Wherever You May Grow
"Given the nature of the current health situation, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs understands you may elect to leave the Republic of Korea."
These words from Fulbright Korea's Executive Director Byungok Kwon came as no surprise to our cohort when we received the email almost two weeks ago. We had been expecting a statement regarding the current health situation here in Korea for some time. Many of us were genuinely surprised, however, by something that we had not been expecting to receive in regards to either staying in Korea or returning to the US—a choice. Rather than focusing on the latter half of Director Kwon's email, though, I have found myself dwelling on something that he briefly addressed at the beginning of his statement instead: "nature."
Oh, the mystery of nature—and what a beautiful, sometimes terrifying, mystery it is... We all play a part in this mystery, the great tapestry that is our world and everything in it. I personally am a big fan of nature; I find it pretty neat. Give me a beautiful sunset, a magnificent mountain, or an ocean as far as the eye can see, and I will be content. It is the absolute uniqueness of nature that I find the most awe-inspiring. No two sunsets, mountains, or oceans are ever the same. This absolute uniqueness can be found all throughout nature—in forests, in snowflakes, and in each of us as humans.
I recently took a personality quiz that is designed to find the type of plant that matches one's "focus type" (yes, this is what I have been doing with the additional time we have been given off from our schools because of this virus), and I have to say it was pretty spectacular. Turns out, I am a cat-tail willow! The description on my results read, "Noble and footloose, glowing from the inside out. You are an easy-going person and you value those around you. You have strong self-determination and you always focus on achieving your goals."
I would have to agree with that description of myself, especially the part about valuing the people around me. It is probably why I immediately reached out to several of my friends in the cohort after taking the personality test to find out what their plants were as well (I would love to know what your plants are, too, which is why I am going to post the link to the test at the end of this post so you can also take it—please comment your plant)!
While I was a cat-tail willow, some of my friends' results included bamboo, Chinese pine, rose, carnation, maple tree, sunflower, and even a coconut. I was reminded once again just how different we all were, but also how lucky it was that we were given this opportunity to be planted here together over these last eight months in South Korea. What a truly beautiful forest we have all made here during that time too. Each moment has been so special—I would not change a thing—which is why it hurts so deeply to have to say see you later to so many of the plants in this forest that I have grown to love. We have experienced some of the most difficult growing conditions together here, far away from our original root systems, but it has made us all into much stronger plants.
For now, I have chosen to stay in Korea. This decision, however, could change at any time as the situation all over the globe is unpredictable at the moment. Even today, the Fulbright program has made the decision to authorize a voluntary departure for all U.S. Fulbright participants worldwide as the entire world is now under a Level 3 Travel Advisory. My current decision to stay probably has a lot to do with the "self-determination" part of my plant description, but there are also not any cases of the virus in my placement city and very few in my province at the moment. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many of my friends' cities or provinces. I wish everyone could stay in Korea and finish the grant year, but it is best to return to your deeper root systems in times of danger.
On my family's farm back in Indiana, we have a small forest of evergreen trees that my grandfather spent his life planting and growing. He used to tell me how evergreen trees have thick foliage so that they can protect themselves from the wind, snow, and cold in the winter. They also give additional support to each other by intertwining their root systems as they continue to grow deeper into the earth. The deeper the root system, the stronger the forest. As I say see you later to many of my new friends in our Fulbright South Korea cohort, I hope that we continue to grow deeper in the years to come, even though we will be far apart. When life becomes cold, please know that you have friends who are rooting for you. You are not in this alone. Winter does not last forever and neither do viruses.
Keep fighting to help the plants around you, my friends. As famous plant advocate and former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson once said when discussing poverty, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope—and hope is the precious, indispensable ingredient without which the war on poverty can never be won." Whatever battles you find yourself facing in this life, remember that there is always hope—and that hope always comes with the spring.
Continue blooming wherever you are planted (or wherever you are being re-planted), my friends, and, wherever you may grow, just keep growing. Spring is coming.
James Davisson is just a small man with a big heart, serving a much bigger God.
Plant Personality Test (smart phone required): https://forest-mt.seekrtech.com/