Birthday Thoughts

Image featured: a thought exercise in gratitude. Can you guess where this was taken?

Today is Tuesday and tomorrow is a national holiday for voting (what a concept, eh?).

Currently I am sitting at my work computer, completely unable to concentrate on the 12 pages of reading I need to do for my teaching course. This is why I didn’t go to med school (although taking an EMS course is on the docket for the future).

This has certainly been the most formative year of my twenties. We all know that after 21, birthdays get less and less exciting every year and serve more as a reminder of the things we are told we haven’t yet accomplished.

The later twenties are especially fraught for women who, regardless of their internal joy or personal accomplishments, will never quite measure up without the traditional trappings of success.

One of my podcasts succinctly pointed out: “We are made to think as women that marriage is the highest possible goal. When we don’t have it, no matter how successful we are, we somehow always fall short.”

So there are things we, especially women, are made to fear as we near thirty. As if the privilege to age should be shameful instead of joyful.

But my mindset has shifted so much in the last year about what it means to be happy on my own terms. And I think there are so many ways to be happy and so many ways to love and be loved. I wish we could allow that to be the central theme to our human narrative.

Personally, I am looking forward to turning thirty and knowing things. Older women have told me that it was in their thirties they finally started to understand themselves and also see their beauty flourish.

Humbly speaking, I also feel like I’ve gotten better looking this year. Sure, losing weight was a part of it. But sleeping well, taking care of my skin, and pursuing goals irrespective of others’ expectations for me has contributed to an inner (and outer) glow. And at 11 months in, I’ve finally got my footing in this new country.

S told me yesterday, “it’s your birthday and yet you’re bringing gifts to us?”. This year has shown me just how much love I have in my life and I didn’t appreciate it as I should have until now.

Betrayal Is All Around - Jazmin Aguilar - Medium
Source: Love Actually.

In fact, Harvard agrees that expressing gratitude is a boon to one’s mental health. I’ve certainly found it helps to think about why I’m grateful, and not just only during one holiday of the year.

In this spirit I want to tell you about all the love in my life, especially for those of you that may be going through a hard time right now.

There is, of course, the love of family. I can feel it in the various gifts my mom sends. I can feel it when my dad listens to me wax poetic about Korean grammar. I can feel it when my shirtless brother pops up in the background of a video chat, eating a snack, but still managing to say hi to his sister on the other side of the world.

There is the love of old friends, friends who’ve seen me cry and embarrass myself, friends who keep up with me as if nothing has changed regardless of how much time has passed between calls or texts. Friends who support me, listen to my teary phone calls, read my blog. Friends who take me out to dinner and help translate at the doctor’s office and don’t make fun of me when I’m too overwhelmed to choose a restaurant.

There is too the love of new friends with whom I’ve felt an immediate bond. I’m so thankful to the friends I made when I studied Korean at the university here, my wonderful friends who are immigrants like me. Our countries of origin are as dissimilar as could be but they are some of the most helpful and kind people I’ve ever met. And to new friends of friends who turn out to be so helpful and genuine: I’m grateful for their support. And for new friends from the past: my ice skating family, coworkers who fought for me, strangers with whom I had intense life conversations in the meat section of Kroger.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the love of my students and their families. Not only the adoration and curiosity of my new Korean students, some of whom have insisted I am one of them, much to my delight, but of my long term online students. Those who know me have heard countless tales of my Chinese babies. My longest running students have been with me through three years—that’s been three different cities across two countries with different jobs and life circumstances. Those kids have met my family, my dogs; they’ve seen my living spaces and hotel walls and hostel lobbies; they’ve seen me sick and they’ve seen me with every haircut imaginable. The students’ families regularly check in with me outside of class and when the virus first hit South Korea, they all messaged me with advice and wishes to stay healthy.

And community: starting this blog has surprised me with the reach of just a few words about what embarrassing thing I’ve done lately. My hometown community, the families I grew up with and people with whom I attended school, retain interest in the mundane of my life abroad.

To sum up the close of my 27th year in one word, I would say: grateful.

Thank you all.

Image featured: This photo was taken from the women’s bathroom.

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