I am at Incheon International Airport and will fly to Hong Kong within a few hours.
It is already time to say goodbye to Seoul.
I am feeling many emotions since yesterday, thinking about leaving.
I created everything from scratch here.
I had chosen Seoul because I listened to an intuition. I knew no one in Seoul and not much about Korea. But in a way, I felt it was the right place for me to go.
Coming here, I wanted to feel the energy of the city, I wanted to melt with it. Observe and understand. Meet people. Feel alive and take the time to live.
I have been building my project for quite some time now, and I know that I want to become an empowerer for entrepreneurs and people who have a positive impact on the world.
I know I want to work people I share values with. People with whom I have a common vision of the world, and human potential, and progress. A form of awareness and responsibility.
I felt that the startup and innovation environment attracted me a lot.
So, creating my life and experience here, I had this main intention :
Connect to the ecosystem of startups and innovation. And of course, I wanted to get to know the Korean culture.
I am convinced that life is about people. Possibilities are about encounters.
I consider that the quality of my life is based on the quality of the relationship I have with others.
And it starts with having a great relationship to oneself. If I take care of me, I will take care of others, of my environment.
So I knew designing my path here would be about meeting people.
It all started with 2 facebook posts.
Before leaving Paris : « Hey friends ! I am going to spend 1 month in Seoul, do you know any people I could meet there ? »
And then, when I arrived : « Hey friends ! I am in Seoul and would like to connect to the ecosystem of startups and innovation, would you have any contacts you could introduce me to ? »
I was connected to one person, who connected me to another… Etc.
I met people. I asked many questions. I think – I hope – I created the relationship with them.
I went to Google Campus.
Matthew (I mentionned him earlier !) had advised me to go there. I met people from the K-Global Startup Engine team – a Korean accelerator program for startups. They were organizing a 2-days event gathering startups and international accelerators.
They offered me to participate.
This really was my accelerator !
(They know that I feel very greateful for that !)
I met many people there. Exactly the kind of people I was wishing to get in touch with.
I must say the challenge at the beginning was to know how to introduce myself ! I totally missed the point when the first person I met at the K-Global event introduced himself giving me his business card and asked me : « and you are » ?
I was not prepared. I don’t remember what I said but I am sure about one thing : it was really confusing and I felt stupid !
So after this flop I took 5 minutes to think about what I should say.
I was asked : « Are you a startup » ? And ended-up kidding : « Yes, if we consider that my life is my start-up ! ». Sometimes, startuppers thought I was part of a VC Accelerator program. And on my name tag, as I had to fit into a category, I was « Press ».
Haha, that was interesting !
More seriously : I decided that I needed to introduce myself very shortly and have people understand easily what I was doing here. The best version in this context was : « I want to become a coach for entrepreneurs » (Ok, I will dare to say that outloud) . And then, if the conversation would continue, I would explain about my project more precisely.
Oh, by the way : Korean people don’t really know what is a sabbatical year. There is no such concept here. Except for a very tiny part of the people – typically, for those who are in this startup & innovation ecosystem !
Then, as I showed my interest, I was offered to attend the classes that the K-Global Startup Engine was organizing for the startups. So I met the speakers of theses classes.
I participated to a first class about « Product market fit & Go to market strategy » – it was in Korean but the slides were in English.
After the class I had the opportunity (thank you Jack for offering me to join !) to have lunch with the speaker. I attended 2 other classes about « Going global, why and how » and about legal aspects for launching a business properly. The speakers were from the Silicon Valley and so the approach was really global. It also gave me the opportunity to share with the Korean startuppers, which was very interesting and nice !
For me, it also created some kind of feeling of belonging and some structuring in my time.
It was meaningful to me because sometimes I felt really lonely, wondering what I was doing here and why I was doing all this !
I experienced that developping a network in a new and different environment in which I knew no one required quite some determination and energy !
