Dispatch: Daegu, South Korea


Elizabeth Riggio


The day before my flight I couldn’t eat. I did manage to sleep somehow, perhaps it was from the exhaustion of not sleeping the whole week prior. I can remember my feelings so vividly. I was all over the place. One moment I was ecstatic and the next I was going to cancel my contract. All I could think was: “Can I even do this? What makes me think I can do this? How can I be away from my family and friends for a whole year? I can’t wait to be in a new place! I can’t wait to start a new chapter of my life! WHAT IS MY LIFE??” Self doubt wouldn’t stop creeping into my thoughts no matter how hard I tried. I was on a train called The Emotional Wreck. And that train wasn’t stopping.

But when I finally waved my last good bye to my family at the airport and entered the security checkpoint, I suddenly felt at ease- truly. A calm energy came over me as soon as it was officially happening. There were no ifs and what ifs anymore. It was like my body and mind had just been waiting for constancy, for it to be real, in order to relax and let go of my fears and doubts that had been consuming me. It was an incredible relief. I was still nervous, but I was also ready. I could do this. I had that I’m-going-to-a-new-place-and-who-knows-what-will-happen-next excitement that makes me feel alive.

That feeling continued through the flight and at my arrival. It’s strange how something that seems so foreign before, suddenly seems so normal once you come face to face with it. I was in South Korea, and I was still fine. There was no panic, no freak out, people were still people, and an airport was still an airport. I’m not sure what my brain had in mind before but it wasn’t nearly as terrifying as my mind built it up to be. It seemed that the unknown truly was the scariest part of everything.

And this unknown seems to be one of the toughest parts of anything new. When I landed at Incheon International Airport to search for my recruiter, when I first arrived at orientation, when I presented a lesson plan with two other group members to our orientation group, when I got on a bus to find out where I would be living for the next year, not knowing where I was located in the city, if any foreigners would be around, what my school would be like, what my co-teachers would be like, when I went to eMart (a major grocery store) and didn’t understand a thing because it was all in Hangul, when I rode the subway for the first time, when I tried to meet up with friends with no way to contact each other if we got lost, when I dealt with mold in my apartment. Each of these experiences, along with many others, were times in which I didn’t know what the outcome would be. Granted these aren’t life or death experiences, and I’m not trying to compare them as such. But they all had something in common: they worked out in the end. It may not always be stress-free, but any physical or mental obstacle can be conquered, or at least muddled through in some messy way (which happens since life is messy). I don’t think this makes it any less successful. We’re always learning and making mistakes and that’s okay. You will make it through anyway, even if not as you expected. And this is what being in a new place always reminds me.

The unknown is what tries to keep me back. The truth is, once I was put in a new situation, my body and mind adapted. I found a way through all of the newness because I needed to. There was no other option. New experiences are not wrong, they are simply different, and that doesn’t make them bad. That just means you will work a little harder, and you will have the opportunity to learn something new about yourself and others.

I am not a doctor and I don’t study psychology, but I believe the mind and body need change. I think humans like consistency because it is comfortable and makes us feel safe. But this creates a place in which we become complacent. We settle. We stop challenging our worldview. We need to be challenged and we need to mess up along the way. These are good things. These are things that test the strength of our being. And eventually, we do fall into routines because that’s a part of life. But maybe that’s about the time we need to get up and move again, literally or figuratively.

It is an interesting struggle… a thing is only scary when it is unfamiliar. So become familiar with it, and it will no longer be scary. At the same time, allowing something to become too familiar allows us to be lazy and to stop questioning and learning more. However, having constancy gives a sense of being grounded, a way to bring us back to center and avoid constant panic and stress–the body can only take so much of that. This is what happened when I finally felt at ease going through security at the airport. There was a sense of definitiveness and I could relax. Or perhaps more accurately, I felt exhaustion because my body had finally turned off high alert mode. This balance between unfamiliar and familiar is something I’ve been trying to find.