Tag Archives: change

Back but gone

Let’s get straight to the point: I’m not in Korea anymore. I’ve been gone for a week now, but I’m not at home. I’m on a six-week tour of Asia.

I spent the last week in Borneo, splitting time between Kota Kinabalu and Kuching. Borneo is an awesome place, and I wish I could spend more time there. In my week there, I went canopy walking, whitewater rafting, island hopping (with some snorkeling), jungle trekking, waterfall swimming, and amateur caving. That’s just a small portion of the Malaysian part of Borneo. It goes without saying, there’s a lot to do on this island. I didn’t even go into the Brunei or Indonesian states of Borneo. I could probably spend a month there and not be bored.

Kota Kinabalu is a small town. I was able to walk from end to end of the city center in about 20 minutes, but it’s a quaint city and nice to walk around. It’s right on the coast, so there’s a waterfront area that overlooks the South China Sea. It’s a nice place to hang out and read a book. Not a bad life if you ask me.

I spent four days there and then three days in Kuching on the western part of the island. It didn’t seem as lively as Kota Kinabalu, but maybe that was because it’s a little too big to completely explore on foot. There’s also a nice waterfront area, but this time it’s along a river. At night, it’s a lot of small lights, so it makes for a nice stroll.

Now I’m in Singapore. I just arrived in my hostel, so all I’ve seen of this town is the shuttle ride from the airport here. In that half-hour or so, I’ve decided Singapore belongs on the list of cities in which I can see myself living along with Chicago and Tokyo. I had planned on being in Singapore for only three days. There’s a possibility I might not make it to Penang now. We’ll see how that goes.

I’ve made it for a week now traveling by myself. It’s not like I’ve been in the jungle by myself, but I have had a lot of time to think. I have a feeling at the end of this journey, I’ll have a good idea of what I want to do with my life and how to get there. If not, I’ll be close, and I’ll probably figure it out when I’m at home. As of now, though, there’s a long way to go.


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Here we go again

This is the street I take leaving school each day. In three months, Ill take it one last time on my way out of Korea.

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.


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The sun sets over Seoul, as seen from Olympic Park.

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.

Stay tuned.

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Wherever the Winds Take Me

My best decisions tend to be the ones that occur after the least amount of thinking. As scary as it may be, I like following my gut instincts. One day I woke up and decided finding a new job wouldn’t be as fun as moving to a new country. This morning I woke up and decided going to Thailand for 12 days would be more fun than staying in Seoul for that time. And that was that.

It really began when I started planning my February trip this morning. I was debating between Thailand and Malaysia, even considering doing both in the same two-week trip. Then I took the easy way out: I figured I should just go to each on separate trips. I did some cursory research on all the airline ticketing sites and found that Bangkok was clearly within my financial reach. Armed with a new determination (and an ever-so-open bankbook), I headed straight for the travel agencies after school and booked my flight from Incheon to Bangkok.

The travel agents gave me looks ranging from a clearly perplexed “are you crazy?” to a subtly annoyed “you’re not going to get any flights this late.” Third time’s a charm as the third travel agent found a flight whose dates and times fell right into my desired timeframe and whose price tag fit just right, something for which we owe the Thai PAD protesters a big “thank you.”

This is especially nice because this weekend I was extremely lazy and didn’t have a New Place of the Week feature, figuring I’d do a lot of wandering during my 10 days off before my winter camp. Little did I imagine on Sunday that I’d be headed to Thailand later this week.

The itinerary looks something like this: land in Bangkok, wander to Chiang Mai, fly to Phuket, and bus back to Bangkok. That’s about as much as I’ve planned, and that’s probably going to be the extent of it. Ah, the life of a dabbler.


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The Difference of a Year

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.

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You say goodbye, and I say hello

Things are a changin’ as I’ve said my first goodbyes and said my first hellos. The first goodbye is usually the most dramatic, and this was no exception. I said goodbye in the most theatrical fashion to the one thing that has been with me from the very beginning to the very end of my college journey: my five-year-old laptop. Its performance was quickly fading into oblivion, so I recently purchased a MacBook to make the technological aspect of life more tolerable.

After I took out the hard drive — the only salvageable part in the computer — my roommates and I ceremoniously grabbed our golf club, hockey stick and bike pump and marched into our front yard where we proceeded to go Office Space on it. The only thing missing from the carnage was a Geto Boys soundtrack.

The aftermath of a dramatic goodbye to my old laptop

The aftermath of a dramatic goodbye to my old laptop

The next — and first real — goodbyes came this evening at our Ultimate summer league. This week’s games were the finals, which my team won (no big accomplishment this year in a league of four teams), so this would be my last time playing frisbee with all these kids. These were the kids with whom I spent the most time in the past four years, and now I was saying, “Take care of yourself and keep in touch.”

The thing about goodbyes is that they’re always awkward, whether it’s the result of the circumstances or some figment of my overactive imagination. I think I’m always expecting something a little more dramatic, especially with the people closest to me, but what more can you really say other than, “See you later, and good luck with [insert future goals here]”?

The simplest goodbyes are the easiest, but it just means I’m ready to say new hellos — in only three days.

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The dusk of summer

I am officially unemployed and will be so for another two weeks. It feels good, especially after turning off my alarm. It will be much better to be awakened by the sun than the shrill beeps of an alarm clock. I now have two goals in mind: packing and preparing for Korea and enjoying my last days in the United States.

