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Standing at the airport and saying goodbye to my home was one of the hardest moments I've ever experienced. Waiting to board my flight to Seoul, South Korea I looked at my mother's tear filled eyes and felt so scared, sad, excited, proud, regretful. I was ready to start this new life, so why was I so hesitant?
Scrolling through Facebook, you see the endless articles featuring beautiful landscape photography—"Travel to change your life!", "Travel to find yourself!"—but what does that even mean? What happens when you DO leave for years? What do you find?
Arriving in Korea I was so eager. I was ready to start a new journey, one that I'd been waiting to begin for a long time. I jumped right into my job, I started making friends and meeting people. My first few months I received endless messages from friends and family back home saying we miss you, we're proud of you, we're so excited for you. I didn't know how to tell them that I'd had such a hard time adjusting, that I didn't just leave home behind and never look back. I'd slipped into a depression and plastered on a smile for my loved ones a world away. It took months of missing home to even begin to feel present where I was at. Eventually I found community, made connections and started a life. The messages from home stopped, and Canada seemed further and further away. I was happy where I was for a moment.
Fast forward to two years later, I was moving away from Korea and preparing to spend half a year travelling around South East Asia. The happy moment had ended and I was extremely excited to leave. Many of my closest friends had moved on to other countries leaving holes in my heart. I had lost interest at work and in my community and I was growing increasingly restless. The joy that I had once found here was gone, I could no longer connect with my life. With all of this in mind, I packed my last bag and headed to the airport, but as the plane took off I found myself mourning a place I called home once again.
When I landed in South East Asia I waited for it to hit—the tears that would well up in my eyes from the extraordinary sights, the swollen heart full of ideas and inspiration. But it didn't come in a way that I had envisioned. There were moments of pure bliss. Moments where I found every inch of heart and beauty and awe that I was looking for. What I also found was poverty and systemic oppression that I'd never anticipated seeing. I saw people suffering, who I wanted to help so badly but had no power to. Most of the time I was in developing countries I felt like I didn't belong there. Because along with the beauty and inspiration was the ugly human rights violations that I couldn't turn a blind eye to. Were my cool travel pics worth contributing to these oppressive systems? Most of the time I saw that I was intruding and exploiting something not meant for my eyes.
After all of the mixed feelings about countries and experiences abroad, I was beside myself with excitement to land in Canada. Somewhere that I belonged, could be myself, and could connect with my roots. When my plane touched down at Toronto airport I found myself crying. I couldn't wait to pick back up where I'd left with my best friends, my family. I couldn't wait to hold the people who I had loved for so many years, and tell them about what I'd seen and who I'd become. None of that came in the way I expected. My frustrations with the world I'd seen to be so ugly at times lay on deaf ears. The day to day joy and sadness that had become part of my life abroad was stuck in my throat. My heart couldn't reach out and connect to people the way that I had hoped to. I began missing my friends and home in Korea the way I had missed my friends and home in Canada when I first left. Everything around me was the same, but I had put on a different lens.
Travel isn't about finding who you are. It isn't about seeing the world for the big and wondrous place that it is. The world is giving and taking, beautiful and ugly, promising and hopeless. Travel is heartbreak, over and over again. It is meeting your soulmate and having to fly to another continent the next week. It is witnessing such poverty and desperation that you feel small and powerless to everything. Travel is not Instagram pictures and mojitos on the beach, it is taking the ugly with the beautiful, the heartbreak with the inspiration. It is losing yourself, your home, your love and trying to find it all over again.