textures of Seoul; closing remarks

The past two weeks barreled into one as my trip forged to an end.

I think I may harbor some residual wanderlust as I’ve been especially restless since I’ve gotten back home, but at the same time incessantly tired and listless all hours of the day. I have yet to figure out which order the two appeared in, which is the cause and which the effect, if there even is such a relationship.

A friend came to visit me from the States for a week, which was such a surreal phenomenon, to have an individual from the country I had been away from and sometimes homesick for displaced into this country I had arrived to with an altogether blank slate, that I never felt able to process it. It was too difficult to fully pinpoint what about it was so weird to me, what exactly about it made all things seem suddenly like a lucid dream.

My very last day in Seoul was a holiday, Korea’s National Liberation Day, and it rained. I visited one last art museum, the D Museum, to avoid the rain and fulfill a last wish.

I stopped in Taiwan on my way home, and visited a market which was, in its structure and atmosphere, immediately and overwhelmingly reminiscent of the markets I had visited in Seoul. Except this time, I could actually speak to the vendors.

My goodbyes were spare, but to a most honest and affectionate effect. My coworkers, my supervisor and I had lunch and then coffee together. I had lunch and then coffee with them always, but never together. Pressing finality of our last after lunch coffee drove afternoon discussion in the direction of informal, unclaimed closing remarks.

It was remarkable for unremarkable reasons, for just how pleasant it was. We talked politics, family, the idiosyncrasies of life, mostly general and inaugural. People more often than not introduce themselves a second time, in times of parting, waiting till the end to disclose themselves.

Professor Kim offered suggested some sage wisdom. In consideration of opposing characters, it can all be so simple, at the end of the day- all people want is conversation.

The sentiment rang especially true of the friendships which grew out of my time in South Korea. Little can be said for how much I have in common with my friends and coworkers; beyond the obvious language barrier, there were stark differences in our interests, personality, and perhaps ideology. I studied peace building and education all Summer, and again the sentiment rings true. At the root of all conflict is an absence of conversation. It’s a simple notion, that of taking an interest in lives and experiences that are not your own, so simple that I find it unwittingly assumed to be a given.

I learned a number of practical things this Summer, about work. Most importantly, I learned to gradually surrender my need to feel busy in order to feel productive. I struggled at the start, with how little work I was assigned, feeling a bit restless and undervalued. But I quickly came to realize how naive that was given how little my supervisor knew about me, and consequently how little reason he had to trust me with his publication. What’s more, had I been assigned countless tasks from the start, my severely limited knowledge of the Institute and the Journal would have led to mistakes. It was more efficient for me to smart small, and grow, though at the same time it was equally valuable that I take my work seriously, if I wanted respect or additional responsibility. It’s no more important to feel confident in your abilities than it is to be well versed in translating that confidence into something tangible.

I also came to feel a lot more, if not entirely, at peace with complete absence of forethought vis-à-vis plans for the future. To some extent, like many my age, I have had some concrete idea of the next in the shape of compulsory education at every stage of my life until present. The idea that I not can do nearly anything I want now that I’m finally about to finish college is staggering. Dreams are most comfortably held at a distance, unrealizing excuses and being faced with the task of starting is undeniably daunting. But after completing an internship entirely separate from anything I’ve studied in college, and not just enjoying it but feeling fulfilled in the work I did, I feel steady in my ability to do what I want and do it well.

This entire experience, my travels and my internship- all of the exploration I was afforded, has been a privilege. My earlier visit to Baekyangsa Temple impelled me to reckon with gratitude, and for this whole Summer I am so grateful.