Letter From My Past Self

Last Friday (4/17), Ms Kim placed a letter on my desk.

“Mail for you.”

“Oh wow,” was my response rather than “thank you.” I was surprised to be getting any mail at all, and curious about what the Fulbright office would be sending me, especially through snail mail. Something about renewal maybe?

I opened the envelope to reveal purple letter paper. It was folded so that “Monica” and a smiley in my handwriting peeked out. The letter to my future self that Fulbright had us write. I opened it, and the writing looked only vaguely familiar. Ah, this is from Gyeongju conference last October, was my first thought. Then I looked more carefully at the cutesy design, and felt a sudden jerk of surprise – no, this is from orientation.

I’m easily distracted at work. I flit from one activity halfway done, to another, and then back. So after opening the letter, I folded it back up, thinking, wait, I’ll finish what I’m doing before reading it. And I guess I wanted the moment to last longer.

I kept wondering what I’d said – what if it wasn’t even encouraging? During Gyeongju conference we received copies of our statements of purpose – submitted when applying to Fulbright. Although it was supposed to be inspirational and remind us of our original goals and dreams, all I saw was a carefully crafted document tailored to what I thought and was told Fulbright would want to hear – to say what I needed to maximize my chances of getting in. Sure, it contained some hopes and dreams, ones rigidly constricted by bureaucratic demands. I remembered how painful it was and how much I stressed when writing this statement.

What if my letter was like that? What the words just rang hollow? I guess it wouldn’t matter in any case. I’d just move on with my day slightly annoyed at my past self.

So I opened the letter. Dear Monica, it began. Look at you! You’re a teacher! I went on to give myself encouragement – not in any particularly moving language, but hey, I’d been under time restraints and had no chance to edit.

In the letter, I admitted to my nervousness, both about teaching and meeting my extended family. I’d forgotten that I was nervous about this from the very beginning. There was also the reminder to study Korean everyday…oops. I was doing pretty well for a while – I promise!

I was proud to see that many aspects of this year lined up with what I was hoping for. Past self, I did find a good church and supportive community. And although you were worried about it, and it’s something I’m still working on, I haven’t let go of art, but that dedication was spurred by things unexpected: the Ferguson non-indictment and my time in Japan.

However, like you predicted, I’m still not so great at keeping in touch with people back home. I still think Skype is awkward, but I’ve used it more this year than I ever have in my life (although that’s not saying much). But don’t worry, I’ve still got another year up ahead. And a little purple letter to remind me when I forget.

Getting ready…

Today’s the day! I leave for the airport in a couple hours. If I start thinking too much, I realize there are so many other things I could have done to prepare and so many people I still wanted to see before I left, but now that it’s too late to do anymore, I can actually relax.

My flight will be a long, stop-and-go process – it goes from Colorado Springs to Denver to Los Angeles to Incheon. I’m kind of curious to see what kind of people are flying from Colorado Springs to Denver. People like me I guess. At LAX I should be able to find other Fulbright ETAs so I’ll have company for the long flight (dubbed the #PartyPlane).

Before I leave, I wanted to write a post about my expectations – something I can look back on this time next year. I’m sure a lot will change, but here’s what’s at the forefront of my mind now:


1. I’m so so so excited! I can’t wait to just be in Korea for the first time and experience as much as possible!

2. This trip will have a lot of firsts. I’ll be meeting my Korean extended family for the first time (since that time when I was in diapers doesn’t count).

3. Food. Me? Worried about the food? Ha! But maybe the spiciness.

Potential Negatives:

1. Spiders. I’m kind of dreading this a lot. Hopefully my orientation roommate isn’t afraid of them.

2. Humidity. Nothing serious, but definitely a big adjustment for a Colorado native.

3. Actually teaching. I keep having the realization that, oh yeah, I’m going to Korea to teach. And I don’t really know how to do that. I also wonder how my voice will hold out, since after 3 Writing Center appointments in a row (45 minutes each) where I’m the one reading aloud, my throat starts to hurt.


1. Become fluent in Korean. Well maybe not in a year. Logically, I know my Korean is pretty basic, but in my mind, I project an overly confident idea of my skill level.

2. Learn how to teach. Which will happen one way or another.

3. Absorb culture. Experience everything.

4. Meet my extended family! My grandparents and three aunts live throughout the country (with my uncle currently in India). As of now, I wouldn’t be able to hold a normal conversation with them, so learning Korean quickly is extra important.

I’m sure I’ll have more specific goals later on, and/or a bucket list.


Nothing left to do but go!