I Was AWOL. I Was Life.

What a difference a year can make.

That’s what I keep telling myself. One single year can take one’s life and transform it into a completely different creature. So many people take one single year and teach English in Korea and it makes an immense impact on their lives. Even for those who don’t teach English, a year can completely change where you’re at right now.

When I left Korea in early 2016, I was setting out for “the next phase” of my teaching, travelling, and blogging endeavors. God tells us, though, that His plans are not our plans. Usually, life turns out differently than we plan. No person is exempt from this and can attest to best laid plans turning out differently.

As the months in Japan unfolded I very quickly realized that things were heading in a direction I hadn’t planned for. And they never changed course. My experience in Japan was going to be what is was going to be – and it was going to be different than what I dreamed. As I transitioned from a shocking teaching experience to a woulda, coulda, shoulda “business venture” I had every intention of things going positively into that direction.

They didn’t.

In fact, they headed in yet another direction I couldn’t have scripted even in my most creative moments. I eventually reached a point where I felt like I was just banging my head against a wall for fun. I couldn’t, and still can’t, understand what was happening. It was all a bit of a bad dream to be honest, but I knew that all situations change and that this too would change course and circumstances would realign themselves. Right? Read on.

You see, in late 2016 I flew to Busan, South Korea from Hiroshima, Japan to finalize securing my F-4 visa. Something I had been working on for years given the complex situation of my mother (the person upon whom the F-4 visa was based). I stayed with my proxy uncle from a church I attended there. I was a gypsy at this time. It was also during this time that I decided to move forward with the potential “business venture” I mentioned earlier. So, after receiving my F-4 visa, I headed BACK to Hiroshima to begin the venture.

That decision, again, turned out to be something that I never could’ve planned for. I may write about it in the future, but for this post, let’s just say it didn’t go as planned for many reasons. I remember that time well because I was knee deep financially into the idea and I was thinking that all I needed to do was give it some time because that’s usually the case. I knew that if I applied myself and left myself open to learning and growing, that things would change and work out for the best.

They didn’t.

A picture's worth some words...

A picture’s worth some words…

In the midst of the chaos and bewilderment of that infamous business deal was a family situation which arose out of the blue. We all have family situations. Some more stank than others, but we all have them. Mine has some pretty ripe elements to it and it blossomed at that very moment. Timing is everything.

I found myself at one of the most challenging crossroads of my life.

I went from a great situation to “Ddong” in under 4 seconds.

I needed to go home. So, I went home in April 2017. I had to do what each of us has to do at some point in our lives. Step up and take a big, giant bite out of our own crap sandwiches and smile as we savor the flavor.

So I chewed and bit some more until the whole steaming sandwich was gone.

In my particular case, this family situation calling was closure on many levels, so it was a good thing. Closure to one of the most painful aspects of my being. So this is good.

I’m back on the road again. In Korea with my crispy, new F-4 visa. A year and a half after leaving my comfy, perfect EPIK life in Busan. A lot lighter in the pockets as a result of it all. Physically drained and in the worst shape of my ENTIRE life. Grayer. Pissed at a lot of things. But moving forward again.

One thing I’ve learned from the countless (oft annoying) memes on my Facebook wall is that we learn and grow from our circumstances. The bad ones, that is. Not really the good ones because we’re usually too busy being all proud and celebratory during the good times. It’s the bad times that pump the lactic acid into our life muscles and make us grow. I’ve learned a lot since February 2016 about gain and loss, patience, regret, battling negative thoughts, and being grateful. All WHILE it hurts.

I look at my YouTube channel and am reminded of something. Life goes fast. Like smoke in very strong wind. I’m amazed at how long I’ve been AWOL. It bothers me. It depresses me even. I still have PTSD (if you will) over the events that occurred during the last 16-18 months of my life.

I’m thankful though. Yes, I’m thankful that I’ve learned lessons and gained clarity in certain aspects of my life but I’m particularly grateful that I’ve relearned a very important concept about life. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve been through, no matter who our detractors are, the negative forces driven against us, one thing will always be true.

It could be a lot worse.


  1. Avatar Fiona Kab says:

    Dear Tom,
    Above all things, I am grateful knowing the fact that one of my favorite vloggers (YOU, of course!) is doing fine after the stormy phase in your life.
    I do find you battling the war inspiring though, yes, having to go through the storm is not desirable for anyone of us.
    But, Tom, it feels great to hear from you again. I do look forward to more writings and videos from you soon!
    Chin up and FIGHTING! 🙂

    Fio Kab

    • Thank you, Fiona. I guess we can always expect smooth sailing. It’s gotta get bumpy sometimes to appreciate what we have. Thank you for the encouragement and positive comments. I’m looking forward to getting back to things as well.

