It struck me upon this particular return to Korea that I’ve grown surprisingly comfortable here.
I’ve gotten used to the decreased eye contact and increased physical contact. To the abrupt but convenient public transportation and the way everyone buries their faces in their smart phones. To getting a free pass on explaining myself in certain situations because of my foreign face and lack of language ability. Even to the stares and shoves.
Other people may still see me as just as foreign as they ever did, but I no longer feel foreign. I may even feel more comfortable here than I do back in America, which is a bit strange to admit.
I guess that’s what living abroad does to you.
On the last leg of my 20-hour journey back, I was utterly exhausted.
I covered my eyes and went to sleep before the people next to me had even boarded the plane. (One perk of having the window seat.) Half-asleep, eyes covered, I felt someone settle beside me and groggily tried to guess who it was.
Based on the way they let their arm rest lightly on mine, I knew they were Korean. From some subtle sounds and shifts, I was pretty sure it was a man, I guessed an older man. I was almost right. It was a youngish Korean guy.
We didn’t make eye contact the entire flight, and I never even got a good look at his face––as soon as we landed he slipped out into the aisle somewhere and melted into the crowd––but our arms rested against each other off and on during the flight.
It was exactly what I needed.
To not have to make small talk or eye contact, to not even acknowledge each other’s existence, and yet to feel not alone, to have an unspoken connection with this stranger, to be tacitly accepted, comforted me as I slept.
It was this feeling of, “Ah, I’m home.”