Less than a month before my 23rd birthday, I arrived in Korea for the first time, with absolutely no idea what lay ahead for me. A lot has happened in just over a year.
I’ve tried my hand at teaching. I’ve met Koreans, who first became my friends, and then turned into family. I’ve learned a tiny bit of another language. I’ve travelled; first to the ancient temples and pagodas of Japan, then to the frosty top of Mt. Hallasan (Korea’s tallest mountain) on beautiful Jeju Island. Next, onto Seoul—the heartbeat of Korea—with its impressive palaces amongst busy city streets. Then came the skyscrapers and famous skyline of Hong Kong. And finally, the bright lights, designer shops and numerous casinos of Macau.
I’ve seen, learned, and grown a lot this year. I’m grateful for all of these experiences and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I realize how fortunate I am that this is what my last year-and-a-bit looks like.
Now back in Canada, 16 months later, I sit by the fireplace on my family’s farm, in what I like to call “the middle of nowhere.” I look out the window as I’m writing this. The wind is blowing the snow-covered trees. The snow on the back deck is piled up higher than I ever remember seeing it. My ankle-high Korean winter boots don’t quite cut it when the snow covering the path to our door is past my knees. It’s been one of the coldest, nastiest winters in small-town Ontario in quite a few years.
After 13 steady months of teaching, most days working longer hours than I’d ever worked in my life, I was burnt out. I joked with my family that I was coming home to the farm to “hibernate” for a while. Little did I know that this would be partly true. With the snowstorms, whiteouts and bone-chilling temperatures in my area in recent weeks, I’ve been quite content to stay in and enjoy my “hibernation mode” to the fullest.
During this hibernation, I’ve had time to reconnect with the simple pleasures I love about home that I didn’t have in Korea: the quiet calmness of the country; the ability and freedom to sleep in, waking up anytime I please without feeling guilty; curling up in a chair next to the fire, with a cup of fresh coffee, a blanket, and a good book; taking hot baths; drinking wine over dinner with my parents; even things like driving and singing along to the radio.
There are other things I haven’t necessarily missed about Canadian winters. Digging the car out when it gets stuck in a few feet of snow in the driveway, scraping ice off the windshield, terrible driving conditions and feeling instantly frozen when I step outside haven’t been highlights of my return home. But even these things, I realize, have become a big part of the life I’m used to and love.
Roaring around on my family’s old snowmobile, having my dad knock me into a snow bank up to my waist and laying in the snow with a friend in massive, matching snowmobile suits, laughing our heads off are all precious memories to me that have a special place in my heart.
Coming home to the place I spent the first 17 years of my life, even just for a couple months, has reminded me of some of the things I love most about Canada. The special people here, the lifestyle, the wide-open spaces and the beautiful changing seasons (yes, even winter!); these are things I won’t find anywhere else.
Though I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or where I may end up in the future, my return home has made one thing very clear for me—no matter how far away I may go, how often I may travel, how many countries I may visit or how long I may spend abroad, Canada will always be my home.