The packing was the hardest part, and that’s what started to scare her.
She made the packing list weeks ago — a color-coded excel spreadsheet listing every single item she could possibly need in her move abroad. Separated by category, and with columns to certify bought and packed statuses, her list was, to say the least, comprehensive. The five days leading up to departure were filled with last-minute trips to buy extra toothpaste, tampons, and deodorant, and the nights were filled with Tetris-style packing as she tried her hardest to fit her life into three (too-small) suitcases whilst blasting K-pop in a last-ditch attempt to “condition” her brain for the Korean language (she can now proudly say she can understand ~7% of songs, although the words “time”, “love”, “now”, and “little” don’t add up to much of a story-line). She got to bed at a (semi) reasonable hour last night, amazing considering the amount of times she un-packed and re-packed her bags to eliminate extraneous items and arrange the contents in a semi-organized manner. The ride to the airport was mostly filled with anxiety about her bags being over the weight limit, and once that worry was lifted (one bag missed the 50 lb. mark by one pound — nice!), she felt instantly lighter. Hugging her mother good-bye at security was difficult, of course. She felt herself beginning to cry and so clung harder to her mom, not letting the embrace end until she felt her tears dry and her quivering lip be still. Although she would’ve loved his company, she was glad her father hadn’t been able to come to the airport as well, for sure knew that the two of them bidding her for well would have surely sent her over the edge into a catastrophe of tears and snot bubbles. No, separate good-byes were best. The good-bye to her beloved friend Lauren (who you might remember from a past blog post), a quick hug and the passing of some inside joke. The good-bye to her oldest brother, a phone call and quick “I love you”. The good-bye to her middle brother, another brief hug and a smirk. The good-bye to her father, multiple hugs throughout the morning and one final one before getting into the car, with a casual wave whilst backing out the driveway, the last she would see of him for a while. And of course, the good-bye with her mother, a too-short embrace (which, in reality, was at least 45 seconds long, but which felt a quarter of the length), a reminder about being safe, and a teary last wave as she made her way through the maze of security. Just imagining have to say good-bye to all of her closest people at once created a lump in her throat and brought tears to her eyes (in fact, she keeps taking breaks from writing this post to collect her emotions). She had no regrets about who she had parted with. She felt content with where she had left her relationships and how she was going to keep in touch. She felt objectively prepared for the emotional hardship that was to come.
After getting through security, however, (another obstacle inflating her anxiety — she was worried her carry-on would be too big or her camera equipment would be confiscated, two fears she noted as irrational as she was an experienced traveler and had never had issues in the past) she realized how stunningly easy all of her good-byes had been. An easy crier, she almost always had trouble holding back tears once she felt they were ready to flow. She had embarrassed herself countless times when she was younger, crying to teachers and supervisors and friends by accident out of pure frustration or confusion. She had learned to remove herself from emotional situations before the got the best of her (she even refused to watch certain movies or listen to certain music with friends, as she knew they would cause the floodgates to open). So she was surprised she didn’t spill a single tear during her goodbyes, emotional situations which she could simply not avoid. She wasn’t hungry, but grabbed a small sandwich anyway because she knew she needed to fill her empty stomach before the first leg of her journey. As she took bite after tiny bite of her chicken-and-cheese flatbread, the anxiety of packing and paying extra baggage fees out of the way, she started to miss her family and friends more and more. She began to wonder if, perhaps, her goodbyes had been so easy initially because they were going to become more difficult later on. She wondered if, once settled into her new home in Daejeon, a wave of homesickness, bigger than she had ever experienced whilst away at school or studying in Spain, would hit her and throw her into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety.
But, taking the last sip of water from her over-priced Cyrstal Geyser, she decided she wasn’t going to worry about that right now. She was, of course, dreading the 26-hour trip ahead of her (2.5 hour flight to Chicago, 1.5 hour layover, 13.5 hour flight to Beijing, 6 hour layover, 2.5 hour flight to Busan), but she was excited for orientation and for meeting new people and for tasting new food and for experiencing new culture and for, of course, simply being in the country that she had been interested in for so long. So, she threw her bottle away (why aren’t here more recycling bins around here?, she wondered), started one of the 15 new podcasts on her phone, looked out the window at the taxiing planes, and smiled into her new life for the next 365 days.