This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, I'll take it one last time on my way out of Korea.
It’s done. I’m officially leaving Korea at the end of August. I told my co-teacher, and it was a much calmer event than I had anticipated considering my co-teacher’s general anxiety and proclivity for histrionics. It still wasn’t any less awkward than I imagined, though. I don’t leave for another three months, but my co-teacher essentially forced me and my other co-teacher to talk to her so that we could get to know each other — almost three months into the job. It was clear to me that the other co-teacher didn’t want to chit-chat all that much since she actually wanted to finish her work. Awkward.
Anyway, if the renewal discussion had come up last week, my life would be completely different. I was pretty set on staying for another year, but then something — I’m not quite sure what — happened over the weekend, and doubt quickly took over. In the end, the fact I wasn’t completely sold on Korea meant I shouldn’t commit to another full year. The worst thing that could happen is I go home, dink around, run out of money and come back. I could fly back here at the drop of a hat. It’s nuts when I really think about it.
It’s very liberating to have this decision finalized, but it’s a little nerve-wracking not knowing what’s coming next. It’s much easier to deal, though, because I have no deadlines or expectations to meet at this point. Except for a couple of bills, I’m free of responsibilities and can fly as far as my money will take me. I could dink around Asia a bit before I head home, where I will definitely bounce around the country. Right now, I’m taking any ideas I can get. I’m nervous, but I think it’s the good kind of nervous.
See you stateside.
The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.
As the end of May approaches, I’m rounding the three-quarter mark of my teaching contract. The end of this go-around is visible on the horizon, and it’s the popular water-cooler — actually more likely patio table — topic of the moment. Are you staying? Are you going? What’s next?
It’s decision time around the city, and Korea continues to impress me with its professionalism. My co-teacher breached the topic of renewing with this gem: “Are you satisfied with your job?” Clearly that’s the only criterion we use to decide whether we should dedicate another year of our lives to this country. In addition, this conversation happened yesterday, and the deadline for my decision is tomorrow. If my math is correct, that gives me two days to choose. Awesome.
Two days for a life-changing decision. That pretty much summarizes life as an English teacher in Korea: as adventurous and challenging as it may be, it all comes and goes very quickly. Nine months ago, I arrived as a wide-eyed American, but it feels like the pages of the calendar have just flown off the wall. The evanescence of this experience, however, goes beyond the time that passes.
This experience is as much about the people as it is the place. Ever since orientation, when I was quarantined for a week with 200 other foreigners, I’ve basically survived with this group of friends. Now with the questions, we all realize the adventure will soon drastically change for everyone. A large portion of this group is headed in different directions, and it’s over, just like that.
We’ve all been through this at least twice before: high school and college. I had essentially the same friends from second grade through graduation — 11 years — and then I had to move on and start over. The cycle repeated itself in college but instead in a five-year period. Now I’m in Korea, where the lifespan of an English teacher — and its consequent friendships — is all too often only one year.
Tomorrow I decide whether this one year in Korea is enough for me. I think the easy decision is to avoid the unknown and re-sign, but the thought of giving one more year to this venture isn’t one that inspires joy in me — especially without a handful of my newest and closest friends. They’re leaving as quickly as they appeared, and I could very well do the same thing.
Filed under change, job, Korea
NPotW now has an international flavor. My most recent travels took me to Taipei for a weekend for an ultimate frisbee tournament. I left Seoul on Friday evening and returned Monday afternoon. I made trips with this kind of quick turnaround at least twice a month in college with my university’s club ultimate team. A whirlwind adventure like this often takes me to new places, but since I’m there for a tournament, I’ll spend most of my time at the playing fields and not see too much of the town. Taipei was no different.
The flight from Incheon International to Taipei Taoyuan International took about two and a half hours. Despite the short flight, the airline still provided a meal and free drinks — reminders that North American carriers suck. After a steak, glass of wine, shot of Courvoisier, and half of “A Complete History of My Sexual Failures,” we landed in Taipei.
It was everything I had expected…which wasn’t much. I had heard Taipei was very similar to Seoul, and the comparisons aren’t unfounded. It’s big, has its own layer of smog, and endless traffic leaves a lot to be desired. Despite being a city with one of the world’s highest population densities, Taipei still manages to have a fair amount of greenery — much more than Seoul. The streets also seemed wider, giving Taipei a noticibly more open feel to it than Seoul.
Like I said, I was there for a tournament, so I didn’t have time to see any of the sights, most notably the Taipei 101, the world’s tallest completed building. Standing twice as high as the next tallest building in the city, Taipei 101 dominates the skyline and can be seen from anywhere in the city. Other than that, not much separated Taipei from any other big Asian city, especially the one in which I’m currently living. In that same vein, though, since I live in a similar city, I’m sure there are plenty of sights to see in this town, but I wouldn’t make a long trip out of it.
