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Embracing Nostalgia

Light shining through a 300 year old oak tree behind my elementary school.
Wolgot, South Korea

I’ve always had a thing for nostalgia. The fervor of splendid memories come to the forefront in times of anguish, loneliness, and despair. To deny them completely would be almost inhuman, but to fully embrace them and permit them to take control would be harmful. Nostalgia subtly acts like a drug. A dose or two from time to time can be beneficial, but it can easily become addictive as overdoses are prominent. Thus, with nostalgic yearnings, middle-ground must be found. One must stake their flag between nostalgia and reality in times of languishing for actualities of yesterdays. In doing so, nostalgia can be something joyful, rather than daunting or depressing after the initial zeal has worn off. One must remember that nostalgia, by it’s very meaning, is essentially a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. As anguish and despair may prompt one to ponder and saunter through fond memories for temporary relief from tough times, so can similar situations of happiness foster nostalgia. It is by such mirthful experiences that I’ve come to be reminded of golden days.

After Obama won his 2nd presidential election this evening, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander about where and who I was when he won this first election 4 years ago. It seems like a lifetime, but it also appears I can easily take a step back in time. I was in Granada, Spain, having just returned from working the grape harvest in southern France with my best Spanish friend, José, whom I met during my year studying abroad in Granada during 2006-2007. It was a great, almost ineffable experience of which I know I will never forget. It was also very hard work, and my knees were certainly feeling it at the time as I could barely walk down a hill. On November 4, 2008, I recall having just a few days left before I’d have to return to the US with not really much of a plan in my pocket except for the few hundred dollars I had to my name accompanying it. I had to leave my girlfriend, María, whom I also met during my year studying abroad. And although it was very pleasant to see and spend time with her again, the “recession” had hit Spain hard and I quickly ascertained that it would be supremely difficult for me to find work in Valencia, which is where she lived. When this occurred, mental walls sprung up immediately and relational stagnation occurred. Circumstances had their way. When the time did come to finally live Europe, I knew that I wouldn’t return for quite a long time. It was very sad, but the future was mine to behold, and after a long prayer drought of a few years, I began to pray again with all my heart to have God lead me in the right direction. From Europe, I returned to California, and from California I went to Texas. I still remember that 20-hour drive and the eagerness I felt when I finally crossed the Texas border. I had but $800 to my name, the majority of which was a loan from my cousin Mark, however, I was riding high on the adrenaline of new experiences. It moments like these that really change a person. When I arrived to my final stop in Liberty County, Texas, I quickly had my hands full for almost two years, where so much occurred to shape my character for the better. From Texas, I then traveled to South Korea, where I’ve been living and working as an English teacher ever since.

Just the other day I met a girl named Lauren, who is from Chico, California. The recruiter that helped me get my public school teaching job in Korea, sent me a message several weeks ago stating that I should contact this girl since she is from the same town I attended university and going to be living and teaching near where I currently live. When we finally met for some chicken and beer, we ended up having pleasant evening reminiscing about home. Chico is not essentially home for me, but I spent the majority of my 20’s living, studying, and working there. Some of my fondest memories took place there. Lauren helped me recall so many things about Chico and my university life that I had not thought about since I left almost 4.5 years ago. It’s like I had packed so many things during that time in a safety deposit box in my mind and Lauren gave me the key to open it. Chatting with Lauren also prompted me to think about my best Chico friend, Carmen, whom I haven’t seen since she last accompanied me on a farewell trip to my hometown before I took off on grape-harvesting adventures in southern France. We had a strong, somewhat particular friendship, and I imagine that since concrete plans are set to spend time with her for 3-4 days over New Years in Northern California, thinking about Chico also made me think about her. I look forward to seeing her again.

In addition, due to the fact I’ve been working on a construction project with my students almost everyday after-school during the past week and a half, it has prompted more jubilant memories from my college days. Before studying in Spain for a year, I spent the summer working to build a super huge oak fence around my Spanish professor’s house. It took almost two months of working intermittently between my other bartending job at The Olive Garden and another job at my university. However, despite the hard work, I remember joyously working outside under a clear blue sky with nothing but the yearning to learn new skills and earn money for Spain. It was a fantastic time. Now, I see myself almost doing the same thing. However, instead of bartending, I am now teaching English, sometimes frantically, and then also working and teaching construction after-school (almost as a second job) with yearnings for the future. What are my yearnings? Well, they are almost as the same as before. I still yearn to travel, see, and experience the world, a desire of which I don’t think will ever be extinguished. In addition, I still desire to make a difference in the world through encouraging, teaching, and helping others in a variety of ways. However, the main difference now is that I’ve allowed Christ in my life again, something of which was lacking during my college years. Even though it has recently been a rough road in trying love God with all my heart and demonstrate this love to others amidst supreme adversity, I’m continuously striving to be more Christ-like. In doing so, I can see that the things I love are beginning to forge together. It’s not completely visible yet, but I can begin to see a glimpse that my love for God, traveling, teaching, and always encouraging and helping others is preparing me to become a missionary. This has been randomly reaffirmed by my sister and a few other Christian friends in Korea, but I know more time is needed to ascertain if this is absolutely true for me. I feel that my mission, perhaps my own personal mission, is here, in Korea, at this very moment. However, what happens after Korea? Will I ever I need to leave? Of course, these are questions that God will answer in his own time, but I continuously wonder about them. So as I embrace my own nostalgic yearnings by visiting home for a few weeks this winter, I’ll also be using this time to ponder my future in doing God’s work.

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2012 by in South Korea and tagged , , , , , , .

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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