When I first came to Korea, saying goodbye wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I was still desperately searching for friends and trying to find my footing in this new life. But as the days turned to months, the end of the school year made me say goodbye to some of the most amazing Native English Teachers I have had the pleasure of meeting. Six months isn’t long, but it’s long enough for these people to become family.
By: Kelly Riley
My first and most vivid memory of Britney was when we were all gathered outside of a local convenience store, CU, having some drinks. A college age student rode past us on his bike. Suddenly she noticed he was on one of those new thick wheeled bicycles she was considering buying. Without much thought she began running after the kid with the fat tire bicycle just so she could ask to try it out. She had no fear of rejection, only the honest desire to connect. She was always positive and never said no. It was hard not to instantly like her; she has this charm and personable quality that made her memorable.
Every foreigner we met in Boreyeong knew her just by mention of her name. If you needed her or even asked her to hang out with you, she would try her hardest to be there. I didn’t get to see her too often, but she sure did leave an impression on me. She was one of the few other Native English Teachers that actually wanted to continue teaching after this experience. It was sad to see her go, and I certainly hope our paths cross again in America.
Jenna was one of the first people I met in Cheongyang. She reached out to me on Facebook, knowing of my arrival before I even did probably. She was our city’s welcoming committee. Whenever you had a question, she was the one to ask. Need to find a restaurant? Jenna! What about a hairdresser who can highlight Caucasian hair? Jenna! She was inclusive, and kind. Every time she threw a party she went all out, planning and prepping for probably months in advance. She and Feroza put together a beautiful baby shower for Ashton and Byron. The games were thoughtful, the decorations adorable, and even the party cups were dressed for the occasion. Every year she also carried out a Christmas celebration for all the foreigners in town. I knew to expect the best after the shower and boy did she deliver. It made being so far away from my family on such an important holiday bearable. She was the glue of us Waygookins of Cheongyang. She is still in Korea, but her adventures took her hours away to the south to Daegu. It wasn’t a goodbye, but it was her departure from Cheongyang, a place she helped make into home for many of us.
Ashton and her sister are two of the most naturally beautiful women I have met. Their family sure has some strong genes. It was her and Byron’s house I often found myself at, playing video games, ordering pizzas or knocking back some drinks with Byron. She was pregnant when we met, and she made pregnancy look gorgeous. She was always kind and patient, just like the mother she became when her equally beautiful daughter entered the world. I remember when she walked into the hagwan, not knowing we all were about to surprise her with a baby shower, and the minute the lights turned on and we all shouted she began crying. Of course it wasn’t sadness, she was just touched. She gave birth to their daughter Asia the day we had our Thanksgiving gathering, it was a thanksgiving miracle! One of my favorite things is the smiles and joy that radiate from Asia’s face when she looks at Ashton. She is such a natural mother, and it really shows when the two look at each other. She taught me a lot about what it means to be a wife and a mother, and I’m so lucky to have met her.
If you have heard me talk about my Frouple, you know she is the kindest and sweetest person I have met. There have been people who have tried to “out Rachel” her, but never came close. She is just so effortlessly, and truly a beautiful soul. Then I met Daniel. If there was a male version of my frouple, it exists in him. Just like Britney, if you dropped his name people would know him. Just the mention of his name pulls a smile at his friends’ lips. Even if you have known him for ten minutes, it’s like you’ve known him for years. He wants to be everyone’s friend, but what is different about him, is he actually becomes one of the most important and caring friends you will ever have. Daniel spent two years in this beautiful country and touched so many lives, including his coworkers. His vice principal even invited him to his house for Chuseok, which is the Korean Thanksgiving. This is not a common thing to be invited to, but being Daniel, of course he was. Even though Ashton and Byron moved out of Boreyeong to Cheongyang, he was so close he would often come every weekend, this meant getting to see him quite often. Between Byron, Daniel and I, an evening of drinks could turn into quite a night. The conversation was effortless and we were almost always smiling.
I found myself in Hongdae one evening; I had mentioned Daniel to my friend Min quite often, wishing I could introduce them. My friend Min and I sat at “Mike’s Cabin”, sipping beers and chatting, when I glanced someone familiar walking past me, I squealed.
“Oh my god!”
Daniel whipped around and we quickly threw our arms around each other. Min looked startled between us, and then I just pointed and said “Daniel!” The two instantly started talking as if they had known each other for quite some time. It was just how he was. Anyone I introduced him to loved him as much I did, and as quickly as I did. Hopefully at the end of my journey here in Korea we can meet up again in South Africa, to invade Ashton and Byron’s home. I just refuse to live the rest of my life without seeing him again!
My first experience with Byron was at the welcome dinner for Nam and me in town. After he got into a disagreement with another waygookin over the proper way to pour water, I knew he was an opinionated man. We discovered we were the two foreigners in town who preferred a drink after dinner and often found ourselves talking over beers. Byron doesn’t like to waste his time speaking of tedious subjects, and the first night Nadia met us, we began discussing theories of extraterrestrials and the validity of UFO sightings.
I grew close with him and his wife Ashton very quickly, and would often find myself in their living room. Byron and I would share music, Sunday’s he would introduce me to the smooth music of Simply Red, and I would then infect his YouTube channel with Iron and Wine. I broadened my musical library as he exposed me to more and more.
Also we would often play video games, blasting heads off of zombies or shooting down enemies in Call of Duty until we had lasted over 40 rounds. One night of gaming, we emerged from the apartment for air and realized the sun had begun to rise. Time spent between us seemed easy and obviously passed freely. We would joke I was his closest male friend in town. Like Nadia, he was one of my friends I could share almost anything with, and not feel judged. He would give me his honest opinion which was usually different from the train of thought I was fixated on. He doesn’t think like everyone else, so it was always refreshing to hear his views when I was stuck chasing my tail on a problem.
After his daughter was born, we all saw a different side of Byron. We obviously couldn’t hang out as much, but each time we did I loved watching him hold his daughter or talk about teaching her to skateboard or fix trucks. He wanted to share everything he loved with her, and seeing them together showed a softer side of him. When we all went out for Nadia and my birthday he held Asia in his lap at the coffee shop. A small reaction from Byron signaled that she had pooped in her diaper, and also through it, her clothes, and onto his leg. Like the calm, trooper parents they were, they changed the sweet girl and went on home to change themselves. Being a parent sure makes you patient, and unfazed by bodily disasters.
I know each one of these amazing people I have met had amazing adventures here in Korea, changing the lives of their students, friends and I’m sure themselves. I know that they must go embark on other journeys and grow into even more extraordinary people, but the selfish parts of me want them to stay here with me and continue making my life just as bright. Sometimes it’s harder for those who are left behind. The places that were once filled with these people are now filled with their memories. You have to watch it all change. People go as quickly as they enter your life. But meeting them all has changed you, shone light on different parts of you that you hadn’t explored, exposed thoughts or paths you didn’t know existed and you can never thank them enough for touching your life.. This is a traveling expats curse I guess, but really, also their blessing. Thanks you guys, for everything and I wish you the best in the next chapter! I will see you later!