As for my business there, our team — the only one of the eight from outside Taiwan — won third place in what was a lackluster tournament. We received bronze medals and a team trophy and then lost them all to a member of the winning team in a series of unfortunate Rock-Paper-Scissors games. I went to Taipei, and all I got were these stupid photos…and a strawberry-flavored Kit Kat bar. [hover over photo for captions; click to enlarge]
Filed under job, NPoTW, travel
I’ve been in Korea for a little more than two months now, and things are still chugging along quite nicely. Tomorrow I start another week of classes, and I’m still excited to do it. Even though each week’s routine is more or less the same, each day is different. That’s the great thing about working with other people, whether it’s my co-teachers or the students; they’ll always come up with something new.
Aside from geography, my life has changed drastically — internally and externally — from one year ago. I dreaded waking up in the mornings and driving to work day after day after day. I wrote this in a separate journal almost a year ago to the day:
In general, though, this past week or so has been completely “blah.” I feel like I’ve really been going through the motions. I know I’ve said it before, but I feel it more this week than I can really remember. Wake up. Change. Get coffee. Go.
Work has been pretty drab. I understand this is a great opportunity for someone who has no prior experience, but it’s nothing like anything I imagined myself doing. I’m having a bit of an identity crisis only 12 weeks (that long?) into this situation. I’m already worried about where I’m going next. I don’t know where or what that could be. So far (I know it’s still early) I haven’t done much that I have felt like is portfolio-worthy, something that shows off my strengths, something that’s more than replacing text and photos.
It only took three months into my first full-time job for me to become jaded and disenchanted, although I’m sure this feeling had manifested itself long before that. Some days, going to work felt more like punishment than privilege. If I felt tired at all, I just had to roll out of bed, inject myself with coffee, and hope a pencil didn’t somehow find its way into my temple.
Here in Korea, I still don’t have the best sleep habits, so there are definitely days I drag myself out of bed and onto the subway for the 45-minute commute, but the difference is that I don’t find myself asking, “Why?” My co-teachers motivate me and the students energize me. It’s a pretty good system we’ve got going here.
I don’t know where this teaching gig fits into the grand scheme of my life, and I definitely don’t see myself teaching in the long run. I might be concerned only with the here and now, but it’s not turning out too badly. After all, that’s what made me quit my job and gallivant to Korea in the first place.
For the better part of the past year, I’ve sat at a desk designing sales literature on an LCD monitor. Despite being my first full-time job out of college, the the first few weeks’ excitement quickly wore off. Springing out of bed to prepare for the day soon became repeatedly hitting “snooze” to keep those few precious minutes of shut-eye. Coming into work ready for another new project soon became sauntering while despising another mind-numbing chore. In the span of only a few months, the bright-eye newbie became yet another jaded employee.
My desk, cluttered with piles of stray paper and empty coffee cups, had the joie de vivre of an abandoned warehouse. Its biggest drawback was its positioning: I could see the single window in our office but not what was happening outside it. Only a co-worker’s remarks would alert me of the blizzard or monsoon occurring on the other side of the building’s wall. From my desk, I had literally no contact with the outside world.
In the past seven months, I’ve gone from conforming to societal expectations (“We’ll grind it out at this job for a year or two for the experience.”) to following my interests and talents (“I would much rather be skiing and designing newspapers.”) to doing things for the sake of tickling my fancy (“Move to another country? Sure, why not?”).
I have less than a week at my job before embarking on a life of travel. In August, I’ll be moving to South Korea to teach English. I’ll relinquish all things familiar for constant unknowns. New obstacles will make the journey from point A to point B trickier, but those challenges intrigue me and can only add to the experience.
In this new stage of my life, I’ll see sights most other people will have only seen in photographs or read in books. I’ll meet people most others will never know existed. I’ll take in sensations most others’ senses can only imagine. The ultimate prize for me, though, will be the mental transformation (if not growth) that brought me here. Even if I never find point B, it’s good to know I am in enough control of myself and my life to leave point A on this adventurous, undefined path
Tomorrow’s the big day: I will be quitting my first full-time job. I have my resignation letter written; I just need to print, sign and seal it. I feel fairly confident that it’ll be an easy conversation. I’ve obviously already moved on professionally and mentally, so that will help assure my stance tomorrow.
Quitting comes with mixed emotions. The most apparent is the feeling of liberation, knowing that I’m in control of my life. There aren’t going to be any fireworks, but I will be loudly cheering on the inside as I set the envelope on my supervisor’s desk. The other feeling is insignificance that comes with the realization that we’re all replaceable. As soon as I quit, they’re going to miss me only until the next graphic designer is hired, and that search starts pretty much immediately. I’m over that, though.
After tomorrow, I will only have two weeks left of work, most of it will be spent wrapping up or preparing projects for the next person. I checked out of this job mentally and emotionally months ago, and only two weeks separates me from fully committing myself to the next step of my life: Korea.
Once I put in my two weeks’ notice, I’m virtually a lame duck. They can’t assign me any more long-term projects, so here are some thoughts on how I might spend the last 10 days at my desk:
- using the label maker to name each part of the computer
- reading blogs on how it feels to quit
- memorizing the Korean national anthem
- adding “was here” to my nameplate — using aforementioned label maker
- hand-slicing unnecessary paper (via X-acto, of course) into confetti I can throw on the way out
- playing “Hallelujah” on repeat for the last hour of the last day
Any other ideas? I’m starting to feel a bit of jittery excitement.