Korea!

Hey friends,

I may have mentioned this in passing, but, uh, we’re moving to Korea.

Yeah.

When we came to Dallas, it was with the understanding that we’d be here for two years while Loc went through school, and that two year span is near its end. We booked our move this past weekend and submitted our paperwork to vacate our apartment on Monday; it’s full tilt towards the future.

I’ve found a lot of good in this city. I got back into the workforce after taking a gap year at 27; I found a new way to serve post-Army, as a yoga instructor capable of healing and a Toastmaster capable of inspiring, and I’ve used both of these to help other people grow. I have good friends here too, and they’ve helped me – and accommodated me – as I’ve worked through the joys and inconveniences that have gotten me to where I am. I appreciate all of it. 

Before leaving Germany to come here, I pinned a few places on my Dallas map… most of them were churches. I’ve always had a thing for the high ideals and rich culture of certain churches. Many pivotal moments of my life have unfolded in churches – but that’s a tale for another time. 

One of my Dallas churches hosts my Toastmasters club, which I joined within days of arriving, and it has proved a regular source of inspiration and wisdom even as I’ve failed to attend almost every one of its Sunday meetings. I love YouTube. But the Toastmasters club, my Toastmasters club, fuels me weekly – I am more committed to that group than I am to my job. I draw immense energy from investing in others.  

Every Monday, I leave work at 6 PM and drive to the Dallas First Unitarian Universalist Church, which take between 20-30 minutes, traffic dependent. I use that time to set my mind right to walk into a group of 10-25 people who may or may not know me, and take charge. I welcome them, teach them, coax them into roles, then celebrate their presence and their commitment to growth. It’s a nice change from my Army leadership days; I get to believe in what I’m doing. And I’m never disappointed; my club is the most vibrant Monday-night meeting you’ll ever find. I’ve been in leadership there for a year and a half now, and I’d continue on if life didn’t beckon elsewhere; I love it fiercely. Without fail, I leave those meetings fulfilled. 

I doubt I’ll find so vibrant a body at Camp Humphreys. In a way, that’s sad. The Army is not particularly known for its intellectual prowess, nor its openness to discomfort and emotional vulnerability. But it gives me an opportunity to build such a body, however small. The bones are there – the Camp Humphreys USO, though unresponsive, has mentioned Toastmasters on its Facebook page. I’ll be an awkward duck, the gay army husband in a sea of army wives – situation normal, that – but there’s a certain allure to that, expectations of gay best friend tropes aside. I think I’ll be fine. (Update: there are two clubs at Osan Air Base, not too far away. And there are dozens in Seoul – I consulted Toastmasters International for this info; there is no Camp Humphreys club listed. Not surprised, but satisfied.)

Korea’s workforce is less regulated than Germany’s, and that’s a boon to me. I anticipate I’ll be able to teach English as a second language and yoga in my native tongue, either in Seoul or in Pyeongtaek, where I very much hope to live – that’s the nearest sizable town to the Army base, and it’s connected to Seoul by a one-hour train ride. I’ve started learning Hangul, which is the Korean alphabet. I can already spell ‘teeth’ and ‘child’ and ‘ouch’ – I can translate for Loc! We move in 3-4 months, which gives me ample time to buckle down and build a proficiency in the language. Again, YouTube is incredible. And with downtime at work, I can cram a whole lot of study into a day. Right now, I’m trying to wrap my head around Korean vowels. I’ll get there.   

I’m really excited though. I’d been experimenting with apps to learn Korean, and they’re okay, though I struggle when I can’t learn in context – I’ve learned several languages, and I prefer to do so from the ground up. I poked around online yesterday and found grammar charts galore! Grammar charts make me smile – I used to love language learning, and charts are such efficient learning structures. I haven’t seriously studied a language since college, so I’m looking forward to this deep dive. I want to make kimchi while conversing with my sister-in-law’s grandma, and I want to do it in Korean – she offers no other choice. There’s my goal; the bar is set. The method is http://www.howtostudykorean.com (they use YouTube too!), and consults with my brother and sister-in-law. Pretty rad, that. 

Teaching seems promising too. I’ve read that the hiring really picks up in August and September, which is right when I’ll be settling in. So, I have reason to believe that I can integrate really quickly into my new environment; I certainly intend to. I may end up teaching kids – I haven’t really interacted with kids like that in years. I figure I’ll be okay though; I’ve learned to project calm over years of practice, and I’m married to a master of the child’s mind. That, and I like going full native; it’s delightfully transformative. I tend to feel most alive when I’m climbing mountains, actively helping others, or conversing in  a foreign language. I can do all three of those in Korea, and at the same time! Smiles all around. 

So yes. Life is good. Change is inevitable. The military just happens to expedite and dramatize change a bit faster than civilian life typically does. More frequently too – we’ll spend two, maybe three years in Korea, then punch off to Europe or Hawaii, where I’ll have to reinvent myself all over again. I profess, Loc’s military co-resident is going to Grafenwoehr, where we were both previously stationed, and telling him about all of the wonderful things that await him induces waves of nostalgia that give me beautiful pause… Bavaria is, improbably and wonderfully, my home. I’d love to land there after Korea. I’d be happy to retire there, years from now. 

But guess what? I’m going there next week! I can’t wait to hug my friends, to race down the autobahn to see them, to run freely through misty field and forest – and joy of marvelous joys, it’s spring. There’s nothing so warmly, delicately beautiful as a Bavarian garden glistening in the morning sun. I’m so glad I did my military service there – the natural beauty alone sustained me on many a dark day. Maybe that’s why I feel such a strong affection for a land whose native tongue I do not speak: it sustained me without any expectation of return.

To quote Wendell Berry, it all turns on affection. 

Stay tuned – I’ll be snapping pics aplenty. 

Oh, and I gave a speech the other weekend – you can find it here. Fair warning, it’s not the light and fluffy stuff of my blog. Maybe I’ll pick a lighter topic for next year’s competition – maybe then, I can talk about cultural bridges and kimchi with my grandmother-in-law. Could be fun. 

Love you all,

James

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2 thoughts on “Korea!

  1. Wow. You don’t things in half measures, do you? So exciting and we will be following your adventures. We are HUGE fans of Wendell Berry. He stayed with us when he came to BYU to speak. I have the Peace of Wild Things framed. Happy travels!

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    • This I’ve learned – my roots are good. I love that you love Wendell Berry! That’s crazy cool! I stayed at an inn in Hot Springs, VA, while on the Trail, and I found framed Berry poetry on the wall. It was captivating. Thanks!

      Like

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