Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Been a while.

I've been really shit at keeping up with this. I keep meaning to write, I always want to but then when I sit down to do it, somehow I just cant. It's not that there isn't anything to say, there's plenty. But working with young kids makes me a totally different kind of exhausted than working in a bar ever did. Busting my ass schlepping tables hurt my knees, my back, my arms, wrists, everything, but I still felt like I could string together a coherent thought at the end of evening the longest shift with my girlfriends over a drink after work. Children are mentally exhausting. Teaching 700 children is especially mentally exhausting. When I come home after a day of singing and dancing to "Old MacDonald", or playing duck duck goose and jump roping,  I don't want to think about much of anything.

Don't take that as a complaint. I absolutely love my job, but there's my excuse for being super awful at keeping up with this. Anyway, you can read a million other ex pat blogs. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. Har har. I'll try to get better. I probably wont. But really, you can just read other ones if all else fails.

Anyway. The 15th marked four months that I've lived here. That's insane. I can't believe how quickly that time has gone by. And I can't believe how different I feel now than when I first got off the plane. First, I feel physically different. I feel a weird mix of super healthy or really sick. It all depends really...when I first got here I had a really bad cold. A friend who had already lived here for a year told me in orientation about "The Korean Cold" but I thought it was bullshit until I got settled in and every single person including myself had it. Something about changing environments and what not. I rode out an awful cough for about three weeks. And then I got the noro-virus at the beginning of May, causes of which are still unknown. However, I assume that following the time line of when I got sick that it has something to do with the insane weekend in Ulsan I had with Haylie and Justin, and may or may not have come from the bondeggi (silkworm larva. I'm in Korea, I'm gonna eat bugs) or the excessive consumption of communal soju laden beverages being passed around at the Whale Festival. We'll never know. Aside from being ill, I generally feel healthier because I stopped eating most western food. So overall I just feel better because the food here tends to not be full of shit. I almost never eat bread or dairy. Which I thought was going to be hard to do but turns out it isn't in a country where it's not readily available all the time. I haven't had a bagel in four months, which I've been dying for, but everyone says they're shitty here anyway so I'm just going to wait until I go home. Weird, the food you miss. My dad's steak tips would be killer too.

I guess I also feel different because I think moving abroad changes you a bit for sure. I was actually thinking the other day about how it was the hardest but best decision I ever made. The week I left I was a total disaster because I wasn't sure if I could do this and I was pretty terrified, but I'm incredibly happy here, more so than I have been in years.
It took me a while to start to get to know the people in the ex pat community in my city at first, but I also realized that I actually really enjoy having a lot of personal space. It's nice to not feel obligated to go out and socialize every night of the week, but that I can if I want to. I also think living alone in general changes you. I always thought of myself as pretty independent before but definitely do more so now. If something breaks I fix it, and I murder all my own spiders and other insects now (which is huge for me). I don't know if I could live with anyone ever again after this, not just because I actually really like living alone, but doing so does tend to make you a little weird and slightly insane. Totally legitimate reference for such info here. Also, I've learned a lot about myself in the past few months which I won't pour on and on about because:
1. I don't want to.
2. I'm really bad at blogging.
3. You don't want to hear about it anyway, which is conveinant since I don't want to tell you in the first place.

Moving on. I can't believe I get paid to do the things that I do. Mental exhaustion aside, I have a job where my Peter Pan Syndrome can thrive. I get to do arts and crafts, and sing and dance, and play games all day. I love my kids. Sometimes they make me insane but overall they're hilarious and brilliant and make me laugh every day. Then I get to travel in my spare time. I get to spend ten days in Bali this August which is unreal and then a month later I get to go to Tokyo for five. I play the ukelele now (for Becca when she reads this: "Vacation Shay" in full effect), which is also weird. If you had told me a year and a half ago this is where I'd be right now I would have called you crazy.

Anyeong-higyeseyo, al vida zein and what not.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An entry I meant to post almost a month ago.

