At the beginning of October, I finally ventured out of Changwon and took my first intercity bus to Busan, South Korea — the second largest city in the peninsula! I was more nervous for this solo trip to a new city than I was about flying to a whole new country. Sure enough, I got terribly lost and wandered around for about an hour until I realized I could just jump in a taxi and show him the address and he would bring me to the exact location. The learning curve has been steep, friends! Eventually, I made it to my destination, and after collapsing all my bags and any pride I had left onto the floor, the next thing I knew I was witnessing someone cut pizza with food scissors for the first time and then I met one of my best Korea friends.
I share this story because it’s so indicative of my experience here: utter failure at first, but followed by mind-blowing goodness!
Looking back, I am so thankful for the month of September that I spent alone, but after Courtney stepped into my life, Korea instantly became so much more amazing. If you know her, you know she has that effect on things. I had literally just introduced myself to her and 5 minutes later she was inviting me to dinner at her home stay. The following Tuesday I got a text from her while at school inviting me to the infamous Jinju Lantern Festival…. at 11pm, and we started our friendship by running around a castle filled with hundreds of life-sized glowing lanterns and taking selfies with her Korean host mom. The next weekend we were hiking the mountains that border our city- the ones I see above the apartment skyline every day- ending the day with pajeon (veggie pancake) and makgeolli (rice wine) at a restaurant that was nothing more than tables under tents. And how could I forget- our next adventure included fresh clams, green tea in the land of green tea, street food, and mud flats…
One of my favorite things about living in Korea with Courtney was how much funnier she made our circumstances. One night I came to her home stay after work and ended up staying the night. As we were about to go to bed she simply said, “Here we are! Just sleeping in a home in Changwon, South Korea! What an average day!” A few weeks later, we were sipping coffee on the patio of a resort on Goeje Island, looking out over the sea and talking about how much we love this life we get to live. I will never forget laughing so hard as we looked out over the stunning sea and town below us and Courtney exclaiming, “What an AVERAGE view! Here we are at this resort on this island…. it’s all just ok….”
I owe so much of the meaningful impact this year has had on me due to my friend Courtney. I’m sure I would have made it to a few cities around Korea, but it would have been a fraction of what I got to see and experience without her. Not only did she adopt me into her Fulbright family, and not only did we get to go to really cool places (The Blue House in Seoul, DMZ, Andong) but we had experiences that I will treasure forever. Courtney is intentional like no one I’ve ever met, and you better believe she made holidays and birthdays and everyday in-between days really special and memorable.
For example, on my birthday, I came around the corner to my bathroom to find the door covered in notes from my friends and family members, wishing me a happy birthday from the other side of the world.
Christmas, however, was my absolute favorite.
We borrowed our friend’s entire christmas tree and all their decor (they were in America for the holidays), shoved it all into the back of two taxi’s, and paid about 50,000 won for the driver to take us up into the hills along the coast to a cabin we had rented for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had a massive box of food in the seat next to me, the christmas tree at my feet, and a carton of eggs in my lap, already knowing this would be a holiday I would never forget. I could tell you all the details of the night, how we got out of the taxi, how he drove away, and how the two of us stood in the cold and had no idea where we were, how we waited for our friends and trudged up a hill until we saw our place, how we accidentally set of the alarm and the old man who owned the place came shuffling down the hill to let us in, but what’s more important is how after we got everything unloaded and we settled in, Courtney gave one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given; words. Weeks before Christmas, she had reached out to me and five of our other friend’s closest friend’s and family members back in the States, and they sent her hilarious wonderful sweet amazing videos from home that Courtney put all together and presented to us on Christmas Eve. I will remember that gift long after the memory of rice-cooker mac&cheese fades (but let’s be honest, the first taste of mac & cheese in 4 months won’t soon be forgotten)!
The rest of the year, until when she left in July, was filled with lots of late week-night dinners, Saturday coffee and breakfast in my apartment on lazy weekends, more fun weekend trips and great conversations on the bus rides back to Changwon. I’ll never get over the massive gift that Courtney’s friendship and presence in my year in Korea was and will continue to be in the States! My year here was characterized by lots of surprises and unexpected circumstances.
This was the best surprise of them all.
So, Courtney — thank you for being who you are, and for changing who I am for the better. Meeting you in Busan that day was a surprise that I’ll forever thank Jesus for. Thank you for so many months packed with so many memories in one of the weirdest but best years of my life!