The day after we got deported, the sun came back up the same way it did before. Right on time. Why do we expect the world to slow down when something traumatic happens in our lives? Well, life did not slow down. Before we knew it our eyes popped open as the wheels of the plane were bouncing down on the tarmac in Chicago, Illinois. Welcome “home” Rigbys!
Steve and I are pretty positive people, but we really took our time sulking in Korea before our day of departure. Even though there was so much to sell, so much to clean, so much to eat, so much to see, and so many to say goodbye to, we spent the majority of our final days in Korea laying on the couch watching Youtube. Let’s face it, we were hiding.
Everywhere we looked we were reminded of what we were going to miss. Even that Kimchi smell we swore would never smell appetizing to us. Even those stupid cats that meow and scream all night long and keep us awake. Even the loud hock and splat of lougies from the workmen across the street. They all left a stinging sensation and reminder of all that we were about to lose.
We went through periods of feeling sad, then numb, then excited, then scared on repeat. And that’s where YOU came in. Yeah, you! The one reading this! The old college buddy who reached out to say that you were praying for us. Or the high school acquaintance we hadn’t spoken to in years who simply messaged us to say, “Saw your video, that really sucks!” And old coworkers who wrote to us to say, “You have a job waiting for you if you want it.” And of course, close family and friends who contacted us throughout the day despite the time difference just to ask us “How are you doing today?” Without your encouragement and prayer, I’m not sure how we would’ve gotten through our last few weeks in Korea. You gave us something to look forward to in returning to the U.S. and reminded us that we were not alone. Your prayers were felt DAILY, and I pray that one day we can repay you all for your generous support.
Out last week seemed to stretch to fit all our last minute needs. We had a great meal of samgyeopsal and galbi with our students and parents and went bowling, Steve sold all of our furniture, we got Pretzel prepared for his first international journey, we went to a baseball game, and of course, as with all nasty break ups, we got our hair did.
Our final meal was our favorite: Dakgalbi. We shoveled that food in our faces unceremoniously as always, and it was glorious. We grabbed some ice-cream cones and took the long route back and watched the sun go down on our favorite city, our home.
This week also included a lot of packing. I (Leah) love packing. I am a great organizer and feel elated when I look in a suitcase and it looks like a perfectly fitted Tetris game. This is a skill that really comes in handy with all of the traveling we do, but it never came more in handy until we were given thirty days to pack up our entire lives. YIKES.
I packed so tightly that I now have callouses from where I would force the lid closed and yank the zipper. I’m not kidding. These callouses have slowly been peeling off in the shower since we landed state-side.
In the end, the total came to one kennel (with one adorable precious little Pretzel-pups!) three backpacks, five suitcases, and five large boxes to ship home. With all of our luggage weighing us down we missed the airport bus and had to wait thirty minutes for the next one. We were nervous that we were not off to a great start. There’s something about traveling that causes you to expect setbacks.
We had it all planned out for how we were going to get out luggage on the plane without paying for an extra checked bag. As we waited in line at the check-in counter, we were sweating because of all the weight we were carrying and because we knew some of our bags were overweight, and we were kind of trying to hide how many bags we had to take as “carry-ons”. We were moving to a new country! Of course we had a crazy amount of stuff.
But then, our first miracle of the day occurred. One of our bags was two pounds overweight, and we held our breath as we waited for the ticket agent to say, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to shift some weight into your other bags” which of course just could not be done at this point. It was as if we had, had a Jedi Master with us to wave her hand and say “This luggage is not overweight!” The agent looked at the weight and politely said, “Next bag please.” We fist-bumped behind the desk. We got all of our bags checked in no problem.
Miracle number two. After we checked our four bags and we got Pretzel taken care of, one of the ticket agents noticed that our luggage trolley was still piled high.
“You guys have a lot of luggage,” she said as she leaned over the desk to get a better look.
We looked at each other and gulped.
“Yeah, we’re moving,” I said.
The agent then kindly said, “Well, we can check another bag for you, free of charge.”
My heart freaking EXPLODED. We have traveled enough to know that this NEVER EVER happens! Your prayers at work, people!
Miracle number three. As Steve and I waited in line to get through security, two of our students ran up to us shouting “Mr. and Mrs. Rigby, I can’t believe it’s you! We’re so lucky to see you!” They were on their way to Japan with their grandparents. Their hugs were the best. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a proper send-off, but God knew, and there they were! We were so, so blessed to see them as we spent our last hour in our favorite country. ❤
Miracle number four. On our long flight from Tokyo to Chicago, we had an empty seat next to us while the rest of the plane was packed. Need I say more?
Miracle number five. Pretzel did not pee, poop, or puke in his kennel, on the airplane, or in any airport. The poor thing HELD IT until he got to a Doggy Relief Room at the Chicago airport. What a good pups!
Steve and I then gathered our luggage and immediately experienced a bit of culture shock.
For example, when Steve took Pretzel to go pee-pee and poo-poo, I waited with our luggage. Not one, not two, but THREE friendly strangers came up and chatted with me. We talked about traveling and family coming in from out of town and “how about that sunshine!” Weird. These people felt weird to me. But they weren’t weird, just American.
People are so darn friendly! Right now it makes me uncomfortable. I think I’ve forgotten how to small talk. People talk to me in line at grocery stores and chat with me about Pretzel when I take him for walks. Two guys passed me on a walk with Pretzel a day or two after we landed and said, “Cute dog!” and I said, “Morning!” It was 2:30 in the afternoon.
Thank goodness our amazing friends Jamie and Sarah were able to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the most relaxing place on earth: their home. We had an amazing week in Grand Rapids, Michigan going out to all of our favorite restaurants, soaking in their hot-tub, drinking local beers (I forgot you had to show your ID for alcohol!), laying on the floor and talking, and just sharing everything that’s been going on in our lives. They are such amazing friends, and we love them so much! It was a great way to reenter the country.
Now Steve and I are at Steve’s parents’ house near Ann Arbor relaxing and getting a few ducks in a row. We have a car thanks to my in-laws’ generosity, though I’m really nervous to drive it. I haven’t driven a car in three years! The past few days we’ve relaxed around the house, gone to the movies (it’s more fun at MJR!), attended the “Flat Rock Speedway Victory Lane Oil Change Michigan Figure 8 Championship” (definitely some culture shock there), and visited Cedar Point! It felt good to get some screams out.
It’s been strange to walk through Walmart and see how easily accessible everything is. I get excited when I see Asians because there are so few where we are! Parking lots are obnoxiously huge. What’s up with that? Everything is so spread out, it’s no wonder people don’t know their neighbors. America is GORGEOUS. Everything is so green and mysterious.
All in all, we’re okay. Right now we feel pretty distracted and happy to see family and taste everything that we’ve missed the last three years. Here and there it catches up with us though. I can feel a kind of internal sadness that’s waiting it’s turn for attention once the events of the summer have passed and the reality sets in that we’re not going back. The little moments that sting show up out of nowhere but because we are so surrounded by loving and supportive people, we are quickly soothed.
Thanks for checking in on our journey! More to come next week!
❤ Leah & Steven
Check out our last video about getting deported from Korea!