Right before I decided to move to Seoul my sister asked me what I wanted to get out of the trip. I told her that I had three big goals:
- I wanted to refine my personal style
- I wanted to learn to speak, read, and write Korean
- I wanted to learn transferable skills that would help me when I came back home
I'm almost one quarter of the way here and those three goals have been ever present and almost a burden on the way my life here is shaped. But, having those three things at the front of my mind has helped me shape the kind of life here I wanted to have when I moved.
But, the biggest thing of all I've learned here is that time is finite. I have never felt that more acutely than now. I'm not in a position to stay as long as I feel like here in Korea. I have one year and then that's it. It's back to my house in Detroit and my life there.
When I first arrived I was staring at a stack of fifty two weeks, lined up one after another an endless parade of time available. When I first got here I talked to another expat who was about to leave and I asked her what I should do, what she would have done differently about her time here and she said, "I think if you want to do something you need to just go do it. Don't worry about lining up a group to go with or anything, just go. Because I thought there was always time but now I realize there isn't much left and there are things I never did because I wanted to go with people, or thought I could just put it off." And she was right: time moves fast. The calendar pages turn quicker than I'd like.
Knowing that I cannot be here forever makes the experiences I have richer, but I've also learned to curate my experiences so that I do what I love. So, I've said yes to cherry blossoms in a rainy park, history museums on national holidays with women in Hanbok fluttering like butterflies. I've said yes to every Saturday in Garosugil shooting photos with the other street style photographers. Yes to fashion week and yes to weekday mornings at my kitchen table writing, editing, and researching for articles. I've said yes to really long walks along streets I don't know the name of with my camera in hand, and yes to the orange glow of the city at night in amongst the Hanok near palaces, along the Han river and the quiet stream near my apartment, and through the brightly lit overcrowded boulevards of Gangnam.
But before I say yes I think to myself: Is what is being proposed right now what I truly want out of life? My motivations are many. Sometimes I say yes because I want to cultivate a relationship with the person I'm going to do something with. Sometimes I say yes because I know that the activity will feed my soul - church, museum visits, performances all fit into this. Sometimes I say yes because it will help me gain those skills I want. That's why I shoot street style, attend fashion week, relentlessly pitch articles in the weekday mornings before work, and take Korean class. And sometimes I say yes because, well, I just want to. It sounds fun. Fun for no reason is absolutely allowed.
And I say no, too. I say no a lot here, more than I ever did back home and you know what? I like it! I do have a moment of guilt when I decline an invitation to do something but keeping the question in my mind helps me sort out whether or not I am moving forward. If it doesn't move me forward or feed my soul, or cultivate beautiful relationships with others then I don't say yes to it. It's simple.
And so when I go to life back home I hope I can remember how time is finite. I hope that I can keep the question I ask here in the front of my life there and act accordingly without falling into the trap of saying yes to things simply to be entertained or because I didn't want to get out of my pajamas or was tired which I knew I did all the time back home. I hope that I can find a few new goals to work towards, or perhaps refine the three I already have to keep me moving forward.
These photos were taken in a tunnel in Gangnam that has been specifically designated for graffiti artists to use between 10:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. One of the graffiti artists explained to me that it's basically a wall of fame here. You paint over a piece of graffiti and put up your own art. The artists cue up around 9:45 but are super respectful and don't actually start painting until the time is right. These guys were nice enough to let me take their picture as long as I didn't show their faces in the photographs.
Jeans: Cheap Monday
Jacket: Ann Taylor
Shoes: Doc Martens
Backpack: Low Classic