There Are Many Mountains, Not Just One, to Cross

For any readers in South Korea. Or, for that matter, any readers that have moved their entire lives to a new place: How long did it take for you to transition from the newness to the routine?


This is of course a question that will have many answers, all of them different. People share similarities but each experience can be greatly varied based on many or even one change of details. I just read an article about Mad Men actor Jon Hamm and his enormous penis, that noted the crew politely asked him to wear underwear during shoots because the form-fitting clothing of the early 1960s on him distracted everyone.

Some of our less well-endowed male readers, and even some ladies, may make some joking comment like, “that’s a good problem to have.” But, his publicist noted in the article that it wasn’t necessarily a laughing matter. What if having such a magnum dong makes the actor light-headed every time he gets an erection, because of the sudden and severe blood loss?

But, I digress. The point is, every situation is different. But, many of us–can I be bold enough to say all of us?–have situations.

Today, March 21, the first full day of spring, marks my 36th day back in South Korea. By all accounts, this third trip has been wildly successful compared to the first two. By this time in 2005, I had already purchased a plane ticket for home and was leaving in four days.


Over the last few days, however, I have been reminding myself (not intentionally) of a poem I wrote that first time I was in Korea in November and December 2005.

Jinju Mornings

The mornings in Jinju are the worst.
I wake up
hours before I need to teach
and just sit here
or lay here.
For a couple weeks I watched CNN,
just to hear a voice,
an English voice
but now my foul moods
have soured even that minor escape.
Who cares,
no one wants to hear about
the AIDS epidemic,
the flu pandemic,
or the Iraqi war
24 hours a day.

The mornings in Jinju are the worst.
I think it’s because I dream.
I dream
about home,
about the people,
about the ones I miss the most.
I don’t dream about home at all,
but a place like home, or at least what my
homesick mind tells me is home.
The faces aren’t familiar
but they might as well be.
Because, on many Jinju mornings,
the results are still the same:
I’m 8,000 miles from home
hours before I need to teach,
many more to go.

Actually, it’s 7,000 miles. I checked on the plane.

At that time, we were heading into the winter, rather than escaping it. We also were moving away from the cold, dark nights in 2010, when I came with EPIK in February. That time, I stayed 55 days. There is still a bit of time before crossing that milestone, but I am not the least worried about crossing it. The only thing now that could cut this short would be severe problems at home. Or, North Korea.

But, while Busan mornings are not nearly as melodramatic as Jinju mornings were over seven years ago, there have been some where I felt out of sorts. Lacking routine. It’s the transition from working a job you began in the morning ( may have been a news website you can be working on 24 hours a day, but really, the day started sometime in the morning) to one you don’t get to until about 2 p.m., which you could actually probably stretch to about 2:45 p.m. What to do with all that time?

There is, of course, plenty of things that can be done. None of which one wants to do when they’re in a funk. Some of those are of the exploring a strange new world variety: get on a bus and go anywhere. Go to a museum or some historical site. Just go for a walk around this area.

But for me, and this perhaps goes back to both the comment about everyone’s situations being different (but we all have situations), maybe even back to Jon Hamm’s, the sense that all is as it should be, back to normal, is when the routine becomes routine. When being in South Korea is no longer a shock to the system. When getting up at 9 a.m. doesn’t lead to a mild case of the blues because there are so many hours to go and no idea how to fill them. When no one stares at your freakishly huge penis. Meditation, reading, breakfast (which, I still haven’t made yet. I need to pick up some milk and eggs).


My best friend, Amanda, commented on my lost Sunday this past weekend and my vocal displeasure in allowing myself to lose control by getting “brown out” level drunk and needing to take the first morning bus back home. She noted that now I was going through the next transition in my South Korean life. There isn’t just one mountain to peak and then cross, unfortunately. There are several. I’ve settled into my apartment, my school. Now, I need to settle into a new form of social strata, one that does not rely solely on how much alcohol I can consume before I stop caring whether or not I’m going to find acceptance on the other side of the world.

It’s not always easy, but it could be worse. I could have a freakishly large penis.

I continue to be optimistic, and not just because I need to be. But, my situation can and probably is different from others. A lot depends on your age, your amount of experience, your expectations and factors beyond your control. My school situation this time is the best it has ever been. I like my co-workers and my boss. I like (most) of the kids. Having a fellow foreign teacher to talk to at work, when everyone else is speaking Korean, does wonders for making one not feel like they are all alone in the world. But, for some, that just wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

We all have situations, but they vary, sometimes a little, sometimes wider than Dadaepo Beach.

So, if you’re so inclined, I would love to know how, and how long, you transitioned when moving into a totally new life, situation, world. I’m not looking for advice, just perspective. It’s fun and interesting to hear others’ stories that may in some way mirror your own. I look forward to hearing them.


4 thoughts on “There Are Many Mountains, Not Just One, to Cross

  1. For me it took a few weeks, maybe a month to adjust to life in London although I wouldn’t say I fully adjusted in the near 7 months I was there. When I did my long travels and would hunker down in a place for a bit (like in a random little town in New Zealand) it didn’t take long at all. I think the constant go go go of traveling meant that once I stopped to stay still for a bit all I wanted was routine so I got one, fast as I could. And when I moved to NJ I’d say it took me a good year and a half to really feel settled.

  2. Not only are people situations different, but more importantly everyone’s psychology, their level of being is different…sorry to get a little mystical on you, but it relates to your post…

    for me the reason I first started to travel was because I recognized when I first moved abroad that it gave me glimpses into really understanding myself and the world….

    back in college I was really into yoga and meditation, and one day I decided to quit my job and move to Prague back in 07 all on my own….when I got there i had no place to live and a vague idea of what I was going to do…

    it was extremely liberating and terrifying at the same time…I had the freedom to do what I wanted so I devoted my time to furthering my spiritual practices and traveling around europe….

    my perspective on everything began to expand…I began having many mystical experiences…the little voice in my head started to disappear…usually our thought process is one continuous circle….but then I began experiencing huge gaps….in this “thoughtless space” life is beautiful because you are totally experiencing reality, the experiencer and the experience are one….usually people are completely identified to their thoughts…and what is a thought? it is simply a response from memory…meaning the past..and this forms an invisible veal in which we filter all our experiences through(they become second hand)…so we live only in a state of reaction…this is why the new and different can be so scary for our minds and psyches, it has to reference for it….

    our minds crave certainty, but you need to realize that life’s very nature is uncertainty…whatever certainty you think you have is an illusion….although routine and habits may feel comfortable after sometime they will become unbearable…life is always new, but our psychological attachments eventually squeeze the life out of them….

    so I would say embrace the new, you only grow in the new….make the most out of this space to explore and understand your self….use this time to read and learn what meditation is really about….

    expanding your consciousness is a quite real ontological process, the more aware and less identified you become to your thoughts, the more you are able to just respond to life and not be a slave to your past…your more available to just ‘being’ in the moment….and in this place there is no drama….drama only comes in deriving your sense of identity from your thinking, when you think about the past or project the past into the future…and as i found out this was no way of living….it was half way to being dead….

    best of luck on your journey john, use each day as an opportunity to grow….peace….

  3. […] interest or lose your mind. I’m working my way up and over hurdles and bumps in the road. There are many mountains, not just one, to cross.   It’s not without its occasional misstep. Some days, I don’t want random Koreans […]

  4. It took me about 6 months to feel settled in Siem Reap; Phnom Penh took a lot longer. I didn’t really feel at home in Phnom Penh for the first year to year and a half. The hard part of living in a place that’s so transient is that we continually go through this process every time a large group of people leaves. Good luck, J!

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