  2. Avatar Sherrie Sonomura says:

    Hi Tom,
    Glad to see you post again. Sounds like you have good takeaways from your recent experiences. You will be a stronger and more focused person as a result. Good luck on your new chapter, whatever that may be!


    • Thank you, Sherrie. I think you’re right. I feel more focused now and I’m ready for the next chapter of blogging and sharing the experience.

  3. We all go through bits and pieces of life that take us down or put us on a different course. It’s how we deal with it that makes us stronger. You have a very strong will,understanding of others and kindness. Which some people lose when faced with daunting adversity. They become bitter and jaded. Sure you took some hits, but just as in Judo or any martial art, when you take a hit and fall you get back up off the mat and go again. Hope to see a documentary from you down the road, provided that’s where the road leads you. Stay strong man.

    • Hi, Rich. So true. Great analogy about martial arts. Pain is almost always associated with the arts in one way or another, yet we keep at it. Good reminder that I need to endure for the sake of enduring sometimes. It’s good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  4. Avatar Joseph Donovan says:

    Hey Tom,

    I hope pray that you’ll lean on Him during this stormy time.

    Romans 8:28…….

    Blessings to you brother and stay strong.


    • Thank you, Joe. So true that things will always come together in the end. Maybe not as we want or expect, but usually for the best. Sometimes it’s good for us, sometimes we go through trials for the sake of others.

  5. Avatar Keke Gibson says:

    So glad you’re back! Hope all is going well. Congrats on perservering and gaining strength. Can’t wait to see what’s next. Until next time★★★

    • Thank you. Things are slowly moving forward again in my life. I’m also looking forward to seeing what kind of things I’ll video and write about in Seoul.

  6. Hi, Tom.

    I have enjoyed following your adventures the last couple years. I’m thankful for your honesty in struggles and discouragement because it makes you one like us. I’m sorry though for the pain and low valley you’ve been traveling through.

    I also read this post today by Joni E Tada. You might find encouragement for your trek back up the mountain:

    May God use this to make you stronger in Him and able to be a greater vessel for carrying out the dreams He has for you.

    • Kate – thank you very much. I think sharing my story helps me to get back onto the path and make some progress again. I’m sure the trials will be important in some facet of my life in the future. Thanks for the Joni Tada article. I remember watching a movie about her story like 30 years ago!

  7. Hi Tom,

    I’m a huge fan of your videos and I enjoy listening to your outlook on life. I’m sorry to hear about your troubles, but I’m glad to know that you’re getting up on the right foot again. I wish you the best, and remember to stay strong.

  8. Avatar Andrienne says:

    Hi Tom,
    Sorry to hear of the difficulties you’ve faced over the past year, I hope the future is a little brighter for you!

  9. Tom, I am sorry to hear what life has dealt you in this past year and in part of your 2017. I sincerely wish I could be your friend with what I am about to share because it feels reeeeally really weird sharing with you the scriptures that came to my heart after watching your awol video and blog. I don’t even know if it could connect with what you are facing as you read my comment but I hope it will. Ephesians 4:4-7 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
    6 one God and Father of all,
    who is over all, in all, and living through all.
    7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ.

    Regardless of life, you have put your self in the safety of Christ Jesus but along with that there is a gift that only you can share in the way God is calling you to share. My heart hurts for you but I believe that greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.

    • Thank you for the encouraging words. The past year and a half was definitely a time of low lows for me and I saw some hopeless road during that time. It gave me an opportunity to grow closer to God and realize that nothing is guaranteed in life. I knew I needed to just move into a new direction (or an new old direction coming back to Korea) so that’s where I am at now. When times get better I must always remember that year and a half.

  10. Hi Tom
    Glad you’re back. I enjoy reading your adventures and admire your faith. Our Maker calls our attention in different ways to remind us that we can always and should only depend on Him no matter what phase in our lives. We can only do what we can and the rest is up to Him.

    Stay strong and hold on to the faith.

    Good things are coming your way.
    God bless always.

    • Thank you, Arlene. I’ll tell you, there were times during the past year or so where all I had in my mind to hang on to was my faith and prayer.

  11. Dear Tom,

    I have been wondering where you were since I didn’t see any update from your youtube channel. But here you are now. I didn’t know what exactly happened to you (perhaps you will share it one day or perhaps better not to), but when things didn’t go as planned for me, I always believe that there is a good reason why it must turn out that way. It may not be apparent now, but it will someday. So be patient and cherish what you have now, at least the fact that you are breathing and you can still work on your dream. I take it that you are a man of faith. when things get tough, all you have is only faith, so use it and never forget about it. In the mean time, if you reach out, I am sure there is always people to help you in any way s/he can.