     Performing day-to-day activities in a country where you don’t speak the language is interesting. The other night I went to get myself some dinner and discovered a place that said “BBQ! Chicken”. English! I figured I could probably function in there to order something successfully. Changwon hasn’t been super English friendly. Which is fine, this gives me even more of an excuse to improve my Korean. When I entered the store I was handed a menu that was all in Korean. I tried to pick something from the pictures, but everything looked the same and I was clearly having trouble. The cashier said something to me in Korean and I looked up and smiled, shook my head and said “Je neon mi gook sa ram im ni da” which means “I am an American” and I have been using this phrase as an equivalent to “I don’t speak Korean.” and it has seemed to work out okay so far. He smiled back and pointed to the menu on the wall which had everything listed in English as well. Hooray! I looked under “Boneless” and attempted to order something called “Boneless chicken cracker”. “Boneless chicken cracker juseyo”. Which means “Please give me boneless chicken cracker.” I got a blank stare back and realized very quickly that while things were listed in English, the workers in this store probably didn’t encounter English speakers very often, if at all.  I then suddenly realized that there was a lot of nonsensical English on the walls as well like “Fresh Fruitess!” next to pictures of chicken and “It taste is good!” Okay. Shit. So I just kept smiling, and a lady from the back came out and yelled at the guy I was speaking to and sort of slapping him, I caught something along to the lines of “waygook” and “migook” which is “foreigner” and “American” and I got the feeling that she was giving him shit for not knowing how to communicate with me better. I started to feel kind of bad. It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t know what I was saying and she didn’t understand me either. She pulled out a ruler and started pointing at each item on the menu with it and I said no in Korean until I said yes in Korean at Boneless Chicken Cracker. She started clapping. Success. Boneless chicken cracker turns out to be some kind of silly shaped chicken nuggets. It comes with what I think is pickled radish on the side and some sauce that is a sort of hybrid of ketchup, sweet and sour, barbeque and hot sauce. Interesting.

I also got into a fight with my Korean washing machine last week that I lost. I thought that I did what my co-teacher showed me to the day I moved in but I must not have. I’m not sure where the “spin dry” button is but I couldnt get my clothes to rinse all the way. When I opened the machine, there was still soap everywhere. I tried again, but to no avail. So I had been rinsing the extra detergent out in the sink and then wringing out as much water as I could. Also, Korea doesn’t really do dryers so I have to dry out all my clothes on a metal drying rack. It took all my clothes about three days to dry because everything was still soaked no matter how much I wrung them out by hand. My co teacher has since corrected my error, I think.  I hope. We’ll see, I haven’t dared to try yet.

On Saturday a friend who’s been living in Changwon for a few months showed me around. We went over to this lake and while we were walking through the park around it, a Korean woman came over and started talking to us. From the body language, I thought that she wanted us to take a picture of her with her young daughter in front of the lake. So I said “Ok.” Instead of handing me her phone, she picks up her daughter, hands her to me and then positions my friend and I with her in front of the lake and takes a picture of us.  Then shuffles us over somewhere else and takes a picture of us there and keeps saying “Beautiful! Beautiful!” It was probably the weirdest thing that has ever happened in my life.  I hope I end up in some random Korean family photo album. Anyways, we went to the area of Changwon where all the foreigners hang out by the International hotel. I’m glad I know where to go socialize now, met a bunch of people.
            I haven’t really done too much teaching yet. It’s mostly been desk warming and showing a powerpoint presentation about myself. The school is still sorting out it’s scheduling. I’m not sure what all the paperwork is for either but all my co-teachers apparently have tons of it to do at any given time. The kids pretty much just smile and giggle at me, the little ones try to touch my hair. Some of the kids are bold enough to muster a wave and say hello and then run away laughing. Hopefully I can figure out this teaching thing soon enough. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

I'm alive!

I haven’t had much of a chance to write anything, and when I’ve had free time I’ve either been socializing or sleeping. My life has been a whirlwind since I landed in Korea on the 16th.  I’ve now carted 100 lbs of luggage through three different cities in three completely different parts of the country. I finally got to my school and my apartment yesterday afternoon and am so glad to no longer be living out of a suitcase and finally have a place to call “home”.

