Embrace the Unknown
(June 6, 2016)
“Grace you’ve been in Korea for basically a year now!” One of my friends recently texted this to me. I blinked and it’s now almost time to head home. I remember the two biggest fears I had before being a Fulbright scholar:
- Fear of not being seen as a true “American” based on color of my skin because I’m Korean-American and not a “Blonde hair, blue eyed” English Teacher
- Fear of being self-conscious of my weight
I have conquered these fears by allowing myself to just be me instead of saying “I’m not good enough.” I have never felt more beautiful being in my own skin which is ironic as Korea has a high rate of plastic surgery. It has the highest rate of plastic surgery per capita, making Seoul the global plastic surgery capital. I’m proud of my beautiful curves and in a country where “slim is in,” I walk around knowing my self-worth. My size 10 jeans does not define my beauty I hold from within.
With this new found self confidence, I have worked out on a consistent basis since January. And it has become a daily part of my routine, where I feel weird or groggy when I do not head to the gym for my 30–45 minute workout which I do 3–5x a week. I do not determine my weight loss transformation by a number on a scale, but how I feel mentally and physically. I feel empowered and stronger than ever before and this newly created habit won’t end in Korea.
When I started teaching, I was scared my students would say or think “Grace Teacher isn’t really American because she looks like us.” I was also concerned that Koreans would judge my lack of speaking the language. The opposite has happened. I believe I actually relate better to my students because I am Korean-American.
My Korean proficiency has improved leaps and bounds. Now, I can effectively hold a conversation with my host family in Korean and my students (with a little help of Naver translation of course!). In the past few months, many of my friends, students and c0-teachers have complimented me on how much more fluent I’ve become with speaking Korean; I’m thankful for my awesome Korean tutor Youngshim who helps me learn Korean grammar 1.5 hours per week.
While I embraced two big fears being an English teacher and cultural ambassador, new fears have arose in the past two weeks. In May, I had a phone interview for Assistant Director of Welcome Center at my alma mater, Georgia State University. I have worked in the office since 2009 as a student Tour Guide and worked there for about two years before coming to Korea. I prepared very diligently for the interview, about one hour each night for a week, having no expectation of receiving the job offer or not. While I had no expectation, I believed and had full confidence I would be a great fit for the role.
One week after the phone interview, I wrote in my journal “I don’t need the Welcome Center position to prove my worth in the workforce. If it’s your will [God], you’ve made a way. If it’s not your will, you will close doors that I cannot close. My heart is yours.” That very same morning, just about 5 minutes after writing these words, I checked my email and I started crying. And these are the words that followed upon reading the email:
“I’m crying because it is you God-you open and close doors for a reason. Right now, I’m in the second group of interviewees they will invite should things not work out with the first group of candidates selected. Dear God-you know my heart and you know how I’ve wanted this role for years. But like I said, you close and open doors for a reason. I’m not upset. I’m just overwhelmed with the peace you give me everyday.”
I told God during my interview process that “If I will give this job more praise than I give to you Jesus, I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I just need you.” This is why I felt so much peace about the results.
Less than 24 hours after I found out I was not selected as a finalist for the Welcome Center position is the same day I received an email from our Program Coordinator that they urgently needed an English teacher at a local university for the upcoming grant year. I thought “Wow God! You work fast. This would be a wonderful opportunity.” While it was an email to simply gauge who was interested in the university teaching position, I was envisioning myself staying in Korea to improve my language proficiency, while being more active in the community.
But I forgot something. I forgot the heart God had given me to particularly build an unique community in Atlanta. This is the main reason I wanted to return to Atlanta, along with starting a Master’s program in May 2017. I forgot about the passions and desires God gave me to return home because I let fear get in the way. I highly considered staying in Korea one more year because I did not want to face 1) not having a job when I come back and 2) not being able to support myself financially.
The negative thoughts that swarmed my head were “Grace, if you could not get a job at the Welcome Center, an office you poured your heart and soul into since a freshman in college, how can you find a job somewhere else? The job market is horrible right now and how are you going to survive financially? Play it safe and stay in Korea because it is secure; you will save money.” I also had the fear of starting a specific community (will share more details when I return to Atlanta) to the capacity and vision God had given me.
I spent the last weekend in May praying earnestly for God to give me peace on what to do — apply to stay in Korea or head back home. So I just started listening to Christian YouTube Playlist and “Trust in You” by Lauren Daigle gave me so much comfort at the right time. These are the words I wrote in my journal after hearing the song:
“I will let go of my dreams. When I don’t know what’s ahead, you know what tomorrow brings. It’s better to act in comfort than in fear. I want to face my fears instead of running away from them. IT IS DONE. There is nothing else I need to do to prove myself. NO more striving. I already have all that I need. You will provide a job. You will provide finances like how you’ve always provided for me. I’m hanging onto your promise — hanging onto every word you’ve spoken in a billion star sky. Thank you for your grace =D.”
I will be returning to Atlanta without a job and not knowing what the next year will bring. When I recently told a friend that I was going to embrace my fears, her encouraging words were “Remember, the path you’re on is where you need to be. And Korea is NOT the end of it! Think of who you were this time last year and imagine who you’ll be this time next year. Change, growth, and opportunities are endless! Believe in the good things coming :).”
I’ve asked God to not let me be inhibited by fear itself but through my fears, give love to others. So cheers to facing the unknown and what is unseen.
Isaiah 41:3 — “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”
Grace Lee =)