The first time the words casually came out of my mouth I was shocked.
During a week long vacation in September I went to Tokyo to just kind of get away for a little while, but also to start on my “I want to see it all!” fantasy. The trip was great, but on my last night as I sat in the living room of the hostel with about a dozen others I sighed and mock lamented, “Man, it’s going to be so weird speaking Korean again when I get home.”
A few people nodded in understanding, one of my new friends giggled a little, but no one acknowledged what I had said because they obviously didn’t understand the implications. I remember tensing up a little because for the first time I realized that home was not where it had always been for the past 20+ years of my life. I will admit it was slightly terrifying to think that when I said ‘home’ I didn’t mean a suburb in Texas, my extended families’ homes on the East coast, or in any of the United States in general. Subconsciously I had been calling my little studio apartment in the middle of Chungju ‘home’ for months, but saying it out loud was an affirmation that I had abandoned any pretense that it was anything more than a place I simply lived.
My home in Korea is the first one I have made for myself with only the slightest of guiding hands. I’m the one who decided that decorating my apartment meant just taping pictures on the walls, that found out which restaurants are healthier and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. No one else in my family back home knows the places I like to eat at that are simply closer to where I live, the cooks who know my name and face because I’ve been so often, or what I like to do on the weekends when I’m not doing my best to imitate a hibernating bear. I know all of the intricacies involved with taking a bus, a train, the subway, even flying. I have favorite foods now that I’m not sure whether or not I’m going to have withdrawals from when I finally leave. I have hobbies that are entirely my own (for a brief moment I took up cooking…?), I’ve conquered fears, learned a new language (sort of), met new people and taken myself on journeys I never thought were possible.
It’s a combination of all the little things that have helped me to make this place home, but the moment I bought my plane ticket back to Texas to visit my family was the first time I realized how attached I really was. I was actually on the verge of a mini anxiety attack as I searched for flights. After a long minute I finally discovered why I was being so weird. So small but so glaringly obvious, I nearly slapped myself when I realized the problem was that, while I had been searching, I hadn’t clicked ‘Roudtrip’.
Immediately after I subconsciously recognized that I was, in fact, coming back to Korea I relaxed. My shoulders completely relaxed, my heart stopped pounding, and I laughed a bit at my overreaction. But it wasn’t an overreaction at all because for a second I truly thought that I was losing what I’ve taken so long to build: my new home.
This past month, nearly exactly a year to the day, I finally visited my friends and family back in the good old US of A. Of course I was excited, happy to finally be somewhere where I understood everyone and I knew exactly where to get all the products I’ve been without while all the way across the ocean. But in the back of my mind, late at night so I couldn’t examine it too closely, I found myself wondering what was going on “back home”. I couldn’t exactly remember if I had turned off the heater and nearly groaned at the bajillion won bill I was going to find if I hadn’t. I wondered what my friends and Korean families were up to, if the kids I saw once a week were studying hard, if the very nice barista at the Starbucks down the street from my apartment was going to think I had moved away or died since I see her at least once a week and hadn’t been in nearly 2.
I’m not going to be so dramatic as to say I was itching to get back or that I would rather be in Korea than my original home. I absolutely treasured every moment I had in America like it was my last, but I also acknowledged that it was no longer the only home I had. It’s not crazy that I finally think of this place as more than a foreign country or just my place of employment. It has been over a year after all! It is however, strangely comforting, to find that I finally find myself equally comfortable in both places, something that I didn’t think was ever going to be possible no matter how much I loved living here.
In short, anywhere I feel comfortable enough to dance around the room in my underwear while doing laundry is home to me and honestly probably always will be.