What Places Are Part of Who You Are?

“What places are part of who you are?”

I have thought about this question so much over the years but had never seen it verbalized until just the other day.

hokkaidohighwayblues

I just read an amazing book called Hokkaido Highway Blues by Will Ferguson. The author hitchhiked from the very bottom of Japan all the way to Hokkaido in the far north, following the Cherry Blossom Front. The book is more about his experiences with the people he met along the way than the things he saw. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Anyway, he is picked up by someone who asks him about how his travels have shaped his life and in turn, Ferguson asks this question to his driver. What places are part of who you are?

korea

I lived in front of those tall buildings at the end of the rice paddy in Daegu, South Korea. I grew to love this place.

I loved this question, as I’ve never really thought about it before. But without a doubt, the place that is the biggest part of the person I am today is South Korea. I always get nostalgic this time of year, as I left Korea in late August. Every year I am gone I miss it more, and every year away reinforces just how meaningful my year there really was. I’ve blogged about how homesick I was for Korea, and all of the things I miss about Korea and what it was like being teased by coming back for one night. Following in that tradition, I’ve been thinking about all of the ways Korea became a part of who I am.

It brought me out of my comfort zone in a big way.

daegu

Before going to Korea, I had never been away from home for longer than two weeks. I’d traveled through America, Europe and Latin America, but I was completely unprepared for life in Asia. It was overwhelming at first. Crowded, busy, and so utterly foreign. Walking around downtown Daegu was like walking through a kaleidoscope, full of flashing neon lights, strange smells, and blaring pop music coming from every store.

I grew to love it.

I feel so at comfortable in big Asian cities now. No matter how long it’s been since I was in Asia, I get there and feel like I’ve arrived back at home.

I learned to embrace other cultures and realized that ‘our’ way and ‘their’ way doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong

teachers

The cultural differences in South Korea were enormous. Having to adapt was really hard. Even something simple like going to Costco was an interesting cultural clash. Same with school lunch. I spent a good chunk of time hating it, to be honest. In the end, though, it made me realize that just because Koreans do something different than we do doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Similarly, I understood that they looked at us the same way. More than anything, living in Korea was a lesson in tolerance and acceptance and I am a better person for it.  I had my share of clashes, and ultimately I wish I had been more open minded the whole time I was there. I’ve carried that lesson with me wherever I’ve gone. Although it can be maddening having to live and travel and work with people who are from different cultures, I try to approach every situation with warmth and grace.

I fell in love with Asian food

koreanfood

Galbi and various banchan, or Korean side dishes

Asian food is a huge part of my life. I love it all. I love the bold flavors, intricate ingredients, the different textures, the savory aromas. I love eating new Asian food and learning to cook Asian food. And to think that, before Korea, I’d only ever had Thai, sushi and Chinese takeout. My stomach went through some upheaval as I got used to new spices and oils, but now I can’t get enough of it. I could honestly eat it every meal of the day-just ask poor Husband!

Korea helped me take my love of travel to the next level

monkeykualalumpur

Without Korea, I would have never had the courage to travel the world as I’ve done. Korea taught me that I was tougher than I thought, that I was braver than I ever knew, that I loved the world and all its cultures more than most anything else in my life. It also gave me the funds to travel the world and to move to Australia for a working holiday the next year. Seriously guys, without Korea I would never have been able to have done any of that.

I learned to be comfortable being alone

koreanricepaddy

Before Korea, I had never lived alone or traveled alone. Then I came to Korea, where I lived alone on the outskirts of a big city, but sometimes felt miles away from everything. I was fortunate enough that I could walk 20 minutes and get to the little city near my house called Chilgok, or I could hop on the bus and be in downtown Daegu in 40 minutes. At first, I hated it. I envisioned myself living in the middle of a huge city, leaving my house and finding dining, shopping and entertainment all on my block, but that was so not the case in my dong, or neighborhood. There were a few scattered restaurants, a couple convenience stores and a Wednesday farmer’s market. That’s it. Then I began to explore my surroundings, the lush, verdant green rice paddy down the street, the mountains that I could see from my classroom window, the tree-lined streets that were literally the last bit of civilization until you hit the next town over. I craved the solitude of the rice paddy, loved taking three hour walks each evening when the light was soft and the weather refreshing. I went to movies alone, out to eat alone, all prepping for my eventual RTW adventure I planned for when I left. I started to listen to my voice inside me, and I liked what she said.

