As I shuffled my way back to seat 33C on my flight home from Korea, I could feel something welling up inside me. It was as if, finally, everything was real. The lessons I had learned this year were crystallizing around me and it seemed things were getting clearer. My favorite song came on my iPod and everything felt as if it was in place. Then the thought occurred to me, I wonder who I’m going to sit next to?
I felt a twinge of anxiety when I thought about how I could be stuck next to someone who snores, or will talk incessantly, but then I realized that those are all judgments, and resistance to whatever will happen **Throw em in the JAR** So I relaxed, and soon a young Chinese girl asked me if I could switch seats with her mother so they could sit together. However, her mother was in the center of a row and my long legs don’t fare well in tight spaces, so I politely said that I needed the aisle seat. Shortly thereafter her mother came over and said that she found someone else to switch seats with her and that person would be my partner for the voyage. Soon, a young Asian girl was sitting next to me, and I wasn’t sure if she was Korean or not so I leaned over and asked her in Korean if she was. She responded yes with a surprised look on her face, because I doubt she thought she would sit next to a white guy who spoke Korean. I asked her where she was going and why she was going to Canada (my flight was going through Vancouver) and she said she was going there to study abroad for one year – the only thing is, she’s in middle school. Then it all made sense to me. Here I am, sitting next to this young scared girl traveling alone, nervously fidgeting with her papers and reading a note from her mother, about to venture onto an incredible journey. All at once it made so much sense to me. I was meant to be the metaphorical bridge for her – a western person who speaks her language.
We talked for a while in Korean and I could tell that she was pretty nervous. I told her I felt the same way at first and that it would be a great trip for her. We shared stories about our reasons for traveling and I told her about how I learned the language in hopes that it would help her do the same. She was told me she couldn’t speak English at all at first but over the course of the plane ride I explained to her that I was a teacher and I could help her. Soon enough, she started using the few words she knew, and we were making progress. Then we checked our tickets and she needed to ask the flight attendant something. I brought him over and translated for her, helped her fill out her customs form, and told her what to do with it when we landed. By the end of the flight, I could tell how much more comfortable she felt and it occurred to me – How oddly coincidental was it that I would end up sitting by someone who is about to go on a similar journey to mine? She showed me pictures of her family and I showed her some pictures of me with my students. We talked about the host family she would be staying with and shared stories. As simple as it may have seemed, this was the final loose end tying off. This experience had come full circle.
THE TAKEAWAY: When I got on the plane to come to Korea, I sat next to a Korean man whom I didn’t say a word to. I was nervous and honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. Then a year later on the plane coming home, I sit next to a young Korean girl with whom I was only able to connect with because I spoke her language. And, in that, I knew exactly what to do with myself. I have learned so many amazingly valuable things on this trip but perhaps this is the most important. I no longer worry about what I’m supposed to do or where I’m going in life because I know – to my core – that wherever I am is where I’m supposed to be.