This upcoming week will include more of the latter than the former as my younger brother is visiting. We saw Wicked last night, and this week should be much be more interesting than his visit last year when I had just started my job. Also on the docket for this week are an encore viewing of The Dark Knight, some summer league Ultimate frisbee, and a trip to Chicago.

It’s nice that my brother is able to visit before I leave. I really didn’t want to have to fly home before dashing off to Korea. Other than the obvious logistical complications, the definition of “home” has become rather amorphous over the past couple years — and this journey won’t help clarify the point at all.

For the first two years of college, I refused to acknowledge East Lansing as “home.” I only flew home twice a year, and with each trip, what was supposed to be home felt more and more foreign as new buildings were erected and familiar faces left. I recognized that, to me, “home” had more to do with people than places. I’ve built enough relationships in the past five years here in East Lansing to consider it home — and it feels that way as I’m preparing to move on. I think Holden Caulfield got it right about the way I want to leave one place for another:

What I was really hanging around for, I was trying to feel some kind of a good-bye. I mean I’ve left schools and places I didn’t even know I was leaving them. I hate that. I don’t care if it’s a sad good-by or a bad good-by, but when I leave a place I like to know I’m leaving it. If you don’t, you feel even worse.

As I packed my desk and left work on Friday, I felt content, even missing the routine I hated so much a bit. Now with my attention fully focused on moving to Korea, I can feel the time and summer starting to fade away. I already appreciate things around me here — the buildings, the trees, the people — as possibly the last time I’ll see them as they are in East Lansing, my home for the past few years.

In cleaning up and packing my things, I have a general feeling of homelessness. I’m not quite here or there; I’m just in between places. I’m ready to move to Korea to continue this life adventure, but how soon will I be able to make a home for myself among the unfamiliar faces, language and places? Is a traveler, a drifting nomad with adaptability as his greatest tool, always at home or always homeless?

Eleven days, and we’ll begin to find out.


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Finding a renewed excitement

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

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Looking beyond the desk

Everything on my desk — save for the collages, photos and toys I brought to decorate my desk and keep me human — annoys me. I sit in front of a two-piece, L-shaped desk cluttered with remnants of projects that hardly tickle my fancy: price sheets, printouts, books and various data CDs. Phone lists, sticky notes and holiday notices adorn the edges of my LCD monitor as the Mac Pro tower looms to its right.

I’m ready to flip this desk — and all its contents — over and onto the the floor. I’m ready for something new, something different, something challenging. I’m ready to put in my two weeks’ notice and move.

I know this journey into South Korea isn’t always going to be a cakewalk. I know there are going to be days I’ll be stuck at my school, behind a desk with nothing to do for hours. I’m sure the novelty of saying I live in Korea will wear off within the first couple months, but the fact that will make it all better will be knowing I’m more than 6,000 miles away from everything to which I’ve grown accustomed and pushing myself to do what I want.

The other night, I was talking with my mom about the details of my departure (and all the other nitty-gritty details about which moms tend to worry) when the conversation detoured into the future. I told her I had no real idea what was next on my life’s docket after my year-long contract expires in Korea, but those concerns come after things such as making sure I can find my Korean apartment at the end of each day. In the end, she told me to make sure I wasn’t gone for too long and that I’d come home every now and again — which shouldn’t be a problem based on past experience. I’ll always need some time refresh and collect myself.

In the meantime, I’ll find out in the next year whether dinking around the world really suits me. In the end, it might not, but right now it’s fun to dream, and I’m welcome to change.

Change that comes in 30 days.

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The Future Is Mine

In 37 days, I will literally be in a new world. I’ll be starting a new life — even though it might only last a year — in the bustling city of Seoul. I’ll have an entirely different job teaching English as a foreign language and living in a completely different environment (population density: 44,600/sq mi[1]). While the decision came rather suddenly, the thought process has been lingering for more than a year. The pragmatist in me, especially during my most recent job search, was always rationalizing my next move.

I need to get this work experience. I need to put my skills and my degree to work. I need to have a job.

Running off to another country seemed like something to be saved for later in life after I became established with my graphic design, after I had some money — after I lived life the way the world around me told me to. Traveling for the sake of traveling didn’t really register as a possibility, especially with its capricious nature.

But capricious was what I needed after sitting at a desk doing mind-numbing work for too many months. I knew that while the job prospects could bring the change I needed, I would always want to see more. The reactions all been positive, with a smattering of “That’s so cool. I could never do that.”

My reality doesn’t have to be anyone else’s, and this voyage will fulfill many things on my life checklist. It’s more than escapism from the daily 8-5 grind of my job:

There is another part of escapism that is implied– the temporary nature of the relief that it provides. The unspoken concern is that you will take this flying leap of faith and promptly land on your face. You can’t run away from yourself, as they say. The problem with this type of logic is that it is very poor at predicting the future and even worse as a guiding principle. If everyone took this advice, the human race would be very boring indeed. We’d never take risks, we would never grow, and we’d be exactly where we started, year after year.

I’m growing up. Maybe I’m not growing in the sense of building my resumé, buying a house, saving loads of money, or whatever those supposed societal standards might be, but I’m growing up in the sense that I’m feeling more in control of my life. I’m doing what I want and how I want. That’s how I know I’ll be ok.

Nobody knows how exactly this will help me in the future, but then again, five years ago I never would’ve guessed that my first job out of college would be in graphic design. I might be a graphic designer again in five years, but I might find something else that suits me even better. Either way, I’ll have a story to tell.


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