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S. Korea vs. Me
By Sandy Sabourin
Writer & Columnist
The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon carved by the Colorado River in the state of Arizona in the US. It is contained within and managed by Grand Canyon National Park.

Seven years of professional endeavors and a lifetime later, I grin at the sight of myself writing about my experiences in South Korea and beyond.

So much is settled nicely in my mind where verbalizing these potent memories would make them seem less-real. But it is my job as a writer to get you to visualize and relive what I have to tell.

This is my place to do that-to give you tales of fun, work, cultural issues, challenges, luck, adventure, and ultimately, the most educational period of my life. Korea makes me more open to the world.

I’m guessing you would like to know a bit about your writer before you sink into the intimacy of personal experience. I’m glad to do that and quite frankly, honored that you are interested. My opinions, values, and goals have all changed throughout the course of Korea in my life (whether it’s living there as an adult or as a child-I’ll explain later).

Hopefully, by the end of this introduction, I can entice you a bit more to continue to read on. There’s so much more to share with you….so much “unrealistic” reality that happened.

My father was in the military most of his life and met my mother while stationed in Pohang, South Korea. They quickly got married and moved to the United States.

Before indulging in the life of parenthood, they spent a few years traveling all over North America. Often it was quite spontaneous. Their adventurous spirit led to some amazing happenstances that planning would have otherwise failed to nurture.

This was the life I was brought into — A life of holding travel and adventure at the heart of one’s life journey. To experience people of all different backgrounds and to just open my eyes to things that were not familiar to me. Because this…. this … is how we learn who we are in the scope of everyone else in the world.

Growing up, I was swept to the Grand Canyon for an impromptu camping session. I was often encouraged to take a road trip to “wherever” the map takes us. I would see large Redwoods in California, majestic mountains in Colorado, and just and endless array of beauty and fun.

So, early on, I knew I wanted to do my life’s work by traveling. So, I began to study English and International Business. My thoughts were to get into teaching and then slowing network my way into International Consulting.

After completing my university degree, I traveled to Colorado to spend some time in the mountains. I tested my strength, my will to survive, and my dedication to what was coming ahead. I made the bold move (against certain people’s wishes) to move to Korea.

Now, it was a bit easier for me (or seemingly so) because my mother is Korean and I had family there. However, I hadn’t talked to them in years and my Korean was rusty at best. I could understand when people were speaking, but responding and engaging in conversation showed to be quite challenging.

However, I did it. In late 2006, I got a call from a recruiter to a job in Anyang and was asked if I could fly out the next morning. This was absurd! But in a much needed way…so I said, “Yes!”…packed what I could pack and left the next morning. This can be a whole other story about my experience first arriving in Korea, but I’ll leave that for next time. Needless to say, my one year contracted turned into a seven year long stay in Korea with a job that allowed me consult in Business and to also travel to other countries around the world.

Being half-Korean also gave me quite a different experience than most “foreigners” that were friends and colleagues in Korea. Where they had to experience being completely “foreign” I had to experience being completely “foreign” yet part of the culture.

There are so many details I could write about in this respect and all of this has shown me the complexity of life and life’s cultures. While living and working in Korea, my professional life teaching and also consulting was really doing well.

I also was able to edit and write for journals as I had a Permanent Residency status in Korea. The night time scene was an entirely different world from the daytime stoicism of Korean culture. I quickly got into the Dj scene and often would be a part of the night club arena.

This, juxtaposed to my time as a night owl and Dj in the states, made me spark a new interest in the progression of nightlife in Korea. The collaborative nature of musicians, artists, etc. was all there-but you had to search for it.

Moving onward to NOW. I currently live in Ontario, Canada. Doing many different things: community organizing, event planning, creative design training, social work support, business consulting, teaching, writing, etc.

And ALL of what I’m doing now is directly related to the experiences I had in Korea. I think that one reason I was able to transition the move back here (people would often say “reverse culture shock”-which we can talk more about later), was because of the sheer realness of life that I had to live in Korea.

I had to bring back strength, compassion, and openness … there was no other way to leave Korea without being changed or bettered. I often visit Korea-to see family and friends-and each time, I notice the shifts in culture in both here and there. Let me tell you about it all.

Be well and venture on!

Sandy Sabourin serves as a writer & columnist for The Seoul Times. She grew up as a daughter of Korean mother and US soldier. The American & Canadian worked in S. Korea for 7 years in recent past. She studied English at University of Central Oklahoma. She is a frequent traveller.






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