This is the second of five essays written to summarize my first year working in Korea. I lived and worked in the most unusual environment of my entire life, and while I am grateful that I experienced a lot of uniquely difficult situations, it took a long time to conclude what it really is that I had experienced with 50 other foreigners. For those that experienced that year with me or for those who have always wondered what even happened to me that year— this is to enlighten you.
Essay II | Anxiety and Instagram
My personality has always been squarely in between shy and non committal— teetering the line of free spirited and hermit. I can admit that Instagram motivates me to go most places, but I’d much rather hide under my warm quilts and scroll through Insta-memes than ever leave my room.
I used to be a lot worse in the States. After I graduated college, adulthood felt like an ocean of things that suffocated me with fear. I would muster up all the confidence in the world to go to the doctor alone, buy groceries and check out on my own, or something easy like going to a dinner party by myself. Adulting felt nearly impossible. My social anxiety mixed with laziness had peaked at 25, and I was in the middle of a city with only one friend.
I moved to Seattle on a whim. Honestly, I think the idea of living in a cool city and the potential for the onslaught of Instagram shots I could get were the two major proponents in getting me there. I didn’t take into consideration my social anxiety, my simultaneous fears of being alone and socializing with people, and my debilitating laziness would move to Seattle with me. I just pictured a romanticized move where this cold, beautiful, and pretentious-level- of- cool city would welcome me with big,warm, loving arms. That was so not the case. However, once I slowly began to manage a routine, I made a friend or two, and accomplished a relatively decent life in spite of my fears, I wanted to try something even farther from home. I had always wanted to live in Asia for an extended period of time, and I wanted to do it then. When my best friend bailed on our adventure to Korea together, I had already made up my mind I had to go. The solution for an egocentric girl riddled with terror, like myself? I drafted a message as follows.
Hey, so I don’t know what you’ve got planned for the next year. But would you ever consider moving with me to Korea. I think it would be such an amazing opportunity for you! You could pay off your debt, save, and we could travel together. How cool would that be? You are so amazing, and I really couldn’t think of another person I would want to come with me.
I sent that to 30 of my contacts on my phone.
I found a girl willing to come along with me, and play my Korea bestie role, for the movie that is my life. It was perfect! Without her consent, I assumed that she’d be my side-bitch for my (very self-involved) plan for an adventure. The spontaneity of myself was always soured by my neurotic-ism. So of course, I bailed on her. More than once. But after changing my mind over and over, and barely going because paperwork is near impossible for a procrastinator, I made it on the plane toward Daegu, South Korea.
After two turbulent flights I landed in Daegu. It was late, and I had no idea what I was going to get myself into. So there I was meeting 30 blank stares and maybe 20 other who-is-this-bitch stares and I stared back at them all cowardly. I’d never felt the weight of my social anxiety more than in those first couple of months of teaching at this new job, that felt more like a reality show. I barely could absorb the Korean culture at large, the rules and regulations of my job, or even the fact that I was thousands of miles away from my mother. What I could absorb and was panic-stricken by was that I had been planted squarely into a social nightmare. This compound like job was filled to the brim with high-school level cliquishness, nepotism induced by the Korean administration, casual wide-spread accepted prejudices, fraternity level misogyny running rampant, reticent scandals, and tantalizing boy-girl dynamics overlapping one another. I was shell shocked to all of this (it was nothing like my Christian university experiences), and I clung exorbitantly to my “Korea bestie” who was right in the middle of all the affairs having arrived three months before me. All of my social anxiety could no longer be sequestered, I wasn’t brave for living in Seattle alone– I was just regular, and this place that took all the courage I could muster to move to, was a joke of a place to my well-traveled colleagues.
Nevertheless, I knew there was one constant I could rely on.
After a strenuous day of meandering through lessons I felt incapable to teach, and a few grievous attempts to make friends or plant myself firmly in some kind of friend group I’d run to my room to meet my beloveds. The quilt first. I’d bury myself under the warm comfort of that billowy fluff. Then without a beat missed, I’d gently slide my finger on my phone and open my darling app, Instagram.
Instagram cloaked my own ostentation. However, in spite of my cherished app, all my ideas for my grand Korea adventure fell apart. I scorned my “Korea bestie” inevitably, being that she was a human, not a role played out for me, and she quickly realized that all I wanted from her was to pose with me for selfies and be my stand-in till I found a more fitting girl to fulfill her role. Furthermore, I had to begrudgingly face my deeply set trepidations. Worst of all, I didn’t get to live out the vainglorious movie I thought I’d lead in that year. I didn’t know it in the beginning, but it was this treasured app that had led me to encounter transformative people and circumstances. These events and people met would later help me shed my enormously self-involved shield to become a lot less of a filtered and fearful girl.