As of one week ago, I have been living in my apartment in Brighton, MA for one year. This apartment has been a milestone for me: it was when I committed to supporting myself financially by paying my own rent and utilities, and it was when I fully immersed myself into a city where I knew no one. Furthermore, it is the apartment that I agreed to live in for not just one, but two years.
This comes as a surprise to some people, but not all. I had not made my decision public, but, earlier in the summer, I had been accepted to Teach Abroad. I had been accepted to my first choice in South Korea in early May. South Korea attracted me for two reasons: one, because a city called Wonju is, strangely, a sister city of my hometown Roanoke, VA, and two, because my family hosted a resident of this city when I was 12 years old. Sol Ki was the first of a long line of international residents the Worthy family would host.
Sol Ki became my introduction to the international. Before meeting her, I’m not sure that I had much exposure at all to people of different nationalities and cultures. Living with her allowed me to learn a lot about Korean culture, and it made me excited to share my culture with her (though Roanoke, VA is not what I would think of as a prime travel destination).
Shortly after receiving my acceptance, I was warned of three red flags when applying for a South Korean visa. Things that would interfere with my ability to obtain one of these included a criminal record, drug use, and, strangely, use of prescription drugs for mental illnesses. My ambassador told me to reply immediately if any of these things applied. Without thinking much of it, I told him that I do take antidepressants for depression and anxiety, and that, because of these medications, I am healthy and stable.
I was devastated to hear that this did not matter. I would be unable to obtain a visa to work in South Korea.
One thing I didn’t know about South Korea is their strong mental health stigma. I know that things are progressively improving in the United States, at least for more common disorders such as depression and anxiety, and that other countries and cultures view these issues much differently. This led me to articles that told me that South Korea has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world, and that Confucian ideals of piety and hierarchy, as well as a responsibility to family and community, contribute to the stigma of mental illness and the urgency of those affected by it to keep it under wraps.
As a result of this, the program through which I applied offered me to switch to another program in another country, given that I was already accepted. They suggested China and Thailand. On a whim, I picked Thailand.
I was drawn to Thailand because my two roommates traveled there earlier this year and had the time of their lives. One of my old roommates in Charleston taught English there for a year and thoroughly enjoyed it. My best friend traveled there to visit her brother and recommended traveling there. All of these people spoke of the friendly people of the Land of Smiles.
So, I chose Thailand. And I had two months to prepare my documents, including a state level criminal background check and an application for a working visa, to collect my belongings and move out of my apartment, and to say goodbye to my life in Boston.
But certain things happened between the time that I applied to teach abroad and now. I realized how torn I was to be leaving Boston. A place where I had once felt so alone was now a place filled with friends. I find myself spending more time going out with my friends from BFresh than staying at home. I find myself staying up an extra hour late talking to my roommate about her week. I find myself nourished by my connections here, and I find that I have built a community and a family.
This all reminds me of when I first moved here. I remember crying in my room and missing my all of the friends I had made in college who were all now so far away. As I lay in bed, I remember feeling similarly when I first arrived at the College of Charleston. I felt that I couldn’t fit in with my peers. I found myself more inclined to spend time alone in my room watching Netflix. There are times when all of us need this time alone, but I did this not to refresh myself, but to avoid the anxiety of interacting with others. I felt helpless. I was so happy to finally leave my hometown and my high school, where I had been less than happy (i.e. miserable) for so many years. My senior year of high school was the best year simply because I had already begun to let go. The fact that I did not fit in at my school was something that no longer bothered me because I knew I was moving on to something better. I focused on my applications, on my studies, and on saving money. To see that things did not get better when I left made me feel as if that light that had guided me for so long had been snuffed out.
I realize now how juvenile the assumption that a change of environment would mean instant peace. Home is not a place that we find or stumble across. Home is a place that we build. I began to choose my friends; friends I found that gave me energy and life rather than taking it from me. I found my passion for writing and began creating more. I discovered a love of adventure, exploration and travel in a historic tourist town. A place that I had originally regretted coming to became my home.
Fast forward again to me, lying in bed, crying about being alone in an unfamiliar place I had chosen to move to. As I thought of what I had done in Charleston and what I needed to do in Boston, I had a realization. Boston was my mountain; I needed to climb it, to work hard if I wanted to make this place my home.
It’s been a year and I can say that I have climbed that mountain. I have found a place that I enjoy living. I have built a community that I can’t stand to leave.
Which is why I did something unexpected: I stayed.
Collecting all of my documents and things to go to a new place didn’t make sense when I was so reluctant to leave Boston. Of course, I wasn’t happy or eager to leave Charleston as I was to leave Roanoke, but I knew that my time there had come to an end. Beyond the college, which was my community, there wasn’t much left for me. I felt that I had fully lived out the life I was meant to live in Charleston through the College. If I had stayed, Charleston, of course, would still be there, but the classes, the campus community, and most of my friends would not.
I had come to find, too, that the only thing that I am currently unhappy with is my job situation. Working two part time jobs is no easy feat. This past week, I have worked three days for about 14 hours straight between walking dogs, bringing them to daycare, taking care of cats, and working at the grocery store. Today is my fourth consecutive day of such a schedule.
I find that I don’t have as much time for my creative pursuits. I am envious of my roommate who has time to write music and play gigs with her band. I am eager to start submitting my poetry and writing to more literary magazines. I am wondering what path I should take next, be it travel or teaching abroad or grad school, but I still feel like I don’t know enough to commit to such large decisions.
I’ve had many people tell me that I can always come back to Boston. While this is true, my opportunities to teach abroad will also be something that I can come back to, if I choose to do so. I felt that I had been applying for the wrong reasons. I applied because, as someone who wants to travel and as someone who majored in English and is having a hard time in this competitive job field, it was something I could do to quell my itch to visit new places, and something impressive I could add to a resume. Finding a job teaching English abroad is much easier than finding a job here, as openings abroad are abundant. Of course, I am not putting down those who choose to do this (at all!) because it is an amazing experience and it is one I am still very interested in. I just don’t think it is the right move for me right now, especially given my faulty reasoning behind applying, and my restlessly ambivalent intuition that told me to stay.
So here I am, having woke up at 4 am, not being able to go to sleep. I have applied to three jobs since then, and now, suddenly, for the first time in months, words are pouring out of me, like a heavy rain after a drought.
It’s true that I have accomplished a lot since those nights I spent alone. If Boston is my mountain, than I have certainly ascended, and I can look behind me and clearly see the path of the labyrinth I once felt so lost within. I am on the face of the cliff; leaving Boston behind would mean falling or undoing much of the work I had done.
I have come a long way, but I am not finished climbing yet.