As time slips away – I have been feeling rather conflicted lately. This is because we will soon be returning to Korea. In fact, four weeks from today, we will be stepping off the plane in Incheon. And we will be leaving Cambridge even earlier to spend Christmas with the family in New York. I am of course looking forward to getting back home, and to returning to a life that has in large part been put on hold for the year (or has at least felt that way). There are people, places, and other things that I miss, and I am eager to get back to my students and share with them everything that I have learned here.
On the other hand, I am really going to miss this place. This is the longest I have spent outside of Korea since I first moved there in 1995, and Cambridge has grown on me. Now that we are on the cusp of December, I am keenly aware of how little time we have left. For this reason, I have been spending more time looking at things these days. Not in the Kim Jong-il sense, but in the sense that I am trying to pay more attention to my surroundings than usual, especially when those surroundings are what might otherwise be considered routine. Take my morning walk to the office. I do this every day, and it might be easy to let things slide by without noticing them, but I have taken to looking more closely at things as I pass them by: the mansard-roofed houses scattered among the more modern architecture on Mass Ave, the imposing law school library looking out over the (still green) quad, the brick tower of Memorial Hall jutting into the sky like something out of a fairy tale. I have even gotten up from my desk in the middle of the day on occasion to spend a half an hour just walking around Harvard Square or heading over toward our old haunts on Mt. Auburn and Brattle. Each instance creates a new memory, but these memories work together to reinforce my impression of this place.
Of course, it is not just the places that I will miss. The places themselves are simply sites of experience—people that I’ve met, things that I’ve learned, and other ways that I have grown as a human being. This is what I will miss most, of course, and of all of this I guess it really comes down to the people. The people here have been great, which may sound like a predictable or boring thing to say, but I arrived in Cambridge not really knowing what to expect. I think it’s safe to say that many people have certain ideas about what Harvard might be like, and I was no exception. To put it bluntly, I feared that I would find myself in a community of people with their heads in the clouds and their noses in the air. Instead, I found myself in a community of people who are all quite down to earth and have been nothing but friendly and welcoming. I can’t speak for the entirety of the Harvard community, of course, but the people in Folklore & Mythology and Korean studies, and anyone else I have come into contact with, have all been great. Very busy people have been more than happy to schedule lunch or tea with me just to get to know me and my work a little better, and scholars that I have looked up to—scholars who were formerly just names on publications—have turned out to be wonderful human beings that I can now call friends. I was a bit apprehensive when I learned that I would be sharing an office with three other people at the Korea Institute this semester (I am used to having my own office back in Seoul), but my officemates have turned out to be wonderful people, and half the joy of being here is in the conversations we have had.
And I would be remiss not to mention what has become our church home during our year here, First Church in Cambridge, a Congregational church located next to the Cambridge Common (and which has been around for nearly four hundred years, although the current meeting house only dates back to 1872). Although we’ve only been there a little while, we feel like we have become family, and we treasure our brothers and sisters in the congregation. Earlier this week we went to a dinner at church that was attended by about two dozen people, and afterward, by way of adjourning the gathering, we went around the room and shared the emotion that we were feeling most strongly. After an evening spent talking about the future of the church and the ministry after a summer renovation, I realized that what I was really feeling was sadness—sadness that I would not be able to be a part of that future. I didn’t expect to be that affected by it all, but I was.
Like I said above, I am indeed looking forward to getting back home, but leaving is going to be harder than I thought it was going to be. Our last few weeks here are going to be very busy as we try to say goodbye to people, wrap things up, and do all the things that we wanted to do but have not yet gotten the chance to do. The weekend before last we finally visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, spending the entire day there and still only seeing about half of it. This past weekend we had planned to visit the New England Aquarium, but when I forgot to bring our tickets we ended up doing a tour of the North End instead. This turned out to be for the better, because this past Saturday was an incredibly warm and beautiful day; we had a great lunch at a popular Italian restaurant, toured some sights on the Freedom Trail that we had not yet seen (like Paul Revere’s House and the Old North Church), and ended the day in another popular Italian cafe with tea/coffee and cake. This evening we are going to the ballet at the Boston Opera House to see Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker, and this coming Saturday we are going to visit the Aquarium (if I can remember the tickets) during the day before heading to a friend’s place for dinner. And then there are all the end of the year events at Harvard as the semester wraps up.
Amid all the hustle and bustle, though, and as we try to figure out how we’re going to pack everything, I am trying to stay mindful. Even on cold days—which, thankfully, have been relatively few so far—I am trying to take everything in as I walk around. I will of course have the many photographs I have taken over the course of the year, but I want there to be something behind those photographs, something that the photographs will simply serve as a portal to.
I know I have written very little this year about my experiences, and this is a little odd for me, since I am the type of person who likes to keep journals and records. I sometimes wonder why I haven’t written as much, but I think I know the reason, even if I can’t properly articulate it. It has something to do with just living the experience and letting the moment be the moment without worrying about how I will record it later. There have been many occasions where I have thought I might sit down and write about life here, but I have let those occasions slip by. Strangely enough, I do not regret this. Now that we are nearing the end of our time here, though, it feels proper to write something, even if only in the abstract. Perhaps after I have returned to Korea I will sit down and write more about my experiences here, once I have had time to digest things, and once the opportunities to experience this place and its people are gone. In the meantime, this will have to suffice.