My first night in my own home, I cried myself to sleep watching Titanic. I was alone in the middle of a small town in South Korea, the walls were turning moldy brown, and the furnished one-room apartment smelled both musty and of fried foods. I didn’t yet have a pillow or blanket, and settled in with a sheet brought from home and sweatshirt folded into a bundle under my head. When the old couple in the end of the movie lay cuddling on their own bed in third class as the water rose around them, the floodgates behind my eyes let loose, and I immediately wished to be surrounded by people. I wanted my big family and our home that was never quiet; my beautiful college roommates who were always ready for a talk, or an adventure, or an ice cream run; people.
There were other foreigners who lived in town, but I didn’t yet know where they lived. When my mentor teacher, Ms. Song, dropped me off that afternoon, she walked me upstairs, handed me the key and left me with the promise to message me details of how and when I should start school. I felt entirely isolated, a deserted island in the middle of karaoke bars and coffee shops.
My first few weeks were spent trying to make my empty apartment feel like home, I covered the walls in photos of friends and family, and colorful drawings, and scrubbed every visible surface before spraying my mom’s perfume for additional comfort. It wasn’t until mid-September when my first care package arrived containing my Greek Evil Eye pendent, cherished since my first trip to the beautiful island of Thasos, and Spanish tapestry, gifted to me by my best friend after her summer studying abroad, that it really started to feel like home. I finally felt comfortable being a person who lived alone—although, I still hated it.
I am not meant to live alone, and now that I’ve tried it, I accept this. I’m simply not built for it. I am one of four children and went directly from living with my family, to my university’s dorms, to a sorority house (where there’s negative privacy), to a house with two other girls. I never had a reason to live alone, and never had the thought that it was something I’d like to try. When I was accepted into TaLK, I wasn’t thinking about the living arrangements, I didn’t have any idea what they would be and was shocked, yet excited when I learned they would be providing housing; and then terrified when I learned the housing was my own apartment.
I spent my seven months at home in Yesan streaming bootlegged movies and TV shows, reading, doing yoga, and napping. Lots of napping. As much as I did get used to the situation, I savored my weekend trips with friends and my Wednesday night family dinner with the other Yesan foreigners. Living alone forced me to be brave with an overactive imagination. Every slammed door in the hallway was a murderer with a machete. Every voice through the walls was an angry mob coming to harass the strange American. Every shadow was someone who’d broken in while I was at school and lurked, waiting to kill me. AND THERE WAS NO ONE THERE TO HIDE WITH.
When I was a child, I could run into my parents’ bed when afraid. In college, my roommates and I hid in closets with scissors and bats while the “house boyfriend” searched the basement (thanks always for that, Zach). In Korea, I hid under the covers and turned Family Guy on louder. If the Captain could ignore the warnings for icebergs in the waters, I could ignore the ghosts and monsters I invented to torture myself.
Although it now does feel like home, and I will miss this place like crazy, I’m happy to know I won’t be living alone again anytime soon. Call me crazy, but I prefer the dancing and beer, the noise and fun, with people in third-class to the china plates and corsets of first-class solitude.