Spontaneity, Adaptability

I would confidently say that I am one of the most spontaneous people I know. For me, spontaneity has brought about so much in my brief lifespan, from meeting and forming unforgettable friendships with previously total strangers, gaining insights into opportunities that had priorly been outside my knowledge base and social circle, the list is extensive and remains never ending.

Maybe because I share my birthday with Bear Grylls, the king of survival and adaptability. I mean, regardless of our mutual appreciation for wilderness and the intrinsic desire to adventure, I’ve lived so many casual encounters in my existence to the point where I have stopped believing in coincidences.

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I took this selfie in the Chilean Patagonia, having spent the past 10 hours of the day hitchhiking in six different vehicles. At least I didn’t have to eat a worm that evening, I do have standards as opposed to Mr. Grylls. Spirits are high!

After all, I am where I am and who I am because I have thoroughly embraced spontaneity, and taken intentional steps to develop this life’s greatest gift to shape my journey a little more dynamically than otherwise.

That said, I most recently stumbled upon probably most likely the biggest spontaneity move. I am still a little awe-struck because of not just the sheer scale of it, but also because it literally is something that had never been in the main picture of my life until four days ago.

I’ll cut to the chase: By the end of this academic year, August 2019, I will be receiving my diploma from Emory University in Human Health B.A. (akin to Public Health) and Spanish B.A. . This is actually a whole year earlier than expected, because here in the States, undergraduate is spread out in four years. This is my 2.5th academic year in the ATL, and by May, when I walk the stage at commencement, I will have finished my third. Below I will explain the context to my best ability, although the stakes are high and I doubt I will be able to do it justice with my amateur story-telling.

The Context

(If you don’t have time to read, skip below to The Most Relevant Context)

As some of you may know, I spent 20 days of December and January backpacking the beautiful country of Chile. Admittedly, this was far from a spontaneous move. Back in 2012, when I was living in England, I met a group of Chilean catholic missionaries who were in the country for a brief four months. Coincidentally (can I still use this word though?), this was the first year I began my journey with the Spanish language; after studying Mandarin, Latin, and French in my early days, I at once became captivated by the novel-yet-familiar sounds of this beautiful romance language, its intuitive pronunciation, and the immediate application to every day life since, as a matter of fact, a large number of my friends at the time were exchange students from Spain. For a young Korean boy living across the pond in foreign territory of builder’s tea and western ironic humor, the newfound language acquisition had wonderfully palpable impacts. Soon enough, I became fascinated by the Hispanic world.

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Clearly, I had very little idea of Chile – I even misspelled Chileans twice in the above Facebook post. Jaime, my friend who is to the left of the six-years-ago me, gifted me the Chilean national futbol shirt, on which I got the remainder of the Chilean cohort to sign their names and write messages. Fortunately for me, the school that I attended in England hosted another group of Chilean exchange students for the next four years of my time there, so I made it a personal mission to fill up the shirt with new names and more Spanish greetings.

One of those Chilean folks I met during my time was Guille, with whom I took this photo six years ago:

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Guille and me recreating the moment just last week! A six year reunion. Among reuniting with other wonderful Chilean friends through the exchange program, I spent roughly ten days with Guille (Guille- me impresionó la simpatía tuya y la de la familia a lo largo del viaje. Muchísimas gracias weon, os mando un beso gigante), enjoying my first Christmas below the equator, being impressed with his large families (apparently large family structures are typical of Chilean culture), and trekking unforgiving glaciers in Patagonia.

The remaining ten days, I decided to solo travel, a habit which I always feel inclined towards to gain a more organic traveling experience at my own unstructured pace. I spent two days in Valparaíso, where I spent a whole day with Kathe, a Colombian woman from Cali whom I met through the Couchsurfing app and had been hitchhiking the entire South America in the past two years…

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Kathe- aprendí harto sobre Latinoamérica gracias a nuestra conversación. Nos mantenemos en contacto y mucha suerte por el resto del viaje. Ciao querida amiga!
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The beautiful coast of Valparaíso; Kathe and I walked all the way here from where those cranes are on the right side of the photo. Here, below those floating pillars, are seals (shown as grey irregular masses) seeking respite above the sobering Atlantic waters

… and the next two days in Valle de Elqui, the birthplace of the Nobel Poet Laureate Gabriela Mistral and the Chilean national grape brandy Pisco…

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The grape vines of Valle de Elqui. We are just an inch south of San Pedro de Atacama, the world’s driest desert. I struggled since I’ve always lived in humidity, but this may be your place if you like the 300 days of sunny days in a year and the scorching desert climate

… and finally to La Serena, a coastal city where Kathe recommended that I should stay with her friend Stephy, an active member of the Couchsurfing community who lives in the smaller municipality of Altovalsol, twenty minutes bus ride from the city center.

