Looking around a bar one night, a friend mentioned to me how many of the foreigners here seem to be lonely. Oceans away from your home, your family, it’s hard to imagine that one wouldn’t get lonely sometimes. Committing to living across the globe for a year, in an entirely different culture with an entirely different language, one has to be prepared to feel some degree of isolation.
We don’t easily blend in here, even in areas like Yeongtong, which are known for having a lot of foreigners. Dramatically different in language, culture, and appearance, we are definitely outsiders. Also, the Koreans don’t usually give foreigners much extra attention, like they do in some of the other countries I’ve visited. If anything, many of them seem to want to avoid you so that they don’t have to speak English.
Talking to my friend Moon, I asked her if she thought that most of the foreigners here suffered from some degree if loneliness. She offered that it seemed to be more of feeling of solitude than loneliness. I like this differentiation, and it seems accurate. The sense that I have is indeed of a self-imposed, peaceful solitude. There is time and space for reflection. You can easily get lost in the quiet, and the sea of unfamiliar faces, sights, and smells. The foreignness becomes increasingly familiar over time, but the sense of being an outsider seems to remain.
“There seems to be a lot of creative tension here,” an American who has been here for a couple of years mentioned to me soon after I arrived. I think I know what he means now by creative tension, but it’s hard to describe in words. It is something within the solitude, and you can make of it what you want.
Perhaps this tension is what you find when you sever yourself from everything in your life that is familiar and comfortable and hop on a plane to the other side of the world. While it seems more than a little cliche to find yourself on the other side of the world, you do seem to find something. You also find that in order to hop on that plain you probably had to be just a little bit insane. So there’s that.