The hardest part of leaving America wasn’t giving my dad the keys to my Toyota Corolla. Nor was it moving all of our possessions into storage (a close second). It wasn’t the even the fact that I won’t be able to watch any Iowa Hawkeye football games (a very very close third). The hardest part of moving was leaving our friends and family. As much as I can skype, message, chat, or email someone in the states, nothing beats in-person face-to-face interaction. Similar to the time when I moved to Arizona, I have to start over. I have to make new friends. It’s a scary idea because it’s not like we have a lot of English speakers to choose from.
The truth is that we have been blessed with some great people. I’m coming to find that within our group of friends here there are many similarities between people who decide to teach abroad. They enjoy being active, socializing, learning about new cultures, and traveling. It’s a bit cheesy, but over the last six weeks we’ve gotten pretty tight and are starting to become quite the odd little family.
A few of my favorite moments happened last week. On Thursday I got to throw the frisbee with my friend Adam at Chonam University. It’s hard to describe the joy I get from being outside, chilling with a friend, and tossing the disc. It takes me back to Fridays after class in college, the weekends at Riverside, or throwing it around with a good friend at Drake park. They are times shared between friends where we can let our guard down and talk about our ups and downs. And when there’s nothing to say, the wind in trees or the thud of the frisbee hitting my hand is all that is needed. A kid about 10 years old came up to us on his bike and just watched us for several minutes at a time. We made the gesture of throwing a frisbee at him. It was our way of asking if he wanted to play. He nodded no, but after coming back another time or two I just decided to throw it at him. He caught it and we tossed it around for a few minutes and then he left.
The next day Adam, Angie, and Sarah came over to our apartment for a spaghetti dinner. BreeAnn made a really great tomato sauce and we shared some Mandoo(dumplings) that Mama Teacher had made for me. It was delicious. And what was better was having people in our home laughing and talking about our week and experiences thus far.
After dinner we walked around Chonam University because they had a festival going on. The first stage we went to Korean students were performing songs from Hairspray, and quite well I might add. At other stages students were singing popular k-pop songs and love ballads. We were all surprised by all of the students who came up to us and had great English skills. I can only hope that the students that I’m teaching this year will have as good of English when they are in college.
The next night BreeAnn and I ventured downtown to the 70/80 festival. It’s a festival for people to remember what the 70s and 80s were like in Gwangju. Apparently it was a pretty sweet time then for the city. BreeAnn and I ate dinner by ourselves and moved on to one of the stages where a boy band was performing. In America we were done with boy bands around 2000. Here, it’s still going strong. Moving on we saw a waffle stand where an older woman was making waffles, spreading frosting on one side and drizzling butter on the other. And for a dollar, who could say no? They were amazing. It’s a good thing we don’t have this kind of waffle stand near our apartment, because those little things are addicting. After getting the waffles we ran into our friends downtown. It’s funny that in a crowd of several thousand people how easy we are to spot. Again, it’s been nice to feel more connected, to be able to call a friend up, or suggest we all get dinner.
As good as these new friends are, none of them compare to my best friend and wife, BreeAnn. Without her there is no way I would want to move to another country. She makes my bad days good and my good days better. Its been fun sharing our experiences after school while eating Pringle’s in bed. I’ve enjoyed our runs around the Chonam track in the evening, eating Korean BBQ while sitting on the floor of a restaurant where we clearly stand out, reading together before bed, and trying to navigate and communicate in a new country. It’s gonna be a good year.