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Stephy, te mando fuerte abrazo y te agradezco muchísimo. Hasta que nos vemos de nuevo.
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Drinking some cerveza artesanal at the bar. Stout is, by and large, my go-to craft brew; it’s got to taste great every corner of the world

Stephy later invited me to meet her friends in the locality and share with them the bar’s Happy Hour.

Chile was incredible. More than anything, I thoroughly embraced Latin America and all its kind people. Some further highlights are the vibrant nightlife of Bellavista, Santiago…

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My night out with Andre (pictured on the bottom with the green jacket), and Yves (wearing the black hoodie). I don’t remember the lady to my left, but to my right is Patricia, who was one of the flight attendants from my flight from Patagonia to Santiago that very day. It was also her birthday, and she recognised me first and spoke with me when we went to a free-entry disco in Bellavista. Un gusto, Patricia. Feliz cumple!

…La cálida bienvenida de l@s latin@s al extranjero…

I met Daniel on my connecting flight from Miami to Santiago. He is a wonderful Argentinian gentleman from a small town near Mendoza, where they produce some of the world’s finest Malbec wine. Currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina, Daniel hosts a bilingual community newspaper and has a wealth of experience in journalism through previous work with the CNN, which job initially brought him to the States quite some years ago from Argentina. Without a doubt, he is one of the most insightful friends that I have; during our eight hour night flight to Santiago, he and I fervently converse through six waking hours, scrolling through the interactive flight map on the screen to talk about the Latin American region, it’s culture, it’s people, and discussing from A to Z on the human experience. An encounter I will certainly never forget in my life. Muchísimas gracias Daniel por acompañarme en el Jin Young’s Journey!

… the kindness of strangers! My new Uruguayan friends who took interest in the inquisitive Korean traveller…

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Con los amigos uruguayos Gonzalo, Leandro, y Emiliano. Os visitaré en Uruguay algún día. Os prometo!

… and the opportunity to share delicious Korean food even on the other side of the world!

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예상보다 정말 괜찮았던 한식당. 숙이네 번창하세요~

The Most Relevant Context

So, how does this tie in with my early graduation? The very last day of my trip in Chile, I was sitting by the bayside of Coquimbo, finally starting to think about coming back to school for the upcoming semester.

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The beautiful sunset of Coquimbo

I open my laptop and check my email inbox for the first time in three weeks. There, an email from the Center for Human Health, the department which oversees the course offerings for one of my B.A.s, Human Health. The email reads undergraduate students could petition to enroll in Masters in Public Health (MPH) courses at the Rollins School of Public Health. Ok, sounds cool. I look through the course catalog to find International Infectious Diseases. Amazing, the intersection of international development and global health is where I want to ultimately take my career. I start filling out the enrollment petition form. When I get to the section expected graduation date, I cheekily indicate Fall 2019 instead of my actual expected date Spring 2020, because experience suggests that students who indicate they’re closer to graduation have priority enrollment in fascinating classes like this. Then I forget about anything school related until four days ago, the first day of this Spring 2019 semester.

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Empanada dinner- first meal of the day- accompanied by a staple dirtbag read, On the Road by KerouacI picked up this book at a hostel I stayed at in Patagonia

The Center for Human Health sends me an email on Tuesday, the first day of classes, letting me know that if I were to actually graduate Fall 2019, I would have to take these three foundational courses that are only offered in the Spring semester. Alright, I enroll in them last minute. Then I look at my overall academic history and evaluate my course credit hours to see how many I will need to complete this semester and next, if I were to actually graduate Fall 2019. 29 credit hours. Hm. Not as many as I thought, given that I never prepared to graduate early. Then, I think about my options: A) Spread out those credit hours between this semester (Spring 2019) and the next (Fall 2019), or B) Take 21 credit hours this semester and 8 credit hours from studying abroad in Portugal over five weeks of the upcoming summer, be done with higher education by late June and officially graduate in August 2019.

