Moving to Bellingham & Whatcom Falls Park

An old stone bridge surrounded by green trees in Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington

We’re almost at my one year anniversary of living in Bellingham. August was the month that I moved here last year and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It was such a big move, but I feel like I can’t wrap my head around it. I think I felt that way about moving back to the United States from South Korea as well. It was always such an ongoing adventure that my brain never seemed to catch up with life events. This is where I think that meditating daily would come in handy. To have that time where I am not busy or working or distracting myself with entertainment would be helpful to let everything sink in and to bring myself to this moment. Ten years from now I don’t want to only remember a blur of green and nothing specific. I want to remember how it felt to really be here–to be present in this time and this place.

I wrote about my life story from college to now here. I didn’t write in as much detail about my job search last year or the move. It really all started in December of 2017 when I went to my parents’ wedding in Lincoln City, Oregon. Brian and I were in love with the green, the rain, and the mist as we drove from Portland. We chose Denver because it was between his hometown and mine, but we were really both always pulled to the Pacific Northwest. I grew up here and Brian visited in college. He also found a love of hiking while living in South Korea and wanted to keep that up once he moved home. There aren’t quite as many mountain hiking opportunities in Illinois as in the PNW. Are there any mountains there? I actually have no idea. I still consider walking long distances for enjoyment to be hiking whether there’s an incline or not, but we both wanted mountains. That’s actually one reason we chose Denver. We knew Colorado had some great mountains and Denver would be a good jumping off point. What we didn’t realize was that there would only be a few good hikes within an hour’s drive and that even after driving for 3 hours, we barely found the kind of wilderness we were looking for. Colorado is a beautiful place, it just wasn’t the place for us.

A waterfall and a green pool of water in a lush green forest in Bellingham, Washington
A creek running through a lush green forest in Bellingham, Washington

After my parents’ wedding, we could not stop thinking and talking about moving to the Pacific Northwest someday. We decided that if we wanted to do it so badly, we should just do it. We also thought that Maine would be a good choice since Brian’s brother and his family live there. They also have mountains and beautiful wilderness. I started applying for jobs in both Maine and in Washington State. I applied to all sorts of jobs. There were a few that I was really sad about not getting in Maine. After all of this talk of being drawn to the Pacific Northwest and both of us wanting to be there eventually, I had started to get attached to the idea of moving to Maine. For me, the PNW would always be there and it would always be home. Going to Maine would be a new adventure, so I started leaning more towards those jobs.

I watched Maine travel videos obsessively on YouTube and starting researching the different areas where I was looking. Part of my research was searching for locations and hashtags on Instagram. I imagined myself there and I imagined myself doing those jobs. One of the jobs was for some sort of educational position at an art museum. When I first moved back to the US, I thought I would get back into teaching. I also wanted to stay involved with art. This job would have been the perfect combination of the two. I looked up lesson plans on other art museum’s websites and started planning for the interview that never came.

I would still absolutely love to do something like that someday, but I realized I didn’t have much tangible experience. I vowed that wherever I went I would start getting more involved in the local art scene to learn about art and to be immersed in that world. That way if something like that comes up again, I will be ready for it. But I also just cannot stay away from art completely–even if I’m really busy, distracted, or focused on other things. Art has the potential to change communities and individuals. It can bring us together and teach us new things. It can help us to grow and to process both the good and the bad. In my world, art is always going to be important whether I got the job or not.

A man in a kilt standing in the middle of Whatcom Creek
Feet in Chaco sandals standing in a creek partially covered with water

There were other jobs that I let myself get excited about in Maine. I looked at pictures of the little towns where we would live and imagined what our lives would be like there. Meanwhile, I kept applying for jobs in Washington thinking that, for whatever reason, I was just more likely to get a job in Maine. I didn’t think about the possible 6 months of winter in Maine (I’m not sure if that is how long it really lasts there, but coming from Denver or Washington, I think it would feel like that to me) or how we would deal with the snow. In Denver, we were eating outside on a patio in February. People think there is a lot of snow in Denver, but there’s really not. We also get hardly any in Bellingham.

I kept applying for jobs in Washington. I had a Skype interview. I didn’t get the job, but they let me know I was one of the top candidates and asked me to keep in touch for opportunities that might come up the next year. I finally did get an in-person interview with a different organization in Olympia. I knew that I would have a better chance if I flew in for the interview and so I did. I made a little vacation out of it and drove up to Bellingham in my rented car to visit my sister, Ashlee. It was really good to see her and to visit the city where she had been living for the past 12 years. I met her friends and had a lot of fun. I thought about how wonderful Bellingham was and wistfully said that I wished I could get a job here.

A creek and stones at Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington
The still water of a creek surrounded by lush green trees in the Pacific Northwest

I went back home and didn’t get the job in Olympia. They also told me I was one of their top candidates. This was nice to hear, but it wasn’t a job offer. I decided that I should probably just take a break from the six-month casual job hunt and focus on living in Denver. However, one of my co-workers and friends who is from Oregon was also on the job hunt and we had been talking about it at work. She was applying for a job in a small town near Bellingham. I was convincing her about what a great area this is. And then she found a job for me or we both found it and she encouraged me to apply. I applied and got an interview. I decided to try flying out one last time and then I would really have to take a break because I couldn’t quite afford the two flights in the first place, but I had to try.

The interview went well and I had another fun vacation in Bellingham. It was a lovely trip and I went away feeling good but not getting my hopes up. The next week I had a second interview on Skype. A few days later I got the call and then the planning set in.

It all came together very quickly after that. It was a blur of trying to finish up work and leave good notes and records for whoever would be taking over my job. It was a blur of packing and renting cars and booking dog-friendly hotels. I had to cancel our vacation to Maine–which we had trip insurance for and didn’t end up getting our money back. We made plans and mapped routes and soon it was time to pick up the minivan. I rarely drove in Denver and now I found that I was about to drive halfway across the country with only my dog by my side. We got everything ready in the end and one morning in August last year I drove off with Brian waving goodbye and Kiki looking around, confused about why he wasn’t with us. I stopped twice to stay at hotels and on the third morning I arrived at a gas station just as it was light enough to see the tall evergreen trees through a light, misty rain. That was the moment that I knew I was home and a few hours later I was in Bellingham.

We have been loving life here in Bellingham. It is always difficult to make a big move and settle in to a new place, but we seem to be settling nicely here. There are several hikes within the city itself and we are surrounded by amazing places to escape into nature whenever we want. After all of the job hunting and thinking about living in Maine or Washington, we ended up in the right place for us–whether we stay forever or for ten years.