I never really knew my Grandmother like most people do. It’s not that I didn’t want to, or that I didn’t plan to, or that it wasn’t a priority for me. It’s simply the sort of situation many people find themselves in when they flee a war-torn country for a better future, like I did when I left Bosnia at four years old. Since that transition to the United States, traveling while going to school proved difficult. I would estimate that throughout my life I spent only three months of time in total with my grandmother in Bosnia. The issue was really two-fold. My grandparents were too old and unwilling to deal with modern technology such as airplanes, and my family was too settled and had a regular work routine and life to tend to in the United States, making extended periods of travel virtually impossible. Nonetheless, I loved the concept of this thing called grandparents. My friends would come to school after holiday breaks and tell me stories galore about all of the wonderful fun they had with their own: the zoo trips, the World of Coca-Cola, the baked cookies! I secretly envied those relationships.
Over the years I have told myself about many things, “I’ll get to that eventually, I’ll get to that eventually, I’ll get to that eventually.” The time would pass, and while I usually did a good job accomplishing what I set out to do, one of the things I never succeeded in was spending more quality time with my grandmother. She passed away last September from complications with dementia. It was such a devastating moment for me, and a huge wake-up call. I never thought I would need to be reminded that life was fleeting, but I’m glad I got the memo. The realization hit me like a punch to the face.
Since that sobering day in my life, I have pondered about the other things I have wanted to do in that I kept putting off, and I quickly realized the list was vast. The first thought that came to mind was about how much I wanted to teach abroad in South Korea. I still remember the many days where I used to discuss travel with my friends in college, contemplating new foods, teaching English, and enjoying the culture. I read various travel blogs, perused TEFL websites, and even went so far as to obtain a teaching certificate. I wanted to explore the world and write to everyone who wanted to listen about the wonders out there. Whenever a mutual friend had a question about teaching abroad, they would seek out my advice on the subject. I always had an answer, but five years and several opportunities later, I had still not taken the plunge, so to speak.
When people hear this story, they always ultimately ask me why I didn’t just do it and they ask about my reasoning behind my abstaining. Quite frankly, to put it simply, life got in the way. I had settled. I had a full-time steady job, and had worked my way up to the point where I earned a 401K and some health benefits. I had obtained several certifications and an enviable resume, all while working in the local political arena as an activist. I had built a decent life for myself, a life that I was proud of, and it was incredibly hard to consider letting it go, even though I wasn’t perfectly content.
For a while now, I have been feeling like my inner voice was telling me throughout my professional experiences that something wasn’t right, that I wasn’t doing at this point in my life what I ought to be doing. At first the voice was small and easily cast aside. Over time, however, that voice became louder and my discontent with the mundane lifestyle of the 9-to-5 concrete jungle world I was subjected to continued to grow exponentially, but my grandmother’s passing was my breaking point. I knew I was living a life without excitement and without adventure. I was living a life without passion. I was a cubicle zombie in need of a healthy dose of appropriate nutrition. I didn’t want to live that way anymore.
I literally decided overnight that I was tired of saying “I’ll get to that eventually”, but not holding myself accountable and following up with what I said I was going to do. I asked myself if my life were to end tomorrow if I would be satisfied with my experiences, and my answer to myself was a resounding no. I decided that I would not be consumed with fear and what-ifs. I decided that I would be brave and face the unknown and focus on the potential pros of the situation instead of just the cons. I decided that I was finally going to Teach English in South Korea.
A few individuals see my decision as sudden and brash. Some people have asked me what I’m running from. Someone even suggested to me that if I really just want to move around and have my own place, I can do that without having to leave the state. The truth is, I don’t feel like I’m running away from anything; I feel like I’m running toward something better for myself. I feel that by teaching abroad in an entirely new culture, an individual can learn and develop who they really are as a human being, and also sculpt young minds of the future. That type of work involves a great deal of confidence and responsibility. It is work that is meaningful.
So here I am today. I began my visa registration process last October, and obtained my visa in February. It might sound crazy to some people, but I leave for South Korea in mere weeks to teach English in Seoul! I couldn’t be any more excited! I know I will never be able to bring my Grandmother back, although I’d give up just about anything to see her again. There is, however, one thing I can do: live my life fully for myself and fully for her. That’s what I intend to do from this moment forward. After all, no one has forever, but there is always right now.