To me, the answer (B) became clear. Albeit none of this was planned, taking 21 credit hours this semester seemed nothing crazy considering my previous semesters, where I took roughly those number of credit hours, regularly worked a part-time job, competed in a fair share of cycling races, engaged in a handful of university extra-curriculars, and enjoyed a rather unrestricted social life. Besides, spreading out those credits in two semesters would have driven me crazy, because I have always preferred to live my life leaning towards being overwhelmed than underwhelmed*.

*I had a fairly underwhelming courseload my first semester of university, which left me feeling purposeless and ruined my work ethic. The trauma from this experience resulted in me preferring to rather be overwhelmed than underwhelmed since then. 

Well, then the upcoming 5 summer weeks of studying in Portugal works out perfectly for me for two main reasons:

First, it has long been a dream of mine to study the Portuguese language. Here in Atlanta, I have met so many great folks from university who have all recommended that I learn Portuguese, after I demonstrated my keen interest in learning Spanish and Latin American culture. I also met a lot of Brazilians on my hitchhiking trip in Chile, often bumping into them and observing their way of speech. Lastly, I listen to an impressive quantity of Bossa Nova and Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), both being Portuguese music genres (someone please help me befriend the MPB goddess Roberta Sá). Not even having taken a semester’s worth of Portuguese, I cannot be more excited to finally get to learn the language, all the while being immersed in the beautiful city of Lisboa.

Second, now that I’m not necessarily in any pressure to pursue a summer internship these upcoming months, and that my program lasts until the end of June, I can fly over to neighboring England to see my older brother Ryan Jin Hyuk graduate from the University of Wawrick in July, and also my secondary school friends in the country who are also graduating this July (Ryan took a gap year- he is a year older than I am- and university degrees in England are typically pursued over three years instead of four). From worrying about not being able to realistically reunite with my friends in England until later on in my young professional career, now I have all the right reasons to head over, in quite literally six months.

Understandably, my life has been almost completely flipped 180 degrees in the past four days, from having little idea on my upcoming semester, to planning ways to enjoy my now last semester of university. In that vein, life is going fast, but I cannot be more excited to embrace the spontaneity to the fullest. More exciting news are:

  1. I am flying over to Guatemala in March 6th for a three day work trip with my current internship at Social Enterprise at Goizueta. With my co-workers, we will be consulting small holder specialty coffee farmers on their current cash flow models, tracking their previous five years of income, evaluating their cost of production and profitability, devising suitable future price points for their delicious green coffee exports, and exploring means of improved B2B marketing through story-telling strategies. Because I have spring break immediately the following week, I plan on spending the remaining eight days of my time there bike touring the beautiful Guatemalan wilderness (until Sunday, March 17th). Más que nada, I cannot wait to be in Guatemala and empower those farmers and learn about how coffee is developed from commodity to product at the very beginning of the supply chain. Some of you may know that I have been involved in specialty coffee and social enterprise work for quite some time now; I am optimistic to catalyse social impact using what I know and how I can contribute to a more equitable global society. To my understanding, there is simply nothing more fulfilling than imparting knowledge, reducing the gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots, and to empower those who live closer to the latter.
  2. I am applying for full time jobs! Well, I started last night. My passion still remains in international development and global health, for which I am applying for a full time position that combines both of those things at the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), a federal agency that actually sits right on our university campus in Atlanta. To be honest, what better time to apply for a federal job than during a government shutdown? If that works out, I will be in ATL for another year or so. More than anything, to have the immense privilege of higher education, coupled with the opportunity to have garnered some serendipitous life experiences along the way motivates me to pursue a lifetime of service to those who don’t have those options. That said, I am now also discovering a multitude of career options; I’ll have a better idea on this note hopefully soon. In the meantime, please wish me luck, let me know if you may have any suitable opportunities that may fit my interests and I could do a great job in, and keep your fingers crossed for me!

I certainly don’t think that I have had another instance of spontaneity which tops this one, nor am I certain that spontaneity of this sort will occur in the years to come. And that’s the beauty of it; I will embrace it with open arms if it were to come my way again.  From now till May, I am approaching my now-last semester of university with gratitude and a reinvigorated sense of adaptability. While the decision to graduate from university a year early is ironically and most certainly an impulsive one, I will remain intentional on the daily, seize the miraculous spontaneity in my life until joining the walk to the graduation ceremony with the Class of 2019 this coming May.

