Monday, July 1, 2013

Final

Feeling nostalgic... and thus in the mood for odd Photoshop filters. This is a bunch of photos with Fulbright friends overlay-ed on a sunset view of Seoul from the 31st floor of the Hotel President.
Final exams (학기말시험) begin tomorrow at my school. What this means for me is four days of no classes and plenty of time to get other work done. Or, it could mean four days of deep reflection and looking back on one year in Korea with Fulbright.

This past weekend, the 2012-2013 Fulbrighters had a last hurrah in Seoul: our Final Dinner. Held just two weeks before the grant year concludes and two-thirds of us return to the United States, it was the designated time for us to spend quality time together, say our goodbyes, and, of course, take care of last-minute administrivia. But it was mostly about the goodbyes.

Now, I'm not a terribly emotional person. I don't cry over goodbyes. After commencement last year -- after the culminating finale of a truly life-changing and unforgettable college career -- I had to throw all my stuff into the trunk and hightail it off campus with my family. I barely saw anyone, and I didn't even have time to shed a tear. This year, the Fulbright Final Dinner felt like its own sort of graduation ceremony. We had no robes, but dang, everyone looked sharp; no diplomas, but many people won awards. We even had a "commencement speaker", the ever-inspiring Sam Morrow, and slideshows of smile-filled photos set to really great music.

There were also reports from the amazing projects my fellow grantees had done over the year, which were inspiring and impressive. Fulbright is not just about standing at the front of the classroom to which you're assigned; we began cooking clubs, hosted language exchanges, held sports events for underprivileged students, sent pen pal letters around the world, and founded nonprofit educational organizations. (By "we" I mean "they", my colleagues who are much more proactive than I.) In addition, the hardworking staff of Fulbright Infusion, our six-year-old literary magazine, presented this year's beautiful issue.

What with all these speeches, presentations, and formal niceties, I realized long before the evening was over that I wasn't actually being given much time to interact with the hundred friends with whom I'd gathered. Not even the ones sitting at my table eating delicious catered food with me. (Dining chatter was interrupted by a program of very nice and nostalgia-inducing performances by ETAs, including myself and Katelyn.) And then, we were finished, and it was time to take photos and hustle out of the hotel.

It didn't feel very final, because, once again, I was just being rushed from one place to another, and the whirlwind of quick goodbyes and random promises to "meet up again soon" wasn't cutting it for (what I realized with some surprise was) a strong desire to "end things" properly, with the right amounts of gratitude, humor, and hope.

I suppose that that's just the way things had to happen, though, and at the very least, I'm glad I got the photos. The rest of the weekend was filled to bursting with great moments with these same friends -- I'll write about them presently -- and perhaps even more pleasant than the classy affair were these absolutely normal hours spent eating, talking, and not being even remotely sad.

Now that I'm back in Changwon for a solid two weeks -- and I am quite sure I won't see any Fulbrighters for that duration -- I'm looking at a good amount of time for retrospection. I'll be filling out evaluation surveys and thinking back upon what, if anything, I've accomplished since July 2012. No doubt the weight of the realization that I won't see many wonderful friends for a long, long while will too find time to settle into my heart and grip it with nostalgia or melancholy. I guess I ought to welcome it, because a new chapter is about to begin, and since I'm not the one turning the page, resistance to it might be painful. Plus, it's better to read slowly but savor every memory than to skim through your emotions and only pick out the parts you enjoy.

Okay, I've got to end this post before the metaphor becomes any more overextended. Goodbye, Fulbright 친구들! In the wise words of Ammy Yuan, "I'll see you when I see you."

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