I am usually full of optimism and faith but sometimes I really felt as if I had no more energy, no more drive.
Sometimes, I was wondering : what I am doing here, alone, so far away from my family and friends, trying to connect to a whole new specific world, while I do not know if I will ever come back here and see these people again ?
It really rised questions and reflection about the meaning of life, the possibility that we have to create our life, what deeply drives us.
For a few days I was very tired and felt a bit sad.
And in the same time I was feeling guilty. I was thinking :
« Julia, you are so lucky to be here ! How can you not just enjoy doing what you’re doing and be happy ».
I recalled the learnings from Plum Village and tried to connect to my body, to the present moment. But precisely : my body seemed to have no more energy.
I could not connect to the joy and optimism and drive that usually makes me move forward.
I did not have the energy to do what I was supposed to do : skype calls with peers and mentors, develop networking, lead a coaching session with a friend who recently quit his job to launch his startup, sharing what I was experiencing through my blog, go and explore the city.
It was hard already to take care of me and it seemed that every little thing was such a huge effort.
So I just had a break. I did not even decide to. It happened.
It was great to be at the guesthouse, because I was never alone.
When you want to share with people, there are always other travellers to speak with. And at the guesthouse I really experienced a « family-like » life. It is a particular family. A family that destiny brings together in a particular place for a short time. A protected bubble of trust and sharing.
With a lot of French-speaking people – which means much less efforts to adapt, understand what’s going on and express yourself – it was quite relaxing and enjoyable after the days I had !
It is easy to feel close to the people quickly because we all live the same adventure, far away from our families and friends. There is a magic immediate connection.
And when I wanted to be alone, I just stayed in my bed reading or went out for a walk in the city.
One day at Plum Village, I was having tea with a sweet woman.
She talked to me about a metaphor that one of the monk shared with her.
Let’s call it : the « Healing in the cave » metaphor
It goes this way :
When animals are injured or ill, they stop their usual activities and stay in their « home » – should it be a cave or burrow or nest, until they are healed and ready to go back to normal life.
As human beings, most of us live in societies where it is not well perceived to be weak (and especially here in Korea, I could feel). We have to show that we perform all the time.
However, it is totally normal and OK to go through moments when we feel weak.
And like these animals, we are allowed to take some time to rest and get our energy back before returning to the world.
It is even what we should do, actually. It is the way nature works.
I really like this story.
So I stayed for a little while away from the world. Healing in the cave.
And my energy and faith and determination came back !
Well, one thing I did that helped me was to see an acupuncture doctor. I really felt reenergized afterwards.
And it was a real experience to do this here of course ! – finding the place, explaining why I was coming, the needles and suction pad on my belly, the very energetic matress body massage in the end which I was not expecting… !
Immediately after I felt quite tired but a few hours later I was already feeling reergized ! Thank you, traditional chinese medicine 😉
After that I continued meeting people for coffee/lunch/dinner around the city (mainly in Gangnam), working in cafés, sharing daily life at the guesthouse, discovering Seoul.
Doing research on internet I discovered that the « Seedstars Seoul » event would take place while I was here !
Seedstars is an organization created by a talented young lady called Alisée de Tonnac which aims at impacting people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship. Seedstars organizes a kind of « startup casting » all around the world (in more than 55 countries) to identify and help promising startups develop their potential. They do so through connecting them to stakeholders, providing support, helping them find founding.
It is a small world. I met there several people who were also partners and startuppers from the K-Global Startup Engine program.
And the end of my stay was highlighted by another serendipitous moment.
One of the startuppers from the K-Global Startup Engine, Changwoo, told me about an event that was taking place in Seoul – the Creative Commons (CC) Global Summit.
The CC is an international community of experts, academics, and activists involved to support the development of the Creative Commons, which refers to the world of open content and open knowledge – typically, Wikipedia. They organize a global meeting every 2 years. I looked at their web page and it seemed quite interesting !
