It takes about five minutes to describe what I do. If I had to describe myself with the technical term, it would be a digital nomad. That means I can virtually work anywhere with internet access, allowing me to live and travel in some fabulous destinations, but also it means time away from home. This is quite a strange concept for Koreans, who are strongly connected — mentally and physically — to their homeland.
I come home (Seoul, Korea) every now and then, especially during the holiday seasons. We only have two big holidays in the year. I travel and work wherever I can and come back once or twice a year. It felt like an obligation to visit when I first started this traveling life, but now I visit out of joy. Coming home also allows me to take care of the things that I can only do in my home country: tracking down my medical records, taking care of tax, renewing my driver’s license, and such. As I mentioned in my previous post, “Home is Where Heart… or Convenience Is”, home makes things convenient.
Whenever I visit my family, I struggle between two heads. As a digital nomad, I work everywhere I go. No matter where I am, I have to sit in front of a computer for certain hours in a day, and Korea’s high-speed internet is the best environment I can be in. I have a small workspace in my parent’s home, and they know I have daily work to do. But can I really lock myself in a room when I only see my family twice a year? Should I try to spend more time with them? Wasn’t this the reason why I quit my job at the office, to do more things that make me happy?
Recently my mom had a questionable result from her latest health checkup. She scheduled several different trips to the hospital for a more detailed examination. And we all know how hospitals can be a nightmare – I couldn’t just sit and work when my mom was going through such a painful process. I helped her to the hospital over the last two weeks while she was visiting four different departments. Naturally, I didn’t have much time to work. But I felt happy. We often say we can have it all, but it doesn’t mean that we can excel at all aspects in life; it’s rather balancing and choosing things on the list. I missed a lot of important family moments while I was away, so I try to make it up to them during the short time I’m here.
I thought about something similar a while ago. Which is more valuable, volunteering in a foreign country, or spending time with my extended family? Who can say what’s more right? I was lost in school life for 12 years (the Korean education system is tough), and went on to an even tougher workplace. I had barely any interaction with my family during those years. Seems like now is a pretty good time to change that. While there are many unfortunate people in other parts of the world, there are people in my family who need me. By simply spending time with my parents, I can make them pretty happy. They are not starving, but they need someone to take them to hospital, help out around the house, and remind them about their medication. Volunteering in some other country might contribute to the greater good, but who can say what the greater good is exactly?
In the old Confucianism tradition, respecting your elders is the most important virtue in life. There are countless Korean folk stories about devoted parents and children. Even though I’m a modernized and worldly person, the core of my culture is something that’s hard to ignore. I think it’s my turn to try, after they’ve been such supportive parents for the last 30 years. We have limited time together, after all. My family’s well-being is more important to me than other matters in the world. Now, can you really say I’m selfish?
I don’t have an answer. My answers are constantly changing. These are just recurring thoughts whenever I come back home. The world is a complex place, and there’s no definite right or wrong answer. We are just trying to do the best we can at any given moment.
What do you think? Are you spending time with your family during the holiday season?