A Journey of _______ & _______
New Year's resolutions have never been my thing. I would personally prefer spending the holiday reflecting on the previous year rather than setting expectations for the next. Expectations and I have never gotten along and setting a yearly goal just seems like a failed expectation waiting to happen, which is why I started my own New Year's tradition. I choose a word. It doesn't have to be a word with any significant meaning—just a word that I feel is the right word. Once I know my word, it becomes my word for the year & then I wait. I look for it. I listen for it in the words the people around me are saying. And the craziest part of it all—I always find it (or it finds me) in the most fascinating places.
I sometimes choose more than one word, but I never know what the words will be until the year finally arrives. In 2017, my words were dream and trust, which confused me a lot at the beginning of the year. It took me a while to finally realize that dreaming actually requires a great deal of trust—trust in yourself, believing your dreams really are achievable, and trust in the people around you, believing that they might actually be for your dreams and not against them. In 2018, my word was tribe. It was one of my most difficult words and years yet, but it eventually led me to Tribe Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland, to the top of Arthur's Seat, and to numerous lessons along the way as well.
2019 was my year of release—release from college, from past hurts that still stung, and from everything that I was continuing to hold onto as I stepped into this new season of life here in South Korea. 2019 will always be one of my favorite years because of that, and I hope you can one day experience the same if you find yourself holding on to past pain as well. It is worth taking the time to finally talk about it, and, eventually, maybe even let it go.
After everything I experienced in 2019, 2020 was looking real good. As I journeyed to Seoul to celebrate New Year's Eve in Gangnam with many of my new friends, I could not help but feel hopeful. I had no idea what 2020 had in store for us, but I did know the words that had been placed on my heart when January 1st finally arrived. They were courage and bravery—I now know just how dangerous those two words really are too.
When you walk into a new year with a theme like "courage and bravery," it likely means that you are going to be presented with more opportunities to be courageous and brave, but I thought that my most courageous moments were behind me after moving to South Korea in 2019. What could possibly require more courage and bravery than that? As I taught my English winter camp at the beginning of January with a "Let's Go Save the World" theme, I wondered whether this year might be more about empowering my students to be courageous and brave in the face of adversity. We talked about major world problems each day of the camp and worked towards potential solutions. On the third day of camp, I even showed my students the Netflix "Explained" episode entitled "The Next Pandemic," having no idea that it would soon be heading our way.
After winter camp ended, I left for my winter vacation, "A Journey of Courage & Bravery"—the title I have now attached to my vacation journey from South Korea to Taiwan and the Philippines, retracing the same journey that my great-uncle made at the end of WWII. My great-uncle's mission at the conclusion of WWII had been to fly from Shanghai to Manila in the Philippines, but his plane crashed into a mountain in Taiwan along the way. None of the crew survived, including my great-uncle. I decided to complete his journey, not knowing what would unfold along the way for myself either.
Before leaving for Taiwan, the Taal Volcano erupted in the Philippines. While I was in Taiwan, I began hearing rumors of a new virus spreading throughout China as well. And on my last day in Taiwan, it was confirmed that the virus had spread there too. This same virus later followed me to the Philippines, where I finally completed my mission with two of my closest friends (and where the first death from the virus outside of China took place on the same day that we left the country, February 2nd, 2020). I did not allow any of these moments to deter me from completing my journey, but they all were definitely concerning.
My "Journey of Courage and Bravery" was far from over once we arrived back in Korea. Things were about to quickly escalate. At the time of our return, there were only a few cases in the country. I returned to school for a week before spring vacation, where the virus was on everyone's mind—my students were quick to point out how it began in China while my co-teachers were quick to point out how little attention was being paid to the virus from the rest of the world. I started posting more about the virus on social media during this time with the hope that more people might feel compelled to pray for those who were being affected (per the request of one of my heartbroken co-teachers who has family in China).
On Wednesday, February 12th, I attended a soccer game with my roommate at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, where my temperature was taken for the first time in a public place. At the time, this measure did not seem necessary—there were still very few cases in Korea—but that was about to change, and, interestingly enough, that change was going to coincide with my parents' visit to Korea.
My dad and stepmom both arrived in Seoul on Tuesday, February 18th. We spent a few days there, not even thinking about the threat of the coronavirus or having to wear a mask. On Wednesday, February 19th, my parents and I met up with my friend Stefano at Gwangjang Market, which was featured on the Netflix show "Street Food." While talking to one of the stall owners from the episode, Cho Yonsoon, Stefano briefly mentioned that he was a teacher in the city of Daegu. At this, the kind ajumma was quick to interject to tell him to make sure to wear his mask there, something that puzzled both of us.
"Why would she tell me to wear a mask in Daegu and not Seoul?" Stefano asked me as we walked away from the stall with my parents that night. At the time, I did not think anything of it. Looking back now, however, that was really the first moment when things started taking a turn for the worse in Korea.
On Thursday, February 20th, news began to circulate about an outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Daegu. By Friday, the number of cases in Korea had exploded. My parents and I left Seoul on Saturday, February 22nd for my placement city, the city of Jeonju. Before leaving our AirBnB, the host handed us a bag of face masks to wear while traveling. Per the advice of several friends, my parents and I decided not to attend my local church on Sunday. This was also the first day we noticed businesses shutting their doors due to the virus. On Monday, February 24th, we traveled to the city of Busan, where our temperatures were taken several times.
It was in Busan where I finally received the email statement from Fulbright concerning the current health situation in Korea on Thursday, February 27th. In this email, the cohort was given the option to either stay or go home, which is currently where my "Journey of Courage and Bravery" finds me: at a crossroads. Is it more courageous to stay in Korea or return to the United States? Is it more brave to teach my students about being courageous in the face of adversity or to actually face it with them?
2020 will be a year of courage and bravery for all of us wherever we are at in this world. We all are going to be faced with difficult decisions. Moments of courage and bravery are just moments when we are presented with the option to either act or do nothing. They look different for all of us.
My situation is not the same as my friends' situations in this country. No matter what decision any of us make, they will all be courageous and brave ones because they were birthed out of our courageous decisions to come here in the first place. We stepped out of our comfort zones to move here, and we have learned so much along the way. This "Journey of Courage and Bravery" has been a beautiful one. Over the next several weeks, I will be posting this journey on my vlog. In addition to hearing all of the amazing stories that have happened over the last two months, you will also be able to see the progression of the coronavirus here in Asia as well. I will be placing a link to the first part of my film at the end of this post.
When I chose courage and bravery as my words for 2020, I did not know all of this was going to happen. It has been quite the journey, but I would not change a thing. I am still incredibly grateful for this opportunity to be here and to experience all of these events with this exact group of people.
You are all courageous and brave, my friends—no matter what you choose. May we all go into the rest of this year without any set expectations for how we think it should go, but rather with a shared expectancy that we will emerge from it far braver and more courageous than we have ever been before. That sounds like a good resolution to me.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.