I've been searching for the online community that feels right since moving to Korea and it took a long time to find anything that fit. I like taking advantage of where we live to travel but I'm not a traveler living out of backpack, keeping my possessions minimal. I live in South Korea but I'm neither a military spouse or fresh out of college teaching English. I've slowly come across more and more "trailing spouse" blogs, often written by foreign service spouses but not always, which seem more similar to my current experiences. So in an effort to bring more personal writing back to this space and to start finding more people living with the joys and struggles I am, I'm participating in the monthly "Trailing Spouse Stories". Having just recently passed our one year abroad mark and recently taken a trip to New York, this month's theme of "home" seems particularly appropriate.
Welcome to July's #TrailingSpouseStories. This month we talk and reflect about the idea of HOME - what it means to us, where it is and how we make our nomadic homes feel more like it.
"What are your favorite things about Seoul?"
"Clean public restrooms at every subway station and leaving it to go anywhere else in Asia"
It's no secret that we don't love Seoul or that we do love the city we left to come here, New York. Unless something happens to make us do a complete 180 in the next 14 months, Seoul is just a place we're passing through, where we lay our heads while somebody else pays our rent and we chip away at debt, a launch pad from which to travel as much of this part of the world as possible before we return to the part of the world where Canada is the only country that can reasonably be visited as just a weekend trip.
When we got here and started to meet the other people in the same program as Dan, it was interesting to here what people were waiting on (or not) arriving.
"Oh, we shipped everything"
"Our kitchen stuff"
"We just brought what we could in suitcases and figured we'd replace the rest"
"We're planning on getting a placed that's furnished"
Us? We shipped records and books. Artwork and mementos. My knife suitcase and hand labeled mason jars of herbs and spices.
"Do you want to insure your container? What's the value of your items?"
We didn't insure our shipment. There's no amount of money that can replace records that belonged to my father or books marked up with my great-grandfather's handwriting. We didn't think we'd be staying in Seoul longer than the original contract's two years but we agreed early on that we didn't want to live somewhere that felt like a hotel. I didn't want to spend my days at home writing and working on recipes staring at a couch I hated or wishing I could just find that cookbook we left in our storage unit in Brooklyn.
This meant we spent a bit longer choosing our apartment than other people we know and we were happy we got here early when we were competing with everyone else since we had to use company provided brokers.
Our checklist only had two items which we knew would be tricky: there had to be an oven and pets had to be allowed because I promised Dan we could get a dog when we moved to Korea. As we looked at apartments, I realized I would strongly prefer a space for a dining table. Most places we looked at didn't even meet requirements one and two so adding a third thing on to the list was kind of a stretch but we finally found it. Our apartment has fewer bedrooms than some of our friend's places but there's only two of us and we used to live in a studio, so who cares? In exchange our living area and kitchen has a large open floor plan and we have a patio.
The first time we had people over, we had one couch and a small plastic folding table. We sat in a circle on our patio drinking wine from mugs, processing our recent departure from America and grilling on our small fold up Korean BBQ (which I've since replaced and turned into a planter). It was my greatest hostessing triumph but I knew more of that was what I wanted.
Since then we've filled our bookshelves and hung up our art. We've purchased wine glasses and furnished our guest bedroom. We had a large, beautiful dining table made and as many people as it will fit (and then some) seated around it almost monthly. Even though I love our apartment all the time, it never feels as much like home as when I'm pulling food out of the oven and the house is filled with friends.
If we somehow find ourselves continuing in this expat life, I'll still want all the books and mementos, but I think now I know the third thing on our list, the dining table, isn't just a preference, like an oven, it's non-negotiable.
Check out other #TrailingSpouseStories in this month's blog crawl:
Alana of Runaway Bunny in Seoul talks about how pictures and books might make a house feel home-y but it's the people you fill it with that makes it a home in Home is Where the Heart is (And my heart's at the dinner table)
Didi of D for Delicious says moving from place to place has helped her realize that home is not a place in #TrailingSpouseStories: There is no place called home
Tala of Tala Ocampo has come around after living in one city in one country all her life, the last five years in almost 3 countries as a trailing spouse has made Tala realize that home is not a place but a state and a feeling in The Never Ending Pursuit of Home