In France, there is a great movement promoting the sharing/collaborative economy : OuiShare. I participated to the last big yearly event – the OuiShare Fest (it’s in May and it is really AWESOME) and I know some people of the community. So I got in touch with my OuiShare contacts asking them if they knew about this CC Global Summit. They were actually invited to participate but no one could make the trip from France.
So we agreed that Matthew (yes, still the same Matthew haha 😉 ) and I would represent OuiShare at this event. It was really very interesting and there were people from 80 countries in the world (!), involved in creating the future of open content and knowledge – I will write more about this later.
And this is how I ended my stay here.
Well, actually, not exactly. I could not attend the afternoon conferences/worksphops on Friday because I had my appointment at the hospital for my third and last vaccination against rabies.
It was like the end of the cycle. « La boucle est bouclée », I would say in French.
What I did on my first day here was my first vaccination (timing for rabies 3 steps vaccination is very strict), and I was ending my stay with the last step of it.
I felt familiar with going to the National Medical Center, found my way on my own without getting lost, then went for a matcha tea ice cream at O’Sulloc – 2 minutes away from the hospital. Things were easy. I felt at ease. It seemed that I had my habbits.
24 for days and it is as if I have built the beginning of a life here.
And I go away already.
I felt very moved yesterday.
Feeling sad. Feeling happy. Feeling so lucky of all the great surprises and gifts from life. Feeling so grateful to the people who generously shared with me. Feeling proud of me because in a short time I feel that I have achieved a lot, with authenticity and joy. Feeling humble and fragile because I experienced the hardship of being alone and feeling weak and empty.
Feeling very human. With all the complexity and contrasts. Feeling that I am on a path – I will forever be.
I feel that I know myself better.
Now I really know that I feel excited and blooming in a startup & innovation environment.
Of course, I have to develop my knowledge about it – I am currently reading « Zero to One » by Peter Thiel. Very inspiring book about startup innovation. I thought that one thing I could do later is work within a startup accelerator / incubator on coaching and talent development / HR management issues. There is no rush and this is wonderful not to have the pressure of finding now what I will do.
I know that what makes me wonderfully happy is meeting people and creating a quality relationship with them. Creating with others.
I know that to do that I need to take care of my energy and be first connected to myself.
I know I have to work on my equanimity. I tend to be far too passionate and excited and then I am far too exhausted haha !
I have experienced that as far as « empowering people » is concerned, I really prefer the one-to-one long term approach VS group one-shot facilitation. It is useful and I can do it, but it is less meaningful / fulfilling to me.
I know that I like so much matcha tea that I can become ill – matcha tea ice cream or latte overdose – aïe aïe aïe ! ( I am not green yet, but I have to be careful).
I know that it is very probable that I will never marry a Korean man because I felt that the culture is so immensely different ! 😉 – I will develop what I understood about Korean culture in another article. But to give you an example – first thing : men look at you but will never dare come to speak to you. Complicated, for a start, right ? 😉
Well. 24 days was both such a long and such a short period of time.
And it is already time to go ahead to the next step.
While boarding on my plane – I am finishing writing on the plane – a thought came to my mind.
I was thinking that for the months to come, my itinerant life is packed into a backback, laptop and smartphone.
I felt as if I was a snail or a caravan : carrying my home with me. Then I thought that I did not really have a home, but that I WAS home.
And I thought that wherever I go, it is my emotions, mindset and energy that will determine how I see what is around me and allow me to create happiness and opportunities.
So the most important thing is to take care of me first.
And I conclude with another Plum Village story…
During a Dharma talk (morning knowledge sharing that follows meditation), a young great monk said one day that when he was a teenager, his mother worried for him. Whenever he was going out at night with friends she would say to him :
« Take care ! Remember : when you take care of you, you take care of me. »
I thought it was extremely true and powerful.
Let’s allow us to do so : let’s take care of ourselves to take care of others !