We finally finished our two-week quarantine yesterday morning! Yesterday marked our official start to our trip. Along with the excitement of finally being able to leave our hotel room after two weeks, I’m grappling with the great uncertainty that lies ahead.
As is so often true in life, quarantine was just another opportunity for a dialectical experience. It was both incredibly trying, frustrating, and tiring while also being rejuvenating, freeing, and relaxing. We somehow managed to fill the time pretty well. We had our fair share of activities from Lego building to learning to knit (unsuccessfully just yet), weaving hot mitts, learning more Korean, and lots of reading. We also had our fair share of screens which is not my typical go-to but, hey, we were in quarantine.
I’d grown strangely comfortable in the bubble of quarantine, despite the challenges. Within those walls, I was in Korea without putting myself out there. I could sit in there and not face my anxiety and fears nor my history and past. As it was coming to an end and especially now, I feel the cold anxiety seeping into my bones, stretching my muscles taut enough to snap. Every day counting down to the end of quarantine sharpened my acute awareness of the immense gaps in my Korean language and knowledge of the culture.
I am only two days out of quarantine and I’m already overwhelmed. While I was well aware of how challenging it would be to travel across the globe with two young children (especially during a pandemic) living it is another thing entirely. We had high hopes for this trip and I can feel the weight of those expectations. Carrying that load while navigating a system with limited language skills and trying to set some basic things in order has me nearly on my knees. As is typical for me, self-doubt is working to make itself at home. It’s crashing over me, bringing an onslaught of questions about what I’m trying to do here. As these waves of doubt recede, for a period, grief over these missing pieces lies in wait.
I gaze at my face in the mirror, reflecting my features telling all that I do belong here, I fit. Behind that face, though, I sense a false edge to what others see. It’s like being a cheap knock-off of the authentic and real thing. I know that some part of my work to reconnect with my culture is entrenched in my desperate attempt at hiding my tells, the better to camouflage the obvious American accent laden in my broken Korean. My stomach twists with the anxiety of being found out and realizing that I don’t fit anywhere.
My Korean has grown a good bit in the last two and half years but it’s a humbling reminder of how lacking it is when trying to use a Korean app or communicate with someone in a store. The kids did make new friends already yesterday when we visited a playground. In turn, I made a new friend. I was able to converse fairly well with her in Korean though when things got more complicated, it became challenging. It helped that she and her kids were able to speak some English. So it’s not as though everything is all bad.
Being so far from my husband also compounds all of these challenges. If ever there was a doubt about our mutual partnership, this trip quells those doubts. Not only is he an incredibly supporting and loving human but also someone on whom I lean and rely. Not in a helpless sort of way, otherwise I suppose I wouldn’t even be here, but the “I lean on you and you lean on me” sort of way. In that way, it’s a bit disorienting being so far from that constant mutual leaning. My balance feels off and, while I know I’m not helpless, I feel a little lost. I miss him dearly, as do the children, and were it not for his constant encouragement and support we might have hopped on the next flight back.
During quarantine, I read Rising Strong by Brené Brown. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for some time, as I’ve clearly been facedown in the arena for a minute. Through this book and years of my own work, I continue to unpack my internal struggles that are deeply rooted in my insecurities and lifelong struggle with abandonment, mistrust, and a whole host of things related to complex trauma. While identifying it is freeing, it certainly doesn’t diminish it or quiet my internal critic. I continue to rumble with a lot of this. I am grateful for having picked it up just now though. The timing feels right.
I also sense the excitement coiling my body to spring forward into what is next. I see the light in my children’s eyes just these past few days as they’ve taken in their surroundings. I am a bit impatient to get them more immersed here. My impatience is likely only adding to the feeling being overwhelmed and yet it’s hard to beat back. Occasionally, these seemingly warring emotions feel like they are jumping out of me. Sweeping them up and containing them together feels almost impossible. It’s rather like a never-ending rollercoaster taking my stomach with every dip and dizzying me with every turn. Cognitively, I know the value and importance of our trip, I’m just working to catch up emotionally.