Yesterday I made the trip back to Andong, a small town in the Gyeongsanbuk province of Korea. I lived in Andong for a year, and left there in February of this year with a mixture of feelings.
I went with a friend and old co-worker of mine, Dana. She invited me to go and stay with her at her grandparent’s home. It is a home and family that I love. Dana’s grandmother greeted me just as enthusiastically as she did her own granddaughter, and then thrust food upon us, something that continued for the next 24 hours! I came home, to Gumi, feeling a few kgs heavier and a little lighter in my soul.
Going back to Andong gave me the chance to reflect on what it actually meant to live there. I realised that in one year I had become a little part of the fabric of that community. That, somewhere in the minds, and hopefully hearts, of some people, I would be remembered. That I had made an impression on them. The old woman who I used to try to practice my Korean on, clapped and laughed when I went to say hello to them. They wondered where I had gone. They were happy to see me. I could tell my the size of their smiles and their curious eyes. The pavement felt familiar underneath my feet. I could see my past self walking to and from the farmer’s market to buy my weekly groceries. I felt my feet running along river side park. I heard my friends’ voices and laughter. I looked for my old students and co-workers’ faces in everyone I came across.
My time there had, on the whole, been really good. It was in Andong that I came to love Korea, the food, the country side, the people, the soju and beer hofs, the teaching and the culture. Amongst all the good times were also some not so good times. I struggled with relating to and understanding my co workers and the Korean work culture. I had trouble with out-of-control students and how to effectively teach them.
Andong represented many things for me. It gave me the fresh start that I needed and it was the place where the journey that I am currently on started. It is where thoughts and ideas that I had previously felt too afraid to let surface, came alive.
Going back to Andong, above all, made me realise that the most important thing that we can do is to foster good relationships with people. To cherish our friends and to know, especially when travelling, that even though the flow of relationships is so transient in terms of place, that they don’t have to end, and they won’t if you don’t let them!