There and Back Again: Confessions of an Ex-Expat


Between 2010 and 2014 I left Canada to live and work in Seoul, South Korea. I returned to Canada in 2014 after three months of touring Southeast Asia. Here’s why I’m going back to this part of the world that I can’t get out of my head.

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Buddha’s Birthday Lantern Festival, Seoul, Korea

Children from the Karen Tribe of Thailand

Children from the Karen Tribe of Thailand

The globetrotting former chef and travel writer Anthony Bourdain once commented that the first time he went to Southeast Asia he realized he had been seeing the world in black and white. Looking back through my albums I understand what he means. Over the four years I lived in Asia, collected an obnoxious archive of over 25,000 photographs I took in that four year span. I may have captured every shade in the visible spectrum.

I may have gone a little overboard.

Canada, my homeland, is a beautiful place. To call it back and white would be a profoundly arrogant thing to say. Except in the winter. It’s pretty monochrome in the winter.

We have such a vast reserve of wilderness, thousands of quaint little towns where people still do not lock their doors when they go out, a handful of truly beautiful cities. It is consistently ranked one of the best countries in the world to live in.

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Monkey at the top of Mt. Batur, a volcano in Bali, Indonesia

But it’s time to go back to Asia.

After finishing my degree in education, it’s time to go back. I’ve secured a job at a Canadian school in Seoul, a city which has long been my base-of-operations, my second home in the world. Korea has a strong economy and easy access to a host of incredible places that I still have only scratched the surface exploring.

IMG_3077I spent some time looking at some of the parting notes from my Korean students. I’m terribly nostalgic that way. I’m happy that I’ll be able to follow through on the promise that we’ll meet again. Even as an ESL teacher, you form incredibly powerful bonds with students despite cultural differences and language barriers. Perhaps even because of those cultural differences and language barriers.

I’m going back to Asia because it is a place where I saw more in four years than in the previous twenty seven. I’m going because it’s a place in the world where everyone should set foot at least once, to see the colors of a rice terrace in Bali, to watch the sunrise from above the clouds on Mount Fuji, to stand at the Korean DMZ and peer into the most reclusive nation in the world.

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Bali, Indonesia

My wanderlust has cost me a lot in terms of separation from my family, and separation from my money. There is an entire generation out there lost in the land of expatriate life, where stability and comfort gives way to adventure and exploration. The feeling of being lost in a new city on the other side of the world is a terribly addictive one to experience. If you venture into Asia, even to visit, be forewarned; you may never stop going back.

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