I became a lot more patient

teachingenglishinkorea

If you’ve ever taught children, you know the number 1 thing you need to have is patience. I am not the most patient person in the world, but I learned that I needed to work on that A LOT. Sometimes I wanted to lose my temper, but I couldn’t. Sometimes I wanted to quit and leave Korea, but I didn’t. Sometimes the kids were rambunctious, lazy, and unmotivated, but with a lot of patience, I eventually would get through to them and it was awesome to watch their English skills progress. I didn’t realize it at the time, but teaching was the most rewarding, fulfilling job I’ve ever had, and I learned why patience is a virtue.

I learned not to take myself and life so seriously

koreanflowers

I wish I had learned this a lot earlier into my time in Korea. I spent so much time taking myself seriously and not enough time having fun and making irresponsible decisions. Once I decided to stress less and laugh more, I realized that life is so much more fun. It’s hard sometimes to stop and smell the yellow flowers, but when you do you’ll be much happier.

My heart healed

happyinaustralia

Truly happy on vacation in Coffin Bay, Australia

True confession: the #1 reason why I went to Australia is because my heart was so broken that I needed to leave where I was to do something radically different. It was the only way I could think of to heal. And it worked. Oh it worked! But not overnight. Being alone gave me a lot of time to brood on what had gone wrong in the past, and led to me writing some sad posts about the person I thought was the one that got away, But the more I did, the more I lived, the more I traveled, the more I immersed myself in Korea, the more my heart healed. I can’t lie and say I never thought about him by the end of my Korean life, but I realized I’d turned an emotional corner and my heart smiled again.

I learned there is always light at the end of the tunnel 

koreanspring2

Winter was hard for me. I lived 20 minutes from the closest bus stop and when the mercury dipped below 40 degrees (or 4 Celsius) I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house. I got depressed and it was really bad. That was also at the height of my black mold problem in my apartment, so I was always sick. My childhood cat had just died back at home and some days I didn’t know how I would even get out of bed, let alone work and socialize. But I did. Somehow. But eventually the sun came back out, the trees blossomed, and my depression lifted. Even today, when I feel like I am in a bad place, I remember those dark days in Korea and I know that this too shall pass.

southkorea

While every place I’ve lived and been has shaped me in some way, I know that Korea had the most impact. Korea is where I grew up, became an adult, the woman I am today. I would be a shell of the person I am right now if I had not spent a year in that funky little peninsula in Northeast Asia. I had no idea when I boarded the Asiana flight to Seoul that I was going to experience what I did, the good and the bad, and that I would return home a stronger, smarter, kinder, more open-minded human being. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Korea, and the lessons I learned about love, life, the world, and myself. Thank you South Korea for making me who I am.

 

So readers, what places are part of who you are?

20 comments

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  1. Hey Katrina!
    I just found your blog on Facebook in “We travel we blog” and thought I leave you a short comment. In general I think this is a great way to keep travelling…I often wonder if this point will eventually come too in my life. I have been on the road since 4 years and I still don’t feel the “need” to settle down. Even though friends and my family start asking me when I will become more “serious” and settle down. But I think that travelling is not the opposite of being serious. I actually take it seriously and love the lifestyle I am leading. It doesn’t feel like I am going through a “phase” that eventually ends. It feels more like I am exactly doing what I love, so I live life the fullest! I respect your decision though and find it great that you keep up with your passion!! Happy travels and come visit my page if you like 🙂
    Jey Jetter recently posted…Liebster Award NominationMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on October 15, 2015 at 10:00 am
        Author

      Settling was nice in a lot of ways but I do miss being abroad all the time. Hopefully you can continue traveling as long as you want!

  2. Very interesting read. I am also sure that all the places I have lived at, and many of the places that I visited shaped somehow my personality. However, the major part was surely given by Barcelona, a city where I moved from my country a decade ago, and where I always returned even after long travels.
    Gabor Kovacs recently posted…Visiting the Serengeti National Park in TanzaniaMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 11:02 am
        Author

      I feel like you will never love anywhere else quite like you love the country you first moved to when you left home. I have been to many places I enjoyed more than Korea, but Korea is always on my mind and I want to go back over and over again.

  3. This is a great entry! It’s funny how travel really brings out pieces of us that we wouldn’t normally think were possibly. I’m glad to hear that South Korea was such an educational, fulfilling and healing experience for you 🙂 I’m with you about the deliciousness of Korean food. Love Dokbukki and Kalbi!! <3

    Travel is such a great educational experience! We learn more about ourselves and capabilities outside the comforts of home 🙂 Continue writing, travelling and loving life!! Safe travels xo
    travelling chingrita recently posted…All Aboard, Bota Bota (Spa) by Old MontréalMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 11:01 am
        Author

      Mmmm galbi….I think the food is what I miss the most about Korea!

