Lacey and I will be in Vietnam in two weeks. My first year in Korea is almost over. It's finally started to sink in, and now that we've crossed the deadline*, I feel a lot calmer about it than I did a month ago. Only four more lessons with my favourite kids, but only three more to survive with the awful ones. Undoubtedly, saying goodbye to my students is the part that makes me feel saddest about leaving. On my worst days, those kids unfailingly lift my mood and remind me why I'm here. Even though English teaching involves a large dollop of theatre and acting, I feel more like myself in the classroom than in any other job I've had.
Since I've extended my contract by one month, I'm now seeing the same part of the year as when I first arrived. Apples are back in season, as are the thick-skinned purple grapes, and the cicadas are loud, but back down to tolerable levels (for a couple of weeks they were loud enough to hurt your ears and drown out all conversation.) We've been watching a lot of 'River Cottage' recently, which is a pleasant but frustrating experience when living in a small urban apartment, but it makes me think that Koreans really are pretty good at living 'in tune with the seasons', as Hugh would say. Their seasonal customs are a little more rigid than we Westerners are used to, but they do make a lot of sense. I don't personally understand passing up on the delicious 'samgyetang' during cooler weather, but it is nice that the supermarket changes its vegetable display regularly.
Something else I've noticed: speaking Korean really has made the last few months a LOT easier. Taxi drivers understand directions better, I can ask for help in shops and explain my weird dietary needs in restaurants, signs are no longer a mystery. It has without doubt been the biggest help in adjusting to life as an expat. I'm going to miss studying it back home, and I'm sure that finding a decent class/tutor next year will be high on the list of things to do.
Also, the food situation has improved with time. I still don't like seaweed, though I can handle it mixed into food, and frankly I'm unlikely to ever come around on squid and octopus, but tofu and spiciness are both pretty much non-issues now. Figuring out how to cook at home has been really important too: Korean cuisine is healthy, but wherever you are, restaurants aren't going to be the best place for healthy eating. Oh, and vegan ramen. That's important too :)
I had thought that by this point in the year I'd be desperate to be out of here, but I'm really not. I'm excited about Vietnam, eating non-Korean food and, most importantly, about catching up with people I've failed to email regularly, but I'm also really happy that I'm coming back. Korea's well and truly under my skin, and I'm anticipating major kimchi cravings by the time I get back here.
*I just finished a book set in Niagara Falls, and the 'deadline' was the point in the river at which the current is so strong, going over the falls is unavoidable. Can't find a link to say if it's real or not though!