I spent my first few days here in Seoul with some of the self proclaimed EPIK ninjas.  Fantastic time with a wild group of people, they remind me quite a bit of my group of friends from Boston in some ways, and that’s a very good, comforting thing when you move to the other side of the planet. I suppose we gravitate towards people that we already know we will get along with.  I really loved Seoul, it reminded me of New York, but cleaner. I saw a lot of places that the locals go to, and we went to an awesome bar in Hongdae called Suzy Q’s. It’s a little hole in the wall owned by a husband and wife, he’s been collecting records since he was 17. The guy must be in his 70’s now and if you request a song he has it. He plays all the records on his original equipment and his collection is worth over three million dollars.  Out of all the watering holes we went to, that was my favorite for sure.
            I did some shopping as well in Myeongdong which is where a lot of Japanese tourists go when visiting Seoul. Holy land of free samples. They have these girls standing outside all the cosmetic stores that give you free samples and if you accept then they drag you into the store. I ended up buying  some BB cream which makes you look like an airbrushed movie star, so that was a good buy. I did however have to look around for one that doesn’t have a bleaching agent. Most Korean cosmetics have whiteners for your skin, and since I am already pretty fair I don’t need to worry about looking like Michael Jackson so I’ll have to be careful.

I spent the last week at Jeonju in orientation. It was like college on steroids. We had classes from 9 AM until 8:30 at night and we had a midnight curfew. It was exhausting and wonderful all at the same time. I met a lot of new people from all over the planet and I’m sure we gave the only bar in town a lot of business. I had three Korean classes and feel confident enough to go and order food in a restaurant or ask where the bathroom is. I’ve discovered that smiling, bowing and saying thank you go a long way here when I don’t know what I’m doing or saying.

Yesterday, myself and the seven other people going to my province played a serious game of luggage tetris on our mini bus and then took the 3 hour trip from Jeonju to Changwon. We all said we felt like orphans being adopted and practiced saying “Hello!” “Nice to meet you!” “I look forward to working with you!” in Korean the whole way there. I tried some Squid jerky during our bathroom pit stop. I didn’t like it. I’ve been playing this game since I got here where I buy foods that I don’t recognize and then try them.  It has worked out for me so far. I didn’t buy the squid jerky though so it doesn’t count.

When we got to Changwon we went up into this big conference room where we met our co-teachers. I seriously hit the lottery with my situation. Once I knew I was going to Gyeongnam Province I hoped that I would be teaching elementary school in Changwon. I am. Right in the middle of it. My apartment is only a 10 or 15 minute walk from school and it’s in a nice and safe area. My co-teachers are very nice and so is my principal who I met yesterday. He doesn’t speak any English so my main co-teacher translated for me. He is very smiley and told me that he likes me face which I guess in Korea is a very good compliment and means that he has a good first impression of me. I’m glad for that.
My main co-teacher is essentially supposed to act as my babysitter if I need anything. And honestly thank God for that because I don’t know where the hell I am or what I’m doing. And because of the cultural difference in Korea, they are very concerned about me living alone. People tend to live with their families here until they get married, no matter how old they may be when that happens. My co-teachers seem especially worried about whether or not I can fend for myself because I don’t have a phone or internet in my apartment yet, which by the way is adorable. It is so much more than I could have hoped for. I have a kitchen, a big bedroom with a queen sized bed and a little living room. I also have my very own porch! A married British couple lived there before me and the woman taught at my school so I think that’s why I have so much space. My school also ordered me a couch and a new TV set. The place is very clean, and I am very lucky.
My co-teachers took me to open a bank account and apply for my Alien Registration card last night, and then to the cafĂ© that I am in right now. It’s a tiny little place owned by a sweet girl who doesn’t speak any English but lets me use the wifi and gives me free homemade chocolates. Right now I am drinking some kind of sparkly grapefruit beverage that I ordered solely based on the color. The game of mystery foods and beverages continues.
I start school on Monday, but was told that since my students are likely to be very curious about me, I probably wont do any actual teaching until Tuesday or Wednesday. I think I will make an about me PowerPoint this weekend to show them.  I found out that most of my students are wealthier, some of them already speak English well because they have lived abroad for their parents jobs, but that I may be the first foreigner some of the others have interacted with. So my lesson planning will be interesting. Maybe they won't eat me alive. Here’s hoping. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Why am I doing this?

Aside from people asking me how I've been dealing with the emotional process of moving to the other side of the planet, the most common question I get is: "Why?". It's usually posed as a general question, not, "Why South Korea?" not,"Why do you want to teach ESL?" just "Why?"

