It’s a new year, or at least it is to my fellow Jews. I landed in Seoul on Rosh Hashana 5769, and sundown Friday night began the year 5770. It’s weird, but pretty fitting, that I arrived on Seoul at the start of the new year. And now I’m leaving just a few days after it concludes.

It’s been a crazy year, to say the least. Living in Prague for a semester barely prepared me for this year. This was the first time in my life that I’ve been financially independent. In university, my parents paid my rent and tuition. For the past year, the money that I’ve made, spent and saved has been mine alone. Despite jaunts out to the clubs and a bit of international travel, I’ve managed to save more money this year than I ever had before.

It’s weird to think that a year has passed since I left New York. I said last year that there would be births, deaths, weddings and more, and I’d be missing it all. I’ve learned that putting down those words are much different from actually experiencing them. Friends have gotten hitched and engagements have been broken. Seeing the wedding photos on Facebook pales in comparison to actually being there. While there haven’t been any births just yet, I found out a few weeks ago that I’m going to have a new baby cousin come January.

But then there are the deaths.

Having not lost anyone close to me in years, this year was a bit of a jolt. I said goodbye to my grandfather a few days before I came to Korea, knowing that there was a possibility I wouldn’t see him again. But knowing something is a possibility is much different than having that idea actualized. Dealing with his death from across the world was both a blessing and a curse. I wish I could have been with my family for the funeral and shiva, but here I was so far removed from it all that I could still function at work, if only barely. But I wasn’t the only teacher to lose a grandparent this year, and so we became each other’s support systems. Following my grandfather were my aunt, my cat (I don’t care if she’s not human–it’s still hard), my former boss and my college mentor. I’ve never dealt with so much loss in my life–much less in nine months. But having good friends here to talk to made each one a little bit easier to handle.

Rosh Hashanah is a time of new beginnings. A whole lot of new beginnings kick off on Saturday, when I get on that plane to Phuket. I have a feeling that when I get back to the States in November, this is all going to seem like a dream. My life here was never even close to normal. Living in the English Village, teaching classes such as Cooking, Airplane, Post Office and Nature, sounds completely bizarre even to foreigners who teach at public school here. When I meet new people, they’re speechless when I tell them about my job. To go home and have to explain SEV Graduation, aquarobics and the other crazy stuff that goes on here…oy vey. People are going to think I’m crazy.

But for the most park, it’s been a good year. I met incredible people and made my way to places I never thought I’d go. I learned how to be a better friend, and lost a few fair-weather ones in the process. I started doing things on my own and realized that being alone isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’ve learned to be content with myself and my own thoughts, and have enjoyed this newfound independence. I’ve learned that though doing something for the first time might be scary, it’s just about always worth it in the end. Whether that’s something as big wandering alone around a city like Shanghai, or as small as taking a shower in the dark because the lights are broken, I’ve learned to make the best of the situation at hand, because sometimes, that’s really all you can do, right?

A few weeks ago, I asked Erin if she had made the right choice in coming to Korea for the year, and she said she thought so. I’ve got to agree with her–this was where I needed to be this year. Maybe I needed to be so far from home to deal with losing so many people close to me. I’m no good at severing relationships, but thousands of miles seem to have cut the toxic people from my life. The global economy has only gotten worse since last September, but I enjoyed complete job security this year; even when we were down to 40 students, I knew I’d have my job. I know that I’ll come back to the States in November with a newly discovered self-awareness, one that I thought I’d gotten in university, but actually found in Korea. While at times things have been hard here, Korea didn’t kill me. It only made me stronger. I don’t know what happens next, but as Frank Sinatra says, “If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere.” You may think he was talking about New York, but come on, who are you kidding? Korea all the way, baby.

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Wishing you all a Shana Tovah from Korea!!

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