Goodbye, Friends, Hello, Friends: The August Expat Bloodbath

On Sept. 13, I’ll have been in South Korea for seven months. You could definitely call me a veteran now (well, some might. It depends on your perspective).

The thing with being a veteran is, you start to see a lot of casualties. It starts slow–one outlier here or there that got a hagwon contract on an off-month. But then, either February or August arrive and …

… it’s a bloodbath. Koreabridge becomes a bone-picker’s paradise: everything goes up for sale, from bicycles to furniture to videogame consoles, to computers, musical instruments and, of course, jobs. Lots of jobs. Also, this post (oh God, what a cheap plug).

At the top, where we belong.
At the top, where we belong.

February and August are the times for EPIK intakes, when old contracts end and new ones begin. Not everyone does only a year of duty and then flies home. Some stay longer. Many don’t. So, if you’ve gotten close with anyone here, it can be a bitter sweet time of year. There are plenty of celebrations, but at what cost?

About the same time as my seven-month anniversary I will say goodbye to someone I only recently became friends with. Others have come and gone in the past several weeks. And, on Friday night I said goodbye (mostly) to the very first person I met when I was got off the airplane in Incheon in February 2010, back when both of us were EPIK rookies.

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Shortly before this photo was taken, we had participated in the Holi Hai Indian festival in Haeundae, where the soju and samosas flowed like water. Shortly after this photo was taken, I downed a bottle of Hite-Jinro red wine from CU, then tried out for a play. I did not wash my face. Surprisingly, I was not cast.

We celebrated traditional expat night out style: big-ass bbq at her favorite place (now one of mine), Mapo Galmegi in KSU, followed by beers at HQ, followed by noraebang where we paid for one hour and they kept refilling us for about another hour. I was not asleep until 7:30 a.m. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the fact we were celebrating under the specter of someone’s imminent exit (also, a lot of rain).

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Jenna stayed her year and left for another year, back to the U.S., only to return in early 2012 to teach at a hagwon. So, no EPIK, but February and August also coincide with the times semesters in Korean schools begin and end. So, the bloodbath’s just that much bloodier.

18 months later she’s left again, likely not to return again for a third round.

Well, unless you count Wednesday night, when she returns from a brief trip to Japan to see some of our friends that also once upon a time taught through EPIK. But soon, she’ll be off again.

It’s part of the expat experience. It’s not settling down. Some do. Some have been here for years on years. Over a decade. And Korea changes fast. I just bought a block of cheese, real cheese, from a supermarket that wasn’t Costco. That’s amazing, and I can’t stand the overuse of that word, but that’s true.

The thing is, everything moves fast here. Once upon a time, it felt impossible for me to last two months, away from everything I know and love, everything that is familiar. At nearly seven months, I’m thinking about a second year. But, I’m also thinking about how different it could be. Were I to stay another year, my second contract would begin in February, the next bloodbath. Who else will we be saying goodbye to?

I refuse to not allow myself to get close to those I feel close to. I can’t speak for anyone else but I imagine that would be a way not to let the constant in and out of folks get to you. My best friend from home is here now, too, since late July. Believe me, it makes a lot of difference.

But, we’re not the only ones out there.

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New and old friends.

And, eventually, we’ll be the ones saying goodbye. It’s an honor to be missed, and it’s going to happen. But …

Thankfully, today is Sept. 1. Fall is only a couple weeks away. The summertime bloodbath is just about over. Time to clean and bind our wounds. February’s not that far. There are still plenty of new restaurants to enjoy, mountains to climb, Justin Timberlake songs to sing at noraebang with new and old friends, friends arriving and departing, friends we’ll likely never see once they leave the tarmac, and those we will, if not for a while.

There’s still time, and there’s not a lot of time. These seven months gone overnight can attest to that. So, get out there and enjoy yourself, and your friends, and your Korean adventures while you still can.

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13 thoughts on “Goodbye, Friends, Hello, Friends: The August Expat Bloodbath

  1. I agree with Tharp. I have been here for almost 20 years, 15 at the same university and Korea is not that bad. Actually it has been great for me and I do not know why folks do not stay longer. Maybe a veteran begins after 5 years.

  2. Many expats who come over here stay for a year and head off. While I wouldn’t consider myself a long term lifer by any means, I’m looking at fewer months left than more months should I be one of those vast majority of folks who leave after a year. I have experiences and knowledge to share after what time I’ve been here than when I just arrived. So, in that way, yes, I’m a veteran. I hope, whether I’m here seven months or seven years, I can enjoy as many moments as I’m capable.

  3. I forgot to mention that I think around this time I got the feeling you may stay longer. Actually, this was weird because I went home and brought it up while talking with Erin and she mentioned she was recently thinking the same thing. Granted this was back in August…probably around the time of this posting.

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