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With my advisor and mentor, Dr. Karen Stolley, upon confirming graduation requirements for the Spanish B.A.! I am forever grateful for her instilling in me the passion to study the fascinating global Latin American affairs
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Brief encounter with Dr. Stolley at the library during my temporary return to the ATL from the previous summer’s trail work in the wilderness of North Carolina.
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Hitchhiking Patagonia

Preface // Prefacio

Dedico este blog en español para la gente que he tenido el inmenso placer de conocer a lo largo de mi viaje en Chile. Los compañeros mochileros en la Patagonia, las cariñosas amigas de Couchsurfing que me hospedaron a la última hora, los patagones que nos recibieron con gusto cuando hicimos dedo, y los con quienes pase un rato en las calles de Santiago… todos ustedes son simpáticos. Espero que lo disfruten, y que nos encontremos de nuevo algún día. Un saludo cordial, -Jin Young

I dedicate this blog entry in Spanish to those who I have had the immense pleasure to meet throughout my travels in Chile. The fellow backpackers in Patagonia, the caring friends of Couchsurfing who graciously hosted me, the locals of Patagonia who picked us up when we were hitchhiking, and those with whom I had a blast with in the streets of Santiago… you are all incredible folks. I hope you enjoy this entry and that we meet again some day. Sincerely, -Jin Young

Journey to the Other Side of the World // El viaje al otro lado del mundo

Between the 27th of December to the 5th of January, two of my Chilean friends and I embarked on a nine-day backpacking trip to the Southern region of the Andes mountains, also known as Patagonia. To explore its vast wilderness had been a dream trip of mine for as long as I have been enamoured by the grandeur of forests and mountains; it was also one of the major reasons for me to fly over to the beautiful country of Chile for the holiday season instead of returning home to reunite with family.

Entre el 27 de diciembre y el 5 de enero, dos amigos chilenos y yo nos emprendimos en una excursión de mochilero de nueve días al sur de los Andes, también conocido como la Patagonia. Explorar su vasto entorno silvestre había sido mi viaje de ensueño desde que me enamore de la grandeza de los bosques y montañas; También fue una de las razones principales para viajar al bonito país de Chile durante las vacaciones de invierno, en vez de regresar a Corea para reunirme con la familia.

We covered a lot of ground during our relatively brief time in this vast region, and the photos below show a glimpse of some highlights of our journey. Our loose schedule consisted of:

Al considerar el breve tiempo que estuvimos allí, nos involucramos en un montón de cosas. Las fotos abajo demuestran algunos momentos destacados de nuestro itinerario. El dicho itinerario consistió de:

4 days of trekking;

4 días de ir de senderismo

13 hours of hitchhiking 280km of the Carretera Austral;

13 horas de hacer dedo los 280km de la Carretera Austral

2.5 days of exploring the localities Puerto Río Tranquilo, Cochrane, Caleta Tortel, Coyhaique;

2.5 días de explorar las localidades de Puerto Río Tranquilo, Cochrane, Caleta Tortel, Coyhaique;

1 day of drying out wet gear, drinking yerba mate and playing Truco;

1 día de secar equipos empapados, bebiendo harto mate y jugando Truco;

1 day of ground transportation of various types.

1 día de viajar en varios modos de transporte terrestre.

