaving Arkansas had become a reality. I moved from a city of 50,000 to four million, which is 80 times the population density that I was used to. Instead of houses spread out among multiple subdivisions, I was surrounded by apartment skyscrapers that blotted out sunlight and turned the once-green ground into dull, grey concrete. This was the experience I had dreamed about. My mother was able to visit my wife, Bethany, and I during the time we lived in Korea. I was shocked she was willing to make the trip, because I’ve always thought of my mother as “comfortable where she stands.” She’s spoken of wanting to see the pyramids of Egypt, but seeing the world (or the rest of the United States, for that matter) has never seemed to be at the top of her priorities. My step-father, I am certain, is perfectly okay with that, too. As she arrived in Korea, she wanted to take pictures of everything—from the cab driver, to the food we ate at the kimbap shop, to the trash that blew like tumbleweeds across the streets and sidewalks every morning. She insisted that she just wanted to be with us, but I could tell she also wanted an experience.

It’s been eight months since we have been back in the States. I dream about Korea on a weekly basis. It becomes idolized in my dreams, as dads are to their children, perfect in memory, yet realistically as flawed as anyone or anywhere. The lunches of 참치 찌개(chamchi jjigae) that would scold my mouth, the teenaged Korean girls who wanted their picture taken with us, or the bowing students dressed in their traditional 한복(hanbok) for Chuesok come back to me in short, palpable nighttime snippets. Forgotten are the constant stares on the subway, the students who pointed out all of my physical imperfections, the inability to get the landlords to fix our hot water heater in the coldest days of winter, my wife’s school stealing her money; the negatives were bountiful. I spent many hours of my time in Korea focusing on all of these negatives. When we came home for a Christmas time visit, I had trouble describing the positives of Korean life. My experience felt tarnished.

When my mom gets to share her week-long journey East, she has nothing but positive things to say. She chooses to look at the experience differently. Yet a visitor experiences different than a long term resident when there’s not time to stress the daily details and overanalyze things we cannot possibly change.

Now that I am back to my non-expat, somewhat ordinary, predictable lifestyle, I still dream about the experience of another life. Maybe the “grass is always greener” dreams bring back the thoughts what really mattered.

[quote style=”1″]The experience. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just simply, experiencing life somewhere else.[/quote] 
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  • I enjoyed this and can relate to how you must have felt in Korea.  And this statement, “a visitor experiences different than a long term resident when there’s not time to stress the daily details and overanalyze things we cannot possibly change” really struck me. 
    It’s something I talked with to my mom and a couple of other people recently.  I think this is something that travelers and friends and family back home cannot understand in a lot of cases – sure, it may seem like a wonderful opportunity to live in another country and one shouldn’t complain, but remember, LIVING a life there 100% of the time means that not everything smells like roses.  It’s a different location, yes, but a lot of us expats are still living regular lives (or trying) and have our ups and downs just like people in our home country.  Traveling and expat-ing are not the same.
    (I’m not sure if what I wrote really makes any sense; hopefully it can be deciphered!)

    • Anonymous

      I totally know what you mean. I remember always thinking that I’m finally living the life I always thought I wanted. It’s hard to remember that feeling sometimes when real life shows it’s face. You’re not in vacation mode. You still have a job and daily errands just like anywhere else.

      • Yep – it really is REAL life, just in a different location.  I have to get up early, go to work, pay bills, get broken things in my house fixed, etc., just like anyone else…but in a different language!  It’s a great opportunity to live somewhere else, but it is a lot of work too.