By: Chloe Han
By: Chloe Han
Graphics by Daniel Barreto
In an ideal future, most people wouldn’t expect to find themselves living in solitude. These past eight months in quarantine have only proven to us that boredom and loneliness are fully capable of driving us insane, with many of us realizing that we absolutely cannot stand being by ourselves for an extended period of time. But do we always have to feel lonely when we’re alone?
Towards the beginning of the semester, my family and I took a cross-country road trip across Korea and stopped by Boseong, a small city in South Jeolla Province. For someone like me who is a Seoulite down to the bone, this place felt incredibly empty. The lack of frustrating traffic, futuristic skyscrapers, and loud crowds left me thinking that I could never lead a satisfactory life in a rural town.
The night we arrived, we stayed at an old traditional Korean home, the kind seen in historic K-dramas. To be frank, this place was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Surrounding the house were fields, ponds, and farms. No neighbors, no stores, no cafes. As we walked through the gated entrance of the home, we were met with a bare sandy area with a single picnic table and a large bench for stargazing. Behind that was the guest house (the house I stayed in) and a more spacious, main house that the host couple lived in.
After unpacking our stuff and settling in, we had a chance to talk to the host lady who soon revealed herself to be a fellow Korean American. She told us that she was originally from New York,that her entire family is there, and that she left to run this small, low-key bed and breakfast. It’s hard enough finding a Korean American in Seoul, let alone in the southern countryside of Korea, so my immediate reaction was that of disbelief. I’m ashamed to admit this now, but my mind naturally led me to believe that she had “given up” a life of opportunity by leaving New York for Boseong. Despite all of this, no one could deny that she looked happier than any one of us. She effortlessly radiated the kind of confidence, stability, and calmness that we so naturally crave but can rarely achieve.
Showing no sign of regret, she chronicled her journey to this point in her life. By moving all the way across the globe and settling down in Boseong, she hoped to continue her family’s legacy by maintaining this traditional Korean home, which was passed down to her across thirteen generations. And although her and her husband were the only ones living in the home, and probably in the neighborhood, her life was astonishingly lively.
In the morning, she was entertained by the chirping of the birds. Then in the afternoon, she welcomed guests to stay at her home. And at night she could look up into the sky and play connect-the-dots with the stars. This sounds mundane, but strangely enough her life appeared much more interesting than mine as a twenty-year-old college student in a vibrant city like Seoul.
By the end of our conversation, I was inspired to personally redefine the concept of loneliness. With the pandemic forcing us inside and leaving us with more alone time than we’ve ever had, I think many of us have interpreted that time as lost or wasted. I, too, am guilty of this. What this experience showed me, however, was that being physically alone is a state of being, but being lonely is a state of mind.
The negative societal stigma around loneliness, coupled with social-media-induced FOMO, has led to an unhealthy and extremely toxic pressure to spend every waking moment in our lives surrounded by others. We need to normalize spending time alone without being mistaken for being lonely. Just like the laws of nature that maintain balance in our universe, we need to learn to accept the necessity of both social and alone time, the yin and the yang, in maintaining our own mini-universe.