First leg of the hitchhike. Balmaceda to Las Horquetas, the trailhead of Cerro Castillo National Reserve // La primera fase de hacer dedo, desde Balmaceda hasta Las Horquetas, la entrada de la Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo
Enjoying the first successful hitchhike ride at the back of a pick up truck, beats any car with a sunroof // Disfrutando el primero paseo exitóso en un camion, mejor que cualquier carro con techo solar
Second day of the Cerro Castillo trek // Segundo día de trekking en Cerro Castillo
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Admiring the grand glaciers of Cerro Castillo // Admirando los grandes glaciares del Cerro Castillo
With the Río Baker – and an unassumingly photogenic horse- behind me // Con el Río Baker – y el caballo casualmente fotogénico- al fondo
Villa Cerro Castillo. Hanging out with a canine companion while waiting to hitch out to next destination// En Villa Cerro Castillo. Encuentro con un compañero canino mientras que espero la oportunidad de hacer dedo al próximo destino 
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Dropped off at the junction of Puerto Guadal, Chile Chico, Lago Bertrand; a.k.a. the middle of nowhere // Nos dejaron al cruce de Puerto Guadal, Chile Chico, Lago Bertrand. Casi en medio de la nada
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Soon picked up by a family of ranchers. It was a bumpy ride // Pronto recibidos por una familia de rancheros. Un paseo lleno de baches
Saltón de Baker, the largest freshwater reserve in Chile, the third largest in the world // El Saltón de Baker, la reserva de agua dulce más grande de Chile y la tercera del mundo
View of the Saltón from the cliff side of Corte San Carlos, a 36km roundtrip day trek from Río Los Ñadis // La vista del Saltón desde el Corte San Carlos, un viaje de 36km desde Los Ñadis
Walking around Caleta Tortel, a community in the Southern Patagonia initially founded to log the native cypress // Caminando por Caleta Tortel, una comunidad ubicada en el sur de la Patagonia, inicialmente fundada para la explotación del ciprés nativo
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Made of native cypress, the streets of Caleta Tortel are only accesible by foot // Hechos de ciprés de la región, los pasaderos de Caleta Tortel son solamente accesibles a pie 
Puerto Río Tranquilo; waiting for the boat to Catedrales de Mármol // En Puerto Río Tranquilo, esperando el paseo de bote a las Catedrales de Mármol
Awe-inspiring Catedrales de Mármol… // Impresionantes Catedrales de Mármol…
… photobombed by a wild smiling Korean // … fotobombeado por un coreano sonriente
En route to Los Ñadis, to spend the most calm New Years Eve of lifetime. With no internet access but plenty of good Chilean wine, we sat by the campfire and shared the moment with the warm company of fellow campers // En rumbo a Los Ñadis para pasar el Año Nuevo más tranquilo de vida. A pesar de la ausencia del Internet, lo pasamos acurrucados junto la fogata, bebiendo harto vino chileno bien rico y compartiendo el momento con la cálida compañía de otras campistas
Upon entering Cerro Castillo National Reserve // Al entrar a la Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo
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Faced with a blizzard which came unannounced //  El encuentro inesperado con una tormenta de nieve
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Day two consisted of trekking on the glaciers for several hours // Segundo día consistió de andar por los glacieres por varias horas
Incredible hanging glaciers of Cerro Castillo // Magnífica belleza de los glaciares del Cerro Castillo
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¡Parque Patagonia!
Last leg of hitchhike from Parque Patagonia to Cochrane // La última porción del viaje: desde el Parque Patagonia hasta Cochrane
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Having travelled 234km in the past nine hours, with only 17km left to go // Al viajar unos 234km en las ultimas nueve horas, nos faltan solo 17km hasta Cochrane, el destino final 
last hitch hike of the day! only 17 km left
Great Success! Last hitchhike of the day // ¡Gran éxito! El último paseo del día
Guille’s feet hanging above the emerald waters of the Río Baker Saltón watershed // Los pies de Guille colgando sobre la agua esmeralda del Saltón del Río Baker
Exploring the stunning Patagonian pasture with Feña and Carlos, a new friend from Chile´s seventh region // Explorando el impresionante campo patagón con Feña y Carlos, un nuevo amigo bacán de la séptima región de Chile 
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A casual hike up an unknown cerro nonetheless providing a breathtaking view // Fuimos de trekking casualmente a un cerro desconocido para logar esta hermosa vista 
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With Carlos and Feña// Con Carlos y Feña, los mejores weones
Beautiful afternoon in Cerro Castillo // Una bonita tarde en Cerro Castillo

In retrospect, I had been blissfully unaware of the sheer scale of the Carretera Austral, the highway network which spans across the northern and the southern regions of Patagonia. Coupled with our reliance on hitchhiking as pretty much the only viable means of transportation and the rugged condition of this gravel road, travel time took up a decent portion of our agenda. On future visit, it would make more sense to devote at least another couple of weeks into this itinerary to account for travel and downtime, since working with the unpredictable weather of Patagonia, as I have come to learn, requires flexibility.

Al reflexionar de ahora mismo, estaba profundamente despistado de la magnitud de la Carretera Austral, la red de carreteras que extiende por las regiones norte y sur de la Patagonia. Debido a la dependencia en hacer dedo como casi la única opción de viajar y también la condición precaria de esta ruta en grava, el transporte compuso una gran porción de la excursión. En la próxima visita, valdrá la pena añadir al menos un par de semanas al itinerario para tener en cuenta el tiempo perdido en transporte y dejar algunos días para relajarse en este terreno a veces implacable. A lo largo de la excursión me dí cuenta de que se necesita conseguir un horario flexible debido al clima sumamente impredecible de la Patagonia.