Why the hell not? No really, though. Essentially, I found myself in quite a rut back at the beginning of May of last year. I graduated college two years prior and started to get a really bad case of the woe is me's. I had a Massachusetts teachers license but no one really seemed to think that qualified me to do anything in a classroom and get paid for it. I was basically told that I had to student teach, which would be nearly impossible to do because I was no longer in school and also that I could substitute but that didn't seem like a viable option either. While I loved the people I worked with and made great money, I also didn't want to schlep tables forever. The whole thing just looked like one big mess of something I didn't want to deal with. Cue the angsty scene of me walking around with my head down, scuffing my feet in the dirt. Even if I DID get a permanent subbing job (some teacher, somewhere--get pregnant, PLEASE!) and then eventually became a permanent staff member, I was still going to have to wait tables in order to make ends meet to pay my loans and that also meant something else: I was never going to move back out of my parents house. Please understand, I love my parents very dearly. I love them to bits. But as I'm sure other post-grad blues havers are aware, your pride takes a little bit of a hit when you show back up on their doorstep with your tail between your legs because you don't have any money and can't both pay rent and feed yourself anymore. It happens to the best of us. But I started getting really disenchanted with everything, started wishing I had never gone to college in the first place, wishing I had been naturally good at math and science and majored in something else instead of English and Sociology. If you happened to graduate from college in this economy, I'm sure you know the drill. 

The only real, honest regret I had from college was never studying abroad. I had the opportunity to but didn't for all the wrong reasons. It was expensive! I wanted to party with my friends every night! I had an apartment that I was already paying for! I was TWENTY ONE, DAMNIT! Now I'm twenty five, which somehow feels a hell of a lot older and my God do I feel wiser, and I should have fucking gone. I started finding myself really jealous of the friends I had who just had the balls to pick themselves up and move wherever for however long. I knew two people who had gone to teach in Korea one of which I have known since I was born and until last spring I also pretty much had wondered "Why?", about her decision. In May I filled out an initial application for an EPIK recruiter and then kind of figured "we'll see what happens". He e-mailed me back and told me that I was too early for the February intake but that he'd e-mail me back In August with the application if I was still interested then. Around the same time I found out that a friend who bartended at a bar close to mine was actually going to teach there in August. Initially I felt jealous and then thought, "Wait a second, you already looked into this. Nothing is moving along here, do this. You can do this. You SHOULD do this." And everything about the opportunity looked amazing. I was going to make decent money that would go a lot further, have benefits, paid vacation, an apartment that was picked out for me and paid for, and an opportunity to learn a new language. I started researching everything I could about Korea and figured that if I was going to do this, what better time than now? I have nothing holding me back here and I am still young, but I surely will not be getting any younger and I know that if I let this slip through my fingers that I will wake up one day when I'm forty and really resent myself for it. Angsty is only cute for so long, amiright? 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

First things first.

As the date of moving to Korea suddenly creeps up on me, people have started asking me if I’m excited or scared. Generally, I just pause for a second before responding with, “I have a lot of feelings.” It’s the best response I have right now, the easiest way to put it all into words without somehow simultaneously bursting into tears and psychotic laughter.

I’m not really good about a lot of emotions. They make me downright uncomfortable and there are a slim few in my life whom I choose to share lots of my feelings with in that nitty-gritty, gory type detail.  These tend to be people that have infiltrated my life in such a way that they seem to be fastened in now and well, they’ve got all of me and that’s that.

When my friend Leah moved to Montana a while back I couldn’t participate in the group hugging and crying at her going away party. It was stupid and awful and I wanted nothing to do with it. I remember standing in the corner, sipping a beer and looking at everyone being vulnerable and normal and human and going, “This is dumb. I hate this.” Instead, my true emotions about how I felt about my friend leaving Boston came out the next day when a few of us were in her car going to get frozen yogurt. I burst into tears in the middle of rapping a manic rendition of Juvenile’s “Back that Ass Up”. Maybe I’ll work this sort of stuff out in therapy but probably not. I blame being an only child, that works for a lot of other faults I have. So now that I have two weeks left before I leave and it still hasn’t exactly hit me yet that I’m going, I think it’s safe to assume I’m going to have my meltdown at some inopportune time. Maybe it will be at the airport when my parents are dropping me off, maybe it will be when I’m having my last taste of real pizza and beer. Who knows? 

This same girl would not have done this a few years ago, but here I go and I suppose documenting my weirdness in a new environment will have to do as some sort of security blanket.