Time continues to fly by. Each day I am amazed at how long I've already been here, but also amazed at the length of time I have left. After living in Korea for a little more than two months, it has stopped feeling like a vacation and more like a life. The novelty of being somewhere new and exciting has faded, and turned into a comfortable existence in this strange land. I have stopped feeling like a tourist, and officially feel like a resident of Gwangju. I've come a long way in getting to know the area and feeling comfortable in my surroundings, but it is still a work in progress...
Whether it is moving to a new apartment just across town, or to a new city, or even across the world, I think most people can understand that transition period before the "new place" turns into "my place." It takes a while before you walk into your new apartment and it doesn't feel alien. The same goes for the neighborhood you live in. Initially, each trip to the store, each walk to school, each attempt to find a bar for an after-work drink can seem like a project. When I first arrived, every step I took outside of my apartment was mixed with excitement and anxiety. I would have to remind myself, "Okay, I turned left...then right....Oh! and I passed that shop before...." Getting lost anywhere can be difficult and stressful, but getting lost in a country where most people on the street don't speak the same language as you.... well that's another adventure altogether.
Now that I've settled in, I can walk outside and wander and feel confident that I'll be able to get myself back home. (Unless soju is involved....then, who knows?) I remember from my semester in London that as soon as I felt I had figured that city out, my time was up and I was heading home. I'm excited about the prospect of having so much time left here. A year truly gives you enough time to get to know a city; all her ticks, quirks, and secrets. And I am definitely looking forward to that.
In addition to finding my way around the city, a few other things have aided in the process of truly settling in to life in Korea. Things are going great at work; I'm finally feeling settled and I'm confident that I know what I'm doing. Those first several weeks were a struggle though! So much new information was flooding my brain that I often felt like I'd never get here. Having gained that confidence at work has completely altered my Korea experience. Once that hurdle was jumped, it was all good in the neighborhood.
I've also been fortunate enough to make some great friends since arriving. I've gotten to know a few of my co-workers pretty well and we have a ton of fun together. Many people that choose to come to Korea to teach are very like-minded, so getting to know people is easy. It's like we are all strangers who have known one another forever. Having people you can surround yourself with is clutch when you move somewhere solo, and the foreigner community in Gwangju is amazing.
Before I left, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like when I arrived. I thought about the initial awe, wonder, and surprise of everything new. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about what comes after that. What happens after the other shoe drops, so to speak? Well, you can currently find me with both shoes firmly planted on the ground, and I'm feeling pretty steady.