We barely slept that night.
Waking up at some ridiculous hour, maybe 2 or 3 a.m., I stumbled into my clothes still half asleep and began rounding up the last few items to stuff into my suitcase.
Dad greeted me in the kitchen, surprisingly chipper for being awake at such an odd time.
“All ready for your next big adventure?” he asked, smiling.
I nodded, wondering what the tight feeling I’d just noticed in my stomach reflected. Fear? Excitement? Nervousness? Lack of sleep?
I settled on a combination of all four as I zipped the bulging suitcase shut and brought it to the door, adding it to the pile of my belongings. Mom joined us, and we started loading the pile into Dad’s big red truck.
The Journey Begins
Before long, we were off to the airport, driving through darkness. Mom sat in the back with me, holding my hand, as she had made a habit of doing whenever one of her three daughters jetted off on their next adventure.
I was mostly lost for words, overtired and overwhelmed by all the different emotions I was feeling simultaneously. We reached the airport in plenty of time and organized a meeting place with my oldest sister, who had come to see me off, despite my flight being at an ungodly hour in her opinion.
I spotted her approaching us, carrying what appeared to be a small yellow scrapbook under her arm. We sat on an airport bench and she presented me with the book, entitled Departure: Bound for South Korea!
Opening the cover, I was greeted by a silly picture of myself and a simple yet profound message:
For days when you’re feeling far from home just open me up and know you’re never really alone! Xoxo
The Tears Arrive
With my family gathered around me, I quickly leafed through the pages, tears welling up in my eyes. I’d made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to cry, but I could see now that it was going to be useless.
Some of my closest friends and family members had written messages of encouragement and support to get me through the hard days ahead that were bound to come. Looking at their photos, I could feel their love shining through.
We took a few pictures near one of the windows, surrounded by my only possessions for the next year, holding up a sign my Dad had made that read “I’m off to South Korea!”
And before long, I was.
What Had I Done?
After a lot of hugs, kisses and tears, I made my way through the departures gate, on my way to security. My wonderful family stood on the other side, waving and blowing kisses for as long as they could see me. I’d look back every few minutes, and there they’d be — stretching above the crowds of people gathering, still waving and smiling.
The moment I could no longer see them, the unsteady feeling in my stomach surged, as a short wave of panic set in. All of a sudden, I was alone. The realization of what I was about to do finally sank in:
I was moving across the world for a whole year, where no one knew me, and where I didn’t speak the language.
Frozen in the sudden reality of this decision, I shuffled to my boarding gate, and immediately pulled the book back out of my carry on. Now, with a little more time on my hands, I started to read some of the entries.
Tears formed in my eyes again, and this time, I couldn’t stop them. They fell silently down my cheeks. When I realized I was crying, I suddenly became self-conscious, and looked around to see if anyone had noticed. All I saw were strangers, consumed by their own lives and their own concerns, oblivious to my emotions.
I was totally alone, and about to begin the biggest adventure of my life to date.
“Now boarding flight KE190 to Seoul,” they announced over the intercom.
I took a deep breath, swallowed my fear, and stood up.
What I Didn’t Know Then
Several years have now passed since that moment, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.
At the time, I had no idea that making this decision would be one of the best I’ve ever made.
I also had no idea how much growth I’d experience throughout the next two years, living through some of the highest highs and lowest lows of my life to that point.
Being a young woman living and working in a foreign country presented me with all kinds of challenges, fears, obstacles, and head-on battles to be fought, but I came out of it thirsty to live.
Yes, I was a little beat up and bruised by the end of it, but that adventure is what led me to discover the depth of human experience that I am now only beginning to taste.
The Tough Choice That Grew Me
The decision to board the plane to Korea that day was anything but easy — and I wouldn’t be who I am today, or at the place I am in life, without it.
That’s proof enough for me that the toughest decisions we make in life are often the most rewarding.
So, next time you’re faced with an opportunity for growth that scares, intimidates, or challenges you — don’t back down.
Chances are, later on in life, you’ll look back on that decision as one of the best you’ve ever made.