Every time I post something, I find myself thinking, "Well, that's it. That will be the last interesting thing I have to say about Korea. Everything will be smooth sailing from here on out."
I'm so glad I'm always wrong.
Today I'm feeling ridiculously reflective, and I've been examining my life through a microscopic lens all afternoon. I haven't sorted it all out just yet, but I think I'm coherent enough for the stream-of-consciousness babble that has so often overtaken my posts recently.
After my kids left, I took a little break to catch up on all things internet before working on my lesson plans (which I never did finish, if you're wondering). So many of my friends are very talented writers who lead awfully interesting lives, so catching up on blogs is one of my favorite pastimes. Today, my friend Angie posted something on her blog that referenced me - and started this whole mess of introspection (thanks, dear!). In her post today, Angie talked about a few of her friends that she is particularly proud of because they are living out their dreams, and she included me in that list.
Me. Nikki Raasch.
And you know what? She just might be right.
Angie's post got me thinking about what my dreams really are. In high school, I wanted to be successful, and I meant it in the most superficial way you can mean the word. I wanted to have a college degree people would envy, a job I could describe while looking down my nose, and so much money the president would look to me for bail-outs. In fact, I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" my senior year, and the yearbook picture that accompanied it was me laying in a pile of fake money. I can remember daydreaming that Harvard had "heard" of me and would do anything to win the honor of my presence. (On a side note, I kind of wonder how I had any friends in high school.)
College changed me, though. Most of it is thanks to the community that loved me while I was there, and of course, to the God who didn't give up on me even when I was basically a shallow embarrassment to humanity. Not even a month into my freshman year, I changed my major from prestigious "pre-med" to not-so-envied "education", and by junior year, I was living in a house full of girls who frequently had to remind each other why we were in college in the first place. The fantastic ladies I am lucky to call my friends were crazy passionate about loving people, and it rubbed off on me. We watched Invisible Children and wanted to move to Uganda; we read Irresistible Revolution and wanted to move to the slums. In high school, my only dreams of visiting far-off lands consisted of beach resorts and exotic mixed drinks, but by the time I hit my senior year of college, my plans were drastically different. Before I went to college, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, but by the time Miami was ready to send me off, I had gone through so many dreams I wasn't even sure what was real anymore. As graduation drew nearer, people asked more and more what I wanted to be. I stopped trying to come up with a career choice and started just telling people I wanted to be happy. It was pretty much just a cop-out, but I'm realizing now how much I meant it.
At some point in the last three years, I've wanted to live in nearly every country I can name, but I don't know that I ever thought I'd actually do it. I regretted having not studied abroad, but that was about the extent of my wishes. I think I may have surprised myself the most when I actually started taking steps toward moving here. Korea was never my dream. The 10/40 window always pulled me, but I never once sat around plotting how I could get to Korea. Honestly, I knew there were two Koreas and one of them was bad, but I didn't really even know which one that was. All I knew was that I wanted to go on an adventure. I really liked my life in Cincinnati, but it suddenly struck me that middle-class suburbia would be all there was if I didn't force myself to do something else. I don't think I came to Korea because I was afraid of growing up. I think I was afraid of not really living. I was afraid of getting to my next big milestone (what's that? 25?), looking back, and wondering what I had accomplished. I was afraid of making the easy choice all the time and not getting to see what life could be. I think, in my mind, traveling the world was the epitome of adventure, and that word - adventure - was what I was sure I was missing.
Here's the thing, though. Adventures aren't really all that sexy. Yeah, I live in Asia, and yeah, some of my life is more blog-worthy than it was two months ago. People back home are jealous that I live such an exciting life now, and sometimes I understand why. Sometimes, I eat soup that I think has mushrooms in it, then find out I've been eating snails. Sometimes, a guy comes to my apartment to fix my refrigerator and doesn't speak a bit of English and we stare at each other awkwardly for a whole minute. But sometimes, it's just life. Back when this whole Korea thing was just a crazy suggestion from a friend, Ben said something I can't shake. I was getting myself all worked up about how hard it would be and how I didn't know if I could handle everything, and Ben said, "Yeah, but even in Korea, I'm just me. I mean, I still like ice cream and stuff." Okay, so it doesn't seem as profound typed out, and maybe that's the beauty of it. I'm on this wild adventure and people I haven't talked to in years are stalking my life, but you know what? I haven't changed who I am. True, things about me have changed, and I'm learning things about myself that I never expected to discover, but in the middle of the night in Seoul, South Korea, I'm still just me, and I still like ice cream.
So today when I read on Angie's blog that I'm one of the girls she's proud to know because I'm living out my dreams, I was actually kind of startled. Am I really living out my dreams? Do I even really know what my dreams are? If I dreamt of adventure, and now I'm sitting in my apartment eating oreos and watching Glee, then have I succeeded? I like to think I have.
I think I'm learning that adventure isn't about the big things (Kirsten tried to teach me this months ago, but I'm a slow learner). Adventure doesn't mean getting lost on the subway or letting fish eat your toes, although neither of those things is bad. I think I'm realizing that the biggest adventure, and the only one that really matters, is trying to find yourself. It sounds trite and cheesy, I know, but maybe there's a reason it's so overused. My favorite thing about Korea isn't the flashy signs or the tourist spots or the bizarre foods or the whiny language. My favorite thing about Korea is me. I feel like I'm an entirely different person than I was a month ago, and at the same time I feel like I haven't changed at all. I know it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense, and I wish I had better words to explain it. I feel like the person I am here is the same person I always was, but I never really let myself be her. Maybe I was afraid of failure, rejection, disappointment, something, but I'm not really afraid of those things anymore. I'm comfortable knowing that I'm worth something and that I matter, and life is simple because of it. I kind of wonder if everyone else already knows this about themselves and if I'm just the last one on that particular self-esteem bandwagon, but even that doesn't really bother me anymore. I came to this realization on my own time, and I'm happy with the results.
Angie also referenced a few of her other friends who are living out their dreams, and she linked to her friend Ally's blog. Ally is taking six months to travel all fifty states with a friend, and she's documenting every step of the journey. I adored stalking this girl I've never met, and I think I want to duplicate her adventure whenever life leads me back to the States, but my favorite thing about her blog is here. Ally is living her dream too, but she's already realized what I'm coming to learn - that the adventure isn't just in the big things. Even on the adventure of a lifetime, it's still just life, and we all still like ice cream.
This entire blog post can be summed up with a quote I've had on my facebook for as long as I can remember: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." I can't help but think that God's delighted with my discovery - that being alive and being me is the greatest adventure I could hope for.