    • It was a long haul, that’s for sure. You’re very right about it all. Right now I can’t see the big picture, and I still find that I get upset about the events that took place. As time goes on it’ll be clearer to me, and in the meantime, I’m in a better place and things seem to be settling in nicely. Thank you for reaching out.

  12. Avatar Jacqueline says:

    Hi Tom,
    Thanks for your sharing. It is true that most times God’s plans are so different than ours. I certainly have had my fair share of that. Not only that, have had down times as well. And growing and dealing with stuff does hurt a lot.
    I’m reminded of the fact that life will always be filled with hills and valleys -but no matter what, when we have God with us – we can have the assurance that things will work out fine. Just baby steps at a time.
    There’s a song lyric that goes like this – “If you catch hell, don’t hold it. If you’re going through hell, don’t stop.” (by Ron Kenoly – “Go Ahead”) Got to keep walking until we get out of that space.
    May you be strengthen by His love & grace and may you find and fulfill His assignments for your life. I believe in your past vlogs and postings – you have been an inspiration and encouragement to a lot of people. More is yet to come.

    Much blessings to you.

    • Thank you for this. In the midst of the worst moments, that’s all I could just keep telling myself. Just one step at a time and eventually the rainy season will pass. In my brain I know it’s true, but it’s very difficult to believe it when you’re going through it. I’m still stabilizing now, but I think things are getting better one day at a time.

  13. I used to enjoy watching your videos about life in Korea but haven’t interacted with you previously.

    This time I felt moved to let you know how much I admire you for your honesty and strength of character to keep trying and finding a way forward following some set backs and a generally hard time.

    You are a great communicator! And I wish you all the very best with your new endeavours and future plans.

    • I really appreciate that. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll keep on with the blog and videos. It’s when I hear about people who have found useful something I wrote or put on video. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for everything as I live abroad. Only time will tell.

  14. Avatar Angel Lynch says:

    Hey Tom!
    Great to see you again. Thanks for sharing your strength, in spite of what sounds like of a bit of a rough time lately. Happy to see you healthy and well. I’m really looking forward to hearing about your new life in Seoul and what roads it takes you on! 화이팅!!! Best wishes for much happiness!

    • Thank you, Angel. I have my moments just like anyone else. This past one was a true test of will and I think I’ll take something away from it all when it’s behind me. I appreciate your words and am also looking forward to seeing what the future holds. I honestly have no idea at this moment.

  15. Your strength in your faith to overcome circumstances will be rewarded. We are not exempt from adversity but have Him to lean on while going through trials. Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove the thorn in his side, but his answer was, “My grace is sufficient for thee…” likewise with Job, “yea though he slay me yet will I serve Him…” We see through the glass dimly now and don’t understand why these things happen in our life. Persever in your faith and then having done all, stand.

    I eagerly await the next level in your journey, whatever that may be.


    • Two awesome examples. I am always reminded of the story of Job during my own personal trials. Everything was an adversity, including his own wife. But he persevered and God rewarded him in the end. It comes in different ways for everyone, but we are always rewarded for faithfulness and perseverance.

  16. Avatar Sema Taşkın says:

    Hi Tom,
    Unfortunately life has ups and downs for all of us but we may learn from our experiences and as Rumi says: ” Everything in the universe is within you. Ask all from yourself. Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth”

    • Thanks so much. Yes, life is just a series of ups and downs. I was in a long low point, but things are now looking up again and I’m excited about this. Thanks so much for commenting and being part of my journey.

  17. Stay Strong. This past year has been difficult as well, but, I think, you’ll see how much of a stronger person you are afterwards.

  18. Great to see your back on track in China. I was in South Korea during the ‘Golden Days’. I left and eventually went back to sort out some difficult situation(s) back ‘home’. It stinks, but, hopefully, I will get through it soon.

    • You will get through it. Good or bad, all situations pass. Before you know it you’ll be in a great situation looking back at this time with a better understanding of why you went through it in the first place. Good luck!

  19. Thanks again, Franco.


  1. […] Some of his videos have also tackled his setbacks. And because he comes across as a good guy (of course, as much as his videos and the way he interacts in comments would indicate), you feel for him. I also appreciate how he deals with these struggles. Maybe it’s also because he’s a Christian and isn’t ashamed to talk about his faith. Maybe it’s also because of his changing hairstyle and goatee. Maybe because he’s 6’3? He has a unique charm about him, and people notice. Just read the comments on his videos (except that one user who spams his videos with indecent proposals). […]

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