    • Nina on September 20, 2015 at 3:09 am

    Hi Katrina, what an experience Korea must have been for you!

    I’m a so called ‘part-time’ traveler and have never been away from home for more than two months. For me, personal, it’s not so much the places I’ve visited that are part of me (maybe because I haven’t lived abroad for that long) but the people I’ve met, people who bring the best out in me (or the worst :)), people who thaught me to be more patient, people who made me think… I do want to stay abroad for a couple of months (or years even) to see what it will do to me and how I will cope.
    Ow, and thanks for the book tip: going to buy and read it asap! 🙂

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 11:00 am
        Author

      It’s such a good book, I couldn’t put it down!

      I don’t think you HAVE to live abroad to be changed, like you said it’s just as possible to be changed by shorter trips or people you meet, but it definitely challenges you in different ways when you live overseas for an extended amount of time. It’s hard but so rewarding. I want to do it again!

    • Carol Colborn on September 20, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I didn’t get to travel much until I retired. So I thought no place would change me any more. I was too old. But here I am, now an American and a wife and a writer, completely changed, And I look forward to more changes that will come because of the other places I ahve yet to see.

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 10:58 am
        Author

      I think every place you travel changes you even if it’s just on a small level. That’s the beauty of exploration!

    • Alyssa on September 20, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    What an interesting topic, I may have to do a full post on this myself. Loved reading about your experience and how South Korea had an impact on you. And when you talked about Australia, I had a similar experience myself in 2014 (went to Western Australia). Travel really is educational but also transformative… allowing for change and growth + new love and confidence.

    So far South Africa, my first real international trip in 2013 (actually 2 years ago right now I was there), has had the biggest impact on me. I never imagined meeting so many amazing people, from tours to locals and kids in townships. It made me question a lot, from my current relationship to what I want to do and where I want to travel next. More on this on my site (http://adjustyourfocus.net/about-focus/)

    Thanks for sharing!
    Alyssa recently posted…September ReflectingMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 10:58 am
        Author

      Oh South Africa! That place changed my life. I’ve never been anywhere else like it. What an incredible place with the nicest people in the entire world. I’d love to read your post about this topic, please let me know if/when you write it 🙂

  4. Scotland, Florida, Tennessee and maybe a trace of NYC and California!
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted…Camels & Chocolate v. 5.0: Shiny & NewMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on September 24, 2015 at 10:53 am
        Author

      Florida is definitely a part of me too since I’m from there! NYC as well.

  5. What a great post! I love the way you reflect and express how Korea influenced your life and how it became a part of you.

    I feel the same way about Taiwan. Actually, I am still here and still loving the life I have created. I love how Taiwan has challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. I have learned to enjoy the simple things. Plus, I have learned that a positive attitude and a smile goes a long way. Oh, and I have witnessed the true kindness of strangers!
    Constance – Foreign Sanctuary recently posted…Analyzing September & Thinking Out Loud About OctoberMy Profile

    1. Thanks Constance! It sounds like Taiwan is your Korea! I think living in a foreign country, especially one where the language is completely foreign, really changes the way you think and live your life. It’s challenging but so rewarding, and you really get to see what you’re made of. I know I’ll live in Asia again someday-maybe Taiwan!

    • Abbi on October 14, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Great post, Katrina.

    I think no matter what path we take, there will always be people and places that are forever woven into the fabric of our life, and they make it a colourful masterpiece.

    For me, New Zealand is a big part of my masterpiece, and a place I will know as my second home.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Abbi
    Abbi recently posted…What it feels like to be homeMy Profile

      • Katrina H. on October 15, 2015 at 10:02 am
        Author

      New Zealand is the one that got away for me! I was going to get a working holiday visa for there but I came home and met my husband instead. I feel like living there would be so incredible and so hard to leave!

    • Joella on October 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    What a great post. As soon as I saw the title I was thinking South Korea (for myself). I also left in August..but in 2008! When were you there again? I remember all the countries I have visited and lived in so fondly, but my time in South Korea had a real impact on me. Plus I met my husband there on my first day (in 2006!)!!! 🙂
    Joella recently posted…Should You Revisit A Favourite Destination?My Profile

      • Katrina H. on October 20, 2015 at 11:18 am
        Author

      Hey Joella! Aww what a great story, no wonder you love Korea <3 I was there 09-10. I didn't appreciate it enough when I was there, but I guess that's the case most of the time. I'd love to have the chance to go back for another year...someday!

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