Also notable was the number of bicycle tourists on the Carretera Austral; from what I’ve learned from my brief cycling career, I am convinced that touring will surely present this exploration through a whole another lense. In the next twenty years, with -hopefully- the road condition improved, I would love to revisit the area and do it all again on my bike.

También noté la gran cantidad de los viajeros en bicicleta a lo largo de la Carretera. Que yo sepa de mi breve carrera en ciclismo, estoy convencido de que este modo de exploración seguramente se ofrezca una experiencia incomparable. Espero que la condición de la carretera mejore en los años que vienen para que pudiere volver a la región y viajar de nuevo en la bicicleta.   

To be able to explore the various rural communities, virgin forests, and pristine freshwaters and wildlands of Patagonia has been an immense privilege which has certainly strengthened my appreciation for our public lands. It is my hope that future generations can come and see this vast wilderness for many more years to come.

La posibilidad de experimentar de primera mano las diversas comunidades rurales, los bosques vírgenes, la agua dulce, y glaciares prístinas de la Patagonia ha sido un inmenso privilegio que ha fortalecido mi aprecio por nuestra hermosa naturaleza. Espero que permanezca esta belleza por muchos años que vienen para que las generaciones del futuro también pudieren disfrutar la bonita wea (tuve que terminar la entrada con el modismo chileno ya que vi la necesidad de mantenerme leal a Chile, no ma. ¿Cachai? Bacán). 

Special thanks to Feña and Guille, my adventure buddies, for taking the lead on planning the travel itinerary and to Feña for capturing these photos.

Feña, Guille, and me // Los tres mosqueteros de la Patagonia

Catching Up

It’s been quite some time since I last posted on this website. To tell the truth, my life has been nothing but full of new experiences. I made this personal blog because I find it to be an effective platform to remain an open book as I always try to be in person, and I think that keeping a record of this time will help bring perspective to my future endeavours.

Here’s my effort to sum up the last five months in a few exciting bullet points:

– The house that I had moved into in early April was flooded due to the heavy rainfall in ATL and poor water control structure of the house itself. Living in the house taught me a lot in terms of self-sufficiency. After more than a decade of living in various shared accommodations, I thoroughly enjoyed having a place I could call my own homebase. Inspired by my friends in 42 Hollywood Street (shouts out to Amelia, Caleb, and Juliette!), I also fostered a cat named Catelyn for a month.

[Figure 1. Sharing my bedroom with Catelyn, like any momma would with her child]

Because I am the luckiest person in the world, I had the best support from friends with moving heaps of belongings of which quantity was comparable to that of a gypsy family.

[Figure 2. Théo helping with the move (merci beaucoup mon amie). Round 1]

[Figure 3. Round 2]

[Figure 4. Round 3: Fred to the rescue]

Consequently I had to move out of the house and I have been extremely lucky to temporarily move in with Fred. With all due honesty, I have enjoyed this new living because I can come home to enjoy his company at the end of the day, to share a meal and, many times, engage in unparalleled banter. More than anything, I am grateful for the opportunity to rekindle a friendship that laid dormant due to the hustle and bustle of both of our schedules.

Therefore in ATL, I currently live on my pull out couch which I brought to Fred’s apartment, of which its versatility has allowed me to convert Fred’s living room into a bedroom in the matter of day and night. Yes, sleeping in a pull out couch for several months is not the most ideal, but it’s a huge relief not to have to deal with housing insecurity for at least a little while. Fred, you already know this, but 진심으로 고맙다, 나의 하나뿐인 베프!

[Figure 5. Living room by day]

[Figure 6. Bedroom by night]

– On a different note, I had sustained a couple of injuries towards the tail end of my trail season back in August, which resulted in two months of crutches and limited physical activity. From 8 hours a day of physically challenging wilderness lifestyle to a semi-sedentary metropolitan lifestyle was a tough transition. I took newfound interest in yoga (which has been wonderful for strengthening my core and compensating for the herniated lumbar discs) and indoor cycling, in preparation for the upcoming racing season.

[Figure 7. Early morning spinning also gave me a new sense of structure to daily life. Pedaling away while seeing the pitch black horizon explode into beautiful dawn was far more rewarding than slapping snooze on my alarm clock]

– In order to mitigate the grand adjustment of a lifestyle I filled up my semester with six engaging courses and 10 hours weekly of part time internship.

