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Training Day April 28, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 6:25 am

My test anxiety is pretty amazing. If you think that you get nervous during a test, you should watch me dry heave my way through multiple choice. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprise if I blacked out while filling out a blue book.

This whole first week is, in all likelihood, not as bad as I’m making it out to be. In fact, I am probably making it much harder than it needs to be. I have a tendency to lose the forest for the trees and they sure are introducing me to a lot of trees.

I know now what two classes I’ll be teaching. This week I am learning these two classes well enough that when I go into work on Monday the kids will be under the impression that I know what I’m doing. Ha! Poor fools.

There is a lot of information and a lot of uncertainty. The company has a we’ll tell you when you need to know policy on information. As I mentioned before, I do not do well with anticipation. I really don’t do well with anticipation while being tested on 8th grade grammar.

The good news is, I’m in South Korea! It is far better than anything I could have psyched myself up for at home. So while I am freaking out, I can go to my favorite cafe and get a bowl of noodles and chill out.

The thing of it is, not everyone passes training. If you don’t pass, you go home and pay for your plane ticket. It’s not ideal. But, truth be known, I’ll pass. I’ll be fine. They are looking for enthusiasm and energy which I have in spades. You want bubbly? Oh I’ll give you bubbly. I can teach your grandma to be bubbly.

I just have to get through three more days of testing and studying and pressure and not knowing where I’m going on Friday night. Three days ain’t so bad. I’ll just enjoy the delicious food and the sweet hotel room with the heated floors.

I had heard tell that this first week is rough. It’s not as bad as the horror stories on-line make it out to be. I just need to calm down and breath consciously and take it all one step at a time.

If I could stop being such a big baby who needs to breath into a paper bag everytime she hears the phrase “pencils down” this might just be fun.


Sidewalks are a sometimes snack April 26, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 11:10 pm

We in the United States have elected leaders who set traffic laws that we all agree to follow or suffer a consequence. Koreans have done no such thing. Is this road one way or two? Well which way does the driver need to go? Are there sidewalks? Sure, but you can drive your moped or occasionally park your car on them when they are there at all. In fact, there are rails in some places to protect pedestrians from rogue automobiles.

Yesterday felt like my first day off in weeks, if not months. Up at a reasonable hour, Doug and I made ever-increasing circles around the hotel for most of the day. Not wanting to venture too far, and not able to read street signs, we stuck close to the hotel. With street map, phrase book and camera in hand we looked unabashedly like the tourists the we were.

After walking miles up and down the blocks surrounding the hotel, we found a little cafe just a few doors down from the hotel. We had noodles and dumplings. Our waiter was patient and friendly and gