Why I Chose to Leave Korea (Our Happily Ever After)

Today’s guest post comes from Cate Han, from the blog “Oppa and Me” where she chronicles her life with her husband (who is Korean) through blog posts and comics. She writes: 

1 cate han guest post our happily ever after Why I Chose to Leave Korea

I met my husband in 2011.  He had just moved to my hometown from Korea and was attending the same university as me.

When we first met, he had no interest in befriending Americans, let alone dating them.  I definitely wasn’t into him either, so it took some work for us to become “friends,” and then to move beyond that.  We had our first official date 7 months later, and were inseparable for almost a year after that.

Things were awesome until I realized that graduation was right around the corner, and that I’d have to set my sights seriously towards my Master Plan.

2 cate han guest post our happily ever after Why I Chose to Leave Korea

My “Master Plan” is the name I have for the basic blueprint of my life: goals, plans, dreams, and steps to achieve them. 

When I was 17, I made friends with several Korean exchange students who introduced me to Korean language, style, and pop culture—I was hooked.  Since that time, I had made it my goal to learn as much about the country as I could, and to eventually move there and teach English.  Just because I was in love didn’t mean that I was about to set my dream aside, but I couldn’t imagine being without him for such a long period of time.

When I asked him for his opinion, he told me two things:

  • First, he told me that he didn’t want me to leave.  Apparently, he had actually fallen in love with me too, despite his initial unwillingness to have anything to do with Americans, and couldn’t bear to see me go.
  • Second, he told me that I had to go.  However much he would have liked for me to stay, he knew how important my Master Plan was to me, and wanted me to follow my dreams, learn more Korean, and have many new experiences.

The kicker of it all was that although he’s Korean, he wouldn’t be able to go with me.

He was not interested in returning to his old life in South Korea for many reasons, and could not afford to drop everything he had built in America to join me on my adventure.  So we had a big decision to make: either we break up or maintain a long distance relationship, because in the end, we both knew I was going to Korea. 

After some difficult conversations, we decided that despite the effort it would involve, a long distance relationship was better than breaking up.  I promised to go to Korea for a year and return when my teaching contract was up.  We decided to use this separation to discover what we really meant to each other.

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We went to Korea together in July of 2012 and spent the month traveling around the country and making the most of our last days together before he had to leave.  In August, he got on a plane and I started work.

Although it’s been said before, I’ll say it again: long distance relationships are very challenging, especially when that distance is something like 7,000 miles and a handful of time zones.   But there are ways to deal with the separation, depending upon how patient you are and how committed you are to the relationship.

During work hours, we’d text constantly, and on weekends, we SkypedIn addition, we wrote letters to each other and sent care packages—basically, every free moment was spent updating each other and keeping the conversation going. 

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In April, he came to Korea to visit me (conveniently, he also had some business there so he could justify spending more than a week there).  After 8 months apart, it was a surreal experience to see him in person.

I almost didn’t even recognize him at first, and I wasn’t sure how to interact with him physically.

Like we should kiss, but it’s been 8 months, what do our lips do? Where do I put my hands? — It was weird, but in a good way.  On the last weekend he was in Korea, he asked me whether I wanted to stay longer than one year or to return home to him.

Every day without him had been difficult, but I had really started enjoying my life in Korea.  I had made awesome friends, had mastered the (at first terrifying) bus system, and was earning decent money teaching and tutoring—I was generally very happy, which made this decision especially difficult.

But when I thought about the way I felt after I saw him for the first time since we said goodbye in August, and how happy I was to do the smallest things like sit next to him on the bus or go to the super market together, I realized that no matter how much I liked my new life, I didn’t want to have these kind of moments without him.  So I reaffirmed my decision to come home when my 12-month contract ended, and he told me he would come back to Korea in July to help bring me back, which he did.

Shortly after my return, we began to plan for a summer wedding, and I made adjustments to my Master Plan.  I became a flight attendant so I would have the free time to explore another dream of mine (blogging and drawing cute cartoons), and so we could travel to Korea any time we wanted.

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We are newly married and living in Atlanta, Georgia, and I think often about the decision I made to leave Korea.  I know I that even if I miss aspects of my old life, I made the right choice.

Living in Korea was literally a dream come true, but it didn’t mean as much without the person I wanted to share it with.  Being next to my husband and building a life together here has brought me so much happiness because I now know that spending my days with the person I love is the most important thing, that it is whom you are with, rather than where you are, that makes the difference. 

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Cate Han HeadshotAbout the Author: Cate Han is a flight attendant living in Atlanta, Georgia with her Korean husband.  When she’s not flying the friendly skies, she spends her days playing with her two cats, trying to cook for her husband, and drawing cartoons.  Her blog, Oppa and Me, chronicles the experiences she and her husband share as a newlywed intercultural couple.  There are also pictures of cats.

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

12 Comments on Why I Chose to Leave Korea (Our Happily Ever After)

  1. Dear Cate, thank you for sharing your story. I can really relate :) like you, Korea for me was my destiny. I had to go. I always knew I had to. I think you had the same feeling and I know how strong it can be and how difficult the decision must have been. But I’m sure you have made the right choice. You seem to have an amazing relationship judging from the way you handled this issue together. And love is much more precious than a country (though I know how incredibly strong a longing for a country can be).
    Also, from an experience of a person who’s lived here in Korea for almost ten years non-stop, I can tell you that the initial mesmerizing quality of Korea disappears after a few years when you get fully integrated into the society and start seeing all the bad points and the way people really behave to each other…
    All that said, I think it’s not worth it to risk your love for a county, especially since you can visit Korea anytime again. Korea will always be here^^
    Wish you many many happy moments together, and enjoy your next trip to Korea ;)

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Cate. It’s good to have plans but even better to be flexible and alert for unexpected opportunities. Best of luck to both of you.

  3. Interesting story! I’m glad you were able to make it work out. I’ve always though being a flight attendant would be interesting job because you get to travel so much, but it seems so tiring.

    • Thank you! It is actually so tiring to be a flight attendant, but I’m all about the travel benefits. If we can go to Korea, or travel anywhere around the globe, for that matter, it’s worth the struggle :)

  4. Gorgeous wedding pics! It can be difficult to make the “right” decision (like your move from Korea), at least with the correct timing. I’m glad you both made the decisions (because I’m sure there’s more than one!) that felt right for *you*. Best wishes for your future! :)

  5. I’m surprised, I’ve met many Koreans throughout my studies and work, your oppa is the 2nd Korean that does not want to go back to Korea (the first being my co-worker at work who has been in Malaysia for more than 15 years).
    Anyway, I’m sure your marriage and flight attendant path will be just as awesome, Cate ;)

    • Thank you so much! He doesn’t want to go back partially because the work culture is so competitive and stressful, especially for men. I’m pretty sure that if there was a way for him to make money and not be part of that whole rat race, he’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • Ha, I can relate to him. I’m a Japanese living & working in the US with my American wife. When I go to Japan on a work-related trip, I realize how much I miss living there, but every time I seriously contemplate about moving back (with non-Japanese speaking wife and kids, no less), I remember what I don’t like about living & working there — packed train ride and routine overtime work, in particular.
        If his job is rewarding and secure (admittedly an increasingly bigger “if” these days in the US economy…), one could see why your husband made a decision, if reluctantly, to stay in the US.
        Happy to have discovered your blog!

        • My husband (Japanese) is also eager to move back to the states. We both have some structural problems with Japan (crowded trains, unpaid overtime for him – sexism and people making inappropriate comments because I work/don’t clean/am a “bad wife”), so I kind of do get my husband’s desire to live and work in America over Japan.
          I guess it’s a pretty common feeling…

      • I really do get that feeling. It’s the same reason Ryosuke really wants to live/work in America (over Japan). I guess it’s a common thought…?

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