My internship, which I aim to remain committed to until graduation, involves market research of the specialty coffee industry through assessing pricing patterns in global auctions and gathering data on the currently available farmer support programs throughout the agriculture sector. I truly enjoy what I do, especially because I think the specialty coffee market has a lot of potential to fix the broken market whereby disparity is rampant among the stakeholders in various stages of the supply and value chain. In fact, coffee is one of the most prominent commodity/ product within global trade, which means a vast number of people are affected by fluctuations of this delicate market.

More than anything, I am fascinated by international development, and my steady earnings from this endeavour has also allowed me to fund my dream trip to Patagonia (Stay tuned for this!). I could go on and on about my internship, but I think it could be better if I make it into a separate post in order to keep to the original intent of this particular blog post.

[Figure 8. One of the best perks of my internships is the ability to attend various events through the organisation I work for (Social Enterprise @ Goizueta), and to meet a wide range of key players shifting the paradigm of social enterprise]

– Once my injuries got better, I was able to hop back on my bike saddle to commute to and from school. However, as if I couldn’t ever have it any other way, one morning I crashed in ongoing traffic at rush hour, which rendered my right wrist incapable of daily regular functioning for two months.

[Figure 9. Cracked glasses and grazed chin. Because I landed on my chin and wrist, I was unable to move my jaw for a week, which physically prevented me from smiling and laughing- the simplest pleasures of life!]

This gave way to further complications because not only was I unable to enjoy the highlights of my daily life that was my bike commute, but I couldn’t cook nor meal prep, which I had been perfecting throughout my brief introduction to homestyle cooking.

[Figure 10. Sautéed green beans were always a regular participant on my meals. One of the easiest vegetables to cook and to buy in bulk]

[Figure 11. Brown rice, baked broccoli, carrot cuts, green beans, asparagus, soysage. Lunch of the champions]

Looking back, it’s certainly been a thrilling journey. Despite evident times of hardships, I have learned not to let them get in my head too much and to not to take life so seriously. This year being my third year in the States, I have been lucky to discover a new family here (shouts out to Rene and Peanut, with whom I spent the most welcoming Thanksgiving of my brief Northamerican lifespan so far). With all things considered, it’s been a life that cannot be approached by anything other than by gratitude.

Human Connection in Appalachia

On my last hitch of the season, my colleagues and I were caught in a severe storm that prevented us from hiking seven miles into our basecamp. To be hiking in those conditions, with nine-days’ worth of provisions and trail tools strapped in our packs, would have been a lost fight, especially given the rugged terrain that led towards our destination.

We decided to seek shelter. Pulling up our rig at multiple dispersed campgrounds (which do not charge a fee for 14 days of stay), we soon conceded that all of those sites were flooded, with the potential to be even more flooded by nighttime. As a last resort, we pulled up at the Horsecove campground, a Forest Service governed site for which our funding did not cover for us to stay. During a past front country hitch, we had used their water spicket to resupply our water reserve, so we were familiar with the area.

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[Figure 1. Creek level rise in the area due to several hours of rain and thunderstorm]

Upon hearing our situation, John and Elizabeth, the campground hosts, empathised with our misfortune and allowed us to pitch our tents for the night- free of charge- so that we could wait out the storm. They were so kind that they invited us over to their camper, where they and their four kids huddled by the fire with us and offered us coffee. My colleagues and I spent this opportunity to dry what felt like perpetually moist rain gear, to seek warmth, and to be uplifted by their hospitality despite our adversity.

The storm had not ceased the following evening and my colleague Caleb and I were getting prepared to cook dinner for the crew. John hollered at us from a distance, and invited us over for dinner. Pointing at his well-fed belly, he jovially assured us that Elizabeth is a fantastic cook for him and the kids, and that she is cooking some chicken and dumplings for all of us. Besides, he said, we ought to save our food for when we get back out into the wilderness.

