The first few months, after I arrived in Korea, were busy and exciting. Just before leaving Canada, I experienced moments of fear and worry that the decision I had made to leave for a year was a mistake but once I arrived on Jeju, I knew I had made the right choice. I was in a continuous state of awe and mesmerized by everything I saw that was different from my life in Canada. I was meeting great people from all over the world, some of whom had been working in international schools for decades. Their stories of living on various continents excited me. I felt my eyes grow bigger and my world open wider. My new job, as a Head of House in boarding, was challenging because of the new skills I had to learn, but I found it to be a welcome change from classroom teaching. By late fall, once the newness of the experience faded somewhat along with the bright days, I became more introspective. This meant I had more time to think and worry about my next important decisions. It was becoming clear that my heart was leading me in the direction of staying the full two years in Korea to finish my contract, rather than leave after one year. Furthermore, the stories I was hearing from other teachers about their experiences working internationally were inciting dreams of other possibilities. What did this mean for my life in Canada? Specifically, would my relationship with Scott survive another year of distance? I wanted to move forward but I was afraid of what I was leaving behind. Whenever I thought about going back to the same school, to teach the same things I’d been teaching for the past ten years, I felt sad. I left because I no longer felt challenged and I wasn’t growing. More importantly, I left because I was burning out. My energy expenditure, both with work and with emotionally supporting Scott and his teenage son, was far exceeding the energy I received from either of these parts of my life. Whenever friends asked me how I was doing I would almost always answer “I’m busy and tired”. I had no energy for life or creativity. Clearly, I couldn’t go back to that way of living. After a few weeks in Korea friends in Canada began commenting on how healthy and happy I appeared on our video calls. Regardless of my new found vibrancy, I was experiencing some challenges. Mostly, I felt lonely. It was an adjustment leaving Canada, where I was living with my partner and his son. It took a while to acclimatize to living alone.
Scott had planned a trip to Thailand to meet me during the December break. He had made all the arrangements before I left Canada. I looked forward to this time together, I missed him. But I was also afraid. I planned on telling him that I was going to stay another year during this time together and I was worried about his response. Similar to the feelings I had before I left Canada, I agonized over whether I was making the right decision and I was terrified of the consequences. I didn’t want to return to the life I left in Canada but I was scared to fully abandon it. Most importantly, I was scared of being alone. Neither did I want to experience the suffering associated with separating from a long term partner.
Scott arrived in Bangkok a few days before me. He met me at the arrivals gate of the Suvarnabhumi Airport. I saw him from a distance, at the end a long corridor. It reminded me of the first time we met. I experienced the same butterflies in my belly as I set eyes on a tall and handsome man. Scott makes a good first impression. He holds himself with self-confidence. His self-assuredness is likely a by-product of his privileged upbringing and private school education; a sharp contrast to my humble working class origins. The familiarity of him seemed so incongruous in this foreign airport far from the Canadian home we shared. He was a reminder of all that I had left behind in Canada. I made the decision in that moment, perhaps unconsciously, that I would enjoy the parts that I loved about him and my old life for as long as we were in Thailand without questioning too much or facing the reality that it was temporary.
The next three weeks were filled with love and adventure. Thailand was more beautiful than I imagined. Experiencing it beyond the one dimensional tourist photos of paradise islands and and white sand beaches was a continuous exposure to sensory pleasures. The cacophony of bird and insect sounds meeting me on my morning walk next to the River Kwai in Kanchanaburi. The spectacular light show in the back of our tuk tuk as the driver sped through the busy Bangkok streets at night. The wet earth smell of the Chao Phraya river and the feel of the water splashing on my face from the open windows of the water taxi on our way to Wat Arun. The tangy taste of spicy Tom Kha soup that I ate almost daily and never grew tired of. The hot afternoon swims in the warm emerald waters of the Gulf of Thailand. I knew that no matter what happened between Scott and I, these memories, along with so many others we’ve experienced together, would be part of an unbreakable bond we would share for the rest of our lives.