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disorientation, at home


Almost a year ago, I moved back into my family home in Toronto, Canada after living alone in South Korea for two and a half years. Prior to my move, I had a lot of concerns. There were practical things like wondering how I would pack up my entire apartment into two or three suitcases, organizing my last bill payments and tax documents, and deciding which of my possessions that I would sell. These things, while important, were not lasting – they were issues that could easily be resolved as long as I dedicated time to doing them and so I did. I spent entire weekends in my apartment coordinating with people who wanted to buy my microwave or unopened bottles of lotion, gave away books to friends, and worked overtime to ensure that the students at the English school I worked at would be able to adjust to their new teacher.


Beyond those practical concerns, I also stressed out over the mental changes that I would go through. I would be living with my parents and brothers after living alone for so long and I knew that I had adopted a mentality that, while not ‘bad’ or ‘good’ per se, was not the kind that enabled a peaceful and healthy coexistence in one living space. Rather, it was a mentality predicated on selfishness. Most of my decisions were made with only myself in mind and I enjoyed living in that way but knew that my egoistic frame of mind wouldn’t suit me well when I lived at home again. I expressed my concerns to my mother and she told me that she would try to be patient as I learned how to adjust to a co-living structure again. While these mental changes were a little more difficult, over time they were also resolved with the support of my family.


The most difficult part of moving home hasn’t been the practical elements of physically moving home nor has it been the psychological adjustments I’ve had to make. The emotional side of it has definitely been the hardest to adjust to and even now, almost exactly a year later, I think I’m still experiencing a sense of emotional upheaval.


A few months ago, I was talking to the closest friend that I had while living abroad. He had said that he had started speaking to his friends about a ghost in his daily life. I didn’t know what he meant at first until he explained he would talk about me to people and when they didn’t know who I was, it would feel jarring to him. I was still so present for him but not for anyone else. I was his ghost.


I thought that when I’d move that I’d look back on my old life with a sense of wistfulness or longing. I would be able to think about the things I did or the people that I met or the places I went and would think to myself, ‘My life was like that once and now it’s not,’ with some sense of fondness whether the associated memory was positive or negative. But for me, it’s been nothing like that. Things that were once part of my daily life are now things that rarely come up. Because of that, the small everyday norms I had have been the first to disappear from my mind -- the door code for my apartment, my go-to order at my favourite cafe, the buses that I could take to get from one side of the Han River to the other, how I organized my desk at work. So instead of a moment where I look back on things fondly, I’m instead left wondering if all of those things existed in the first place. If a tree falls in a forest and only you are there to hear it, how can you be certain that you actually heard it?


* 漢江 = ソウル市内を流れる川

I wish that I could say that these things that were missing from my daily life were like ghosts -- real to me and no one else -- but I don’t think it’s that simple. For my friend, it was just me that disappeared like I had never been there in the first place. But for me, the entire life I was living is gone. Rather than a ghost that exists just for me and no one else, it sometimes feels like my old life doesn’t exist at all. I feel more like Alice who had returned from Wonderland – like I had been living in an imaginary world that may not exist. There is no one in my life now that was there when I was living abroad. Every detail of my past life is an anecdote that requires an explanation. Talking about my time abroad is like telling a story and sometimes, I think that I could just make things up and no one would know the difference. I had been in an entirely different realm of existence from anyone in my daily life now. I’m experiencing a sense of displacement that I haven’t entirely gotten used to yet. A few months ago, I felt disoriented or frustrated. Now, I just feel lonely. I had such extreme experiences when I was living abroad -- the happiest and saddest times of my life -- and not having anyone around me that shares in those memories makes me feel like they don’t matter.


Sometimes it feels strange to me that even a year later, I’m still having trouble with the emotional side of things. But for me, there were so many different emotions that I experienced in those two and a half years that maybe it’s not so surprising. I had the best and worst times of my life in that time and the highs and lows were so sudden and steep that it was overwhelming at times. Being in a place where the people that were by my side during those highs and lows are in completely different parts of the world has had me thinking – all of these things happened that changed so many parts of me and no one here even knows that. It has me wondering if those highs and lows and how I’ve grown from them even matter now.

カナダに戻ってきて1年経った今でも、気持ちの面で苦労していることが不思議に思える時もある。でも韓国で過ごした2年半の間、本当にいろいろな感情を抱いたから今韓国にいないことでこのように感じるのは不思議ではないかもしれない。 韓国にいた間では、人生で一番の最高と一番の最悪の両方を経験して、感情に溺れることもあった。その時一緒にいてくれた人たちは、今は遠く離れた場所にいる。つまり、私という人間を色んな意味で変えてくれた経験について知っている人は、ここにはいない。だから、極端な経験や、そこから得た成長には果たして意味があるのか、考えてしまうようになった。

I’m working on ways of adjusting emotionally. I have a map of Seoul up in my bedroom and I’ve marked my old apartment with a light pencil mark. I have pictures up of my favourite beach and of strangers that became friends. On my shelves are five journals that I wrote in on most days during my time in Korea. These are all things that remind me that my experiences were real even if there is no one around me that knows or acknowledges them. I’m trying to talk to my friends from Korea more, even if we’re scattered around different parts of the world. But I’m also trying hard to place myself in this current time and place and connect to the people around me. While I continue to emotionally adjust, I hope I can do so in a way that doesn’t turn nostalgia into ‘living in the past.’


Images by Caitlyn

Japanese Translated by Mia, Kiara and Hikari

Edited by Kiara

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