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[Figure 2. My Colleagues and the kids enjoying the Chicken and Dumplings by the dinner table] 

Spending the evening with the camp host family was a personal revelation on numerous levels. For one, being around these children made me reminiscent of my days of childhood not so long ago: those long, hot summer days  when I had no other obligation than to eat my greens and to behave well at home. As I grew up in a metropolis, I could not ever visualise my younger self as one of these kids, who have been living out here in the woods, cut off from the amenities of urban life, to live 24-hours-a-day in nature’s playground. By looking at their calves, embellished by clear remnants of previous attacks by various bugs of the forest – No-see-ums/ midges, mosquitos, paper wasps, etc.-  I could easily infer the unconventional lifestyle and upbringing they have had so far, out here in the woods. While the forest may certainly teach you discipline and life values, I thought, they are young kids, after all, who were evidently living a life far different than that of their peers. Since the family had accepted their position as campground hosts, they had been homeschooled by John and Elizabeth, and spent most of their time fishing for trout at the creek, riding rusty bicycles down the hill, and hanging out with other kids from families who would come to the campground after a days hike in Joyce Kilmer. Seeing these kids, so happy to be where they are, instantly brought a smile upon my face.

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[Figure 3. Riley, Josiah, and Sophia gathered around the dinner table]

As the sun disappeared and darkness dominated the landscape, my colleagues, the family, and I sat by the dinner table and continued to talk the night away. John and Elizabeth were curious of the work that we do out there, where we all come from, and what led us to the field of environmental stewardship. With each of us taking turns, they became more and more engaged in the dialogue, and shared with us who they were. John was born and raised in the Piedmont region- Central North Carolina, and moved to Robbinsville to work as a carpenter for a family in Robbinsville- the closest town to the wilderness that I work in, Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness of Nantahala National Forest. Meanwhile, Elizabeth has always been living in this region- she grew up in Snowbird, a Cherokee Native American community, just situated in the surrounding mountains of Joyce-Kilmer. The two of them had met on an online platform called Myspace (while the crew immediately recognised it, I had only a faint idea of what it was. After all, I am the youngest person of this six-person crew, being 16 years apart from the oldest crew member. It must have been a thing when I was a toddler or younger, or that I have been living under a rock). Remarkably, but not surprisingly, the two of them moved back here upon their marriage, given that this land is where their heritage lies.

Now, as a relative outsider of the United States, and unfamiliar with the history of its people, I do not have extensive knowledge of the Cherokee tribe, nor the strife that characterized their fall during the arrival of Columbus. My intention of this blog entry is not to comment on politics, but instead to remark on the beauty of the human experience; here we were, with all having come from a variety of backgrounds, gregariously sharing a hot meal with company whom had only been strangers merely 24 hours ago. My colleagues and I were inspired by their kindness and hospitality; John and Elizabeth appreciated our presence, later telling us that we are the kind of people they want their kids to grow up around.

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[Figure 4. One of the children, Sophia, got each of us to draw our names on the front page of her colouring book.] 

One thing that I have been most appreciative for these past 12 weeks is the people that I have been fortunate to meet. My Wilderness Ranger friend David Finnan once said to me, ‘the South suits your personality’, and I could not agree with him more: the southern hospitality is a beautiful trait of the American South, and I have been spoiled with it daily and reflect upon it every day with gratitude. And I write this as I sit rested in my friend Rene’s home in Lake Toxaway, with the presence of her and Peanut, her nine-year old Pomeranian-Chihuahua (I met Rene through a training program called the Wilderness Skills Institute up at the Cradle of Forestry in Pisgah Forest, where she and I buddied up for tool maintenance).

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[Figure 5. Rene’s best friend Peanut, slowly dozing off as I type this entry.]

While school starts back up on the 29thof this month, I made a promise to John, Elizabeth, and the kids to come back up and visit them. I made sure to stop by their home when I left Joyce Kilmer and, before leaving for good, Sophia asked me to stay with them for longer next time. Besides, I am already missing my colleagues, and I am planning on returning to Nantahala in the near future to holler at my trail crew. Till then, I will spend time recuperating from my recent heel injury, and hopefully continue to explore this beautiful region before making the long drive down to Georgia.

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[Figure 6. My new Cherokee family!]

The Journey Begins..

Welcome to my blog!

I have finally decided to create this blog upon realising the need to share my story: of past, present, and future. It’s important to share our stories because they shape who we are, our values and principles, and give rise to the person we are to become.

In the coming days, I will be uploading entries with regards to my recent summer work in the Nantahala, and transfer over some of my journal content on here. As time progresses, I will continue to post entries on to my personal life, so that you (my friend, wherever you are in the world) can keep posted on how your man Jin Young is doing.

If you would like to contact me, I am available via email: jin.young.choi@outlook.com , or Facebook. I think there is also a Contact Me page somewhere on this website (still trying to figure out how to use WordPress).

Hope you enjoy reading my story.

Peace and love,

Jin Young

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