Wednesday, October 21, 2015


I don't remember how to be a friend.
How to be a sister.
How to be a daughter.
How to be a daughter-in-law.
How to be a normal U.S. citizen.

I don't remember, because we spent the last two years living in Korea
and all I had to be was a wife, a teacher, and a foreigner.

Three things.
Three little things.

And on this side of the world, my roles are different. Not that I've been completely absent from my friends or family the last two years, but we haven't engaged, played jokes, hugged, touched, bumped into each other, or dropped by unannounced in a long time.

Greeley, CO

I'm struggling to find my feet.
I'm trying to remember how to sit and listen to a friend that's sitting across from me.
I'm trying to remember how to be an active part of my sibling's lives.
I'm trying to remember the daughter I was before I left for Korea.
I'm trying to remember how to be part of my adopted family.
And surprisingly, even finding my footing as a American has been tricky.

Boston, MA

Because being a "foreigner" and being a "U.S. citizen" are not the same thing.
As a "foreigner" you are always being compared to the local culture.
As a "U.S. citizen" you are a native with no need to explain yourself.

So, I find myself bowing at people.
Being surprised when someone holds a door open for me.
Says "bless you" when I sneeze.
Or strikes up conversation about the weather. In the bathroom.
I find myself trying to be funny.
And remembering Oh, that was only funny over there...
I forget to make eye contact
because I spent so long training myself not to.
I'm overdosing on all things gluten-free
and my colon is feeling it.
I'm behind on pop culture and politics.

Wilmington, DE

I feel like I'm in 7th grade all over again, trying to observe what it takes to "fit in" and awkwardly bumbling through conversations as a complete fraud in the meantime.

"Disorienting" is one word for it.
Another is "culture shock".

We lived in Korea for the past two years.
We've been back in the States just shy of a month.

So I'm trying to give myself some grace because these things take time. And, to be fair, my mind hasn't yet caught up with my body. Since we left Korea, this body has been in 7 countries and 18 states. I think my mind is still somewhere over the Pacific ocean.

York, Maine

I'm giving myself space to feel disoriented.
To feel homeless.
To feel flitty.
To feel nomadic.
To feel lost.
To feel unsettled.
Because we are.

And during this season, I'm leaning heavily into the idea that how I'm feeling is okay. Even normal. That this won't be forever and that while we get through it I can set some boundaries. I can ask for what I need even if others don't quite get it. Even if it means taking a time out. Sitting the evening out. I may need to be a little selfish.

I love Elizabeth Gilbert's definition of "selfish" that she talked about recently in a podcast
with Rob Bell (in fact, check the whole thing out here):

"In Mandarin, there are two different words that we translate in English 
as 'selfish' because we don't have these two different words, 
we only have the one. 

And one of the words means doing something that's beneficial for you

And the other word means doing something that's 
greedy, hoarding, and taking from others

See, they separated out those two ideas. We didn't. We put those two ideas 
into one. So whenever we do something that's beneficial for ourselves it goes under 
the file as 'selfish' when actually it's just something that's beneficial for you."

Here's to world travel.
Here's to gratitude.
Here's to joblessness.
Here's to fumbling around like a 7th grader.
Here's to nomad-life.

Here's to whole-hearted self-ishness.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

What I Know

Here's what I know for sure:
The more I learn, the less I know.

So, I want to make thought-provoking observations about the things I've seen and experienced the past month in Asia, but anything I start to say is only half-true. I mean, what can a person really say about any place after only a short time there? What can I even tell you after two years Korea? Or twenty-seven years in America?

Pretty. Much. Nothing.
And if I did, it would just be full of generalizations. And those are boring.

But here are a few--brief--observations:

-World travel is a gift.

-World travel is a challenge.

-China is a really big place.

-China is on top of the safe-bicycle commuting train. Oh my word, they had lanes for all the bicycles that was separated from the main traffic via a large median. It was awesome.

-It was tricky to find English-speaking folk. But those we met were super kind and helpful.

-China is a super old country and has a much different history (especially these past 60 years) than Korea does. So China feels very old because a lot of the architecture and transit is dated in a charming way. But in Korea everything is shiny and new. The apartment buildings are identical, because they were all built in recent history.

-The Great Wall is amazing.

-This is a real-life conversation I had with a Chinese guy at our hostel: "Excuse me, do you use Instagram in China?" He answered, "Legally?" I shook my head. Oh yeah, Facebook, Google, and the-like are banned in China because it's a communist country. Felt like a big dork.

-Hostels are the bomb.

-Thai food is favorite food. Ever.

-If you wanted to move anywhere as an expat, I'd go to Thailand. Chiang Mai, specifically.

-Go get a Thai massage.

-During one Thai massage, the gal was rubbing my face and saying, "Pretty little human" over and over again, but I can't guarantee that kind of service if you get yours in Iowa. No promises.

-Train travel was more fun than I thought it would be.

-Going back to Cambodia this last time, felt like going home. Yes, I said "home." I'm still soaking that Beauty in. What a gift.

-Cambodian folk are the friendliest folk I encountered of all the countries. I may be a bit biased.

-In Cambodia, one of my old students (from EIGHT years ago!) came up to Siem Reap where we were staying. It was so amazing to see this gal. Her name is Kagna and since graduating high school where I taught her junior year, she's graduated from nursing school and now she's traveling around the Cambodian countryside with an NGO giving free medical care. I'm so proud of her.

-Angkor Wat is worth seeing. My God, it's incredible at sunrise.

-Bali is as beautiful as you imagine it would be.

-Chicken satay is where it's at, folks. Get it on a stick with spicy peanut sauce.

-There's no such thing as an "Asian" person or "Asian" culture. I don't know what that means. I know about Korean people and Thai culture, but the differences between them are as vast as the north pole is from the south. Asia is the biggest and most populous continent on the globe. Asian countries include Japan, Pakistan, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Afghanistan, and off the top of my head, I can't think of a single similarity between Japan and Afghanistan.

But what do I know?