In the two years that I have worked abroad, I have already made a handful of friendships that I truly value. Almost all the of the people I work with are far from the places that they used to or still call home, but despite the diverse backgrounds we possess, we all share the fact that we are in the same place at the same time. Right here and right now.

I have learned that my coworkers have and will continue to become my closest friends because we share so much of the same experience by just being “here”, where ever that may be. Eventually though, some, most, or all of us will eventually move on to bigger and better things and when we do, we all have to say goodbye.

I feel like there’s something different about when people leave here (a school abroad), though. Back home in the states, teachers leave schools perhaps just as often, but they usually go to another school or another district. It never seems to be too far away. Nevertheless, you will still see them around town from time to time. But here, things feel a bit heavier and with a little bit more potential to be final. I think it’s because that after you say your last goodbyes in person, there’s a bit more uncertainty as to when or if you will meet again. It feels like there’s a slight tension underneath those warm hugs goodbye where both people know that there is a possibility that it might be the last time you see each other. Your transient lives could allow you to meet again just as much as they could draw you apart forever. But for all the time you spent together and memories you shared up to that moment, you appreciate them that much more and you say “This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a ‘See you later.'”

This year, quite a few more teachers will be leaving compared to last year. It feels different this time, partly because of the number of people leaving, but also because of a few other reasons. An easy goodbye with tapered emotions was railed off by Corona Virus and distance learning, but a handful the people leaving this year are also a core part of my social and professional circles, making it feel like a substantial portion of the group’s personality will be missing.

One of those people who are leaving is Meghan. She speaks her mind and says the things that everyone is thinking, but they might not be brave enough to say. She is someone that has made me more conscious and aware of my circumstances and my actions, and how the two may affect one another as well as the perspectives and experiences of others around me. I thank her for that.

After seven years at our school, she is moving to embark on a new professional and personal journey. To bring some closure to her time here, we got together for some portraits to close her chapter on her time in Korea.

Lastly, Megs left some words to accompany the photos:

I’ve been sitting on this news for months—it’s never felt like a good time, and I am not sure when it will feel like a good time again, but I get on a plane in a week, so here we go: After seven years, I’m leaving Korea.  I keep trying to write about this, but then I realized I already had—in my personal statement that is part of what helped me land my new job at a new-to-me international school in a new-to-me region.  Here’s part of it:

It was in college, studying literature, where I learned to distinguish between the notion of place and an actual, physical location.  The exploration of the way in which a location becomes a place—the catalyst for which American artist, author, and teacher Alan Gussow identified as “the process of experiencing deeply”—drove my twin passions: literature and teaching.  I began to think of both as meeting points—vehicles to connect to varied human experiences.    

Both international teaching and my love of literature have given me the opportunity to examine my own narrative and deepen my understanding of myself, my home, and my place in the world.  Both require similar skills: uncovering the argument behind a story; exploring intertextuality; and leaving home, if only in our minds. 

I will miss the home that Korea has become over the past seven years; I have experienced deeply.  And I am ready to do it again.  Moving will be unfamiliar at first, but I have gone through the process of transforming a new place into a home before.  I welcome the redefining and examining of myself that I know will be part of leaving a familiar place. But I also know that when I leave this place, I will take a little part of it with me. And leave a little bit of myself here. 

… 

Needless to say, I didn’t anticipate a pandemic in thinking about the last chapter of my time here.  And it has not been easy; this is not the ending I wanted.  But Dan Savage always says that closure is something you give yourself.  This tattoo is part of the gift of closure: to honor my time and experience here, the young woman I was when I got here, the woman I am today, and all the variations in between. 

Like many people who choose to live outside their homeland, I use the word home to denote a feeling, not a particular location.  In Korea, I say I am going home when I travel to Montana.  I call San Francisco, California—where I have never actually lived, but have visited extensively—home.  And when I am in Montana, I use the word home to refer to Korea.  But this was not always the case. 

Before I moved to Korea, I had only lived in Montana: a vast, beautiful, rugged, sparsely-inhabited state in the northwestern United States, largely unacquainted with diversity.  After graduating high school, I moved to Missoula to attend the University of Montana and found myself surrounded by people whose home was not my home.  And yet, as the years progressed and friendships formed, we all developed a familiar relationship with Missoula and each other; my home was redefined.

It was also in college, studying literature, where I was finally able to articulate my kinship with Montana: I learned to distinguish between the notion of place and an actual, physical location.  The exploration of the way in which a location becomes a place—the catalyst for which American artist, author, and teacher Alan Gussow identified as “the process of experiencing deeply”—drove my twin passions: literature and teaching.  I began to think of both as meeting points, vehicles to connect to varied human experiences.    

After graduating and then working as a substitute, I took the leap to teach internationally.  Growing up, I had traveled only regionally; moving to Korea, having never set foot on the Asian continent, radically redefined what and where I called home.  It was in Korea that I began to understand that in the States, I’m a Montanan; in the world, I’m an American.  This new emphasis on my Americanness led me to examine the legacy of my home: I had to rethink many of the values, norms, and beliefs that I learned as defaults; I had to examine the things I thought I knew and decide if I wanted to keep or redefine them.    

Both international teaching and my love of literature have given me the opportunity to examine my own narrative and deepen my understanding of myself, my home, and my place in the world.  Both require similar skills: uncovering the argument behind a story; exploring intertextuality; and leaving home, if only in our minds.  The role of texts—their ability to allow us to step into the home of another—as the impetus to redefine and reimagine the self has become the heart of my teaching philosophy.  I encourage and support students as they explore and deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them so that they may go forth, embrace the unknown, and cultivate satisfying lives as globally-minded citizens focused on bettering their home—however they choose to define it.

I will miss the home that Korea has become over the past six years.  I have experienced deeply.  I have redefined my home and myself. And I am ready to do it again.  Moving will be unfamiliar at first, but I have gone through the process of transforming a new place into a home before.  I welcome the redefining and examining of myself that I know will be part of leaving a familiar place—a home. But I also know that when I leave this place, I will take a little part of it with me. And leave a little bit of myself here. 

– Megs

All images taken on a Mamiya 645 Pro TL w/ 80mm 2.8 on Portra 400.

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