Photo: Donggoksa in Gwangju is a small Buddhist temple at the base of Mudeung Mountain
by Susan Lee
When I turned 30, I needed a change. I got married young, and the marriage didn’t work out. At the time, I was teaching full-time but in desperate need of a change. I had dealt with all the pain and suffering of the separation and divorce, and needed a space to recover. I mentioned this to a colleague one day and she had heard about a one-year teaching opportunity at a university in South Korea. She said, “If you play your cards right, you might be able to do this, AND come back to your old job.” So, I played my cards right and the deal was made that allowed me to take a one-year sabbatical and go to Kwangju, South Korea, the food capital of Korea.
That year was truly transformational for me. Living in a completely different culture gave me this much needed breathing space to see things differently. The culture was traditional and I was constantly asked “how old are you?” and “are you married?” One of my unmarried colleagues made up an elaborate story about how her husband had died tragically explaining her current state of singlehood. I preferred to keep it simple and just answer “I’m 30 and single”. This was often followed by lots of advice about how I needed to get moving. Despite living in this traditional culture, the experience gave me real sense of freedom. I often think about what that “freedom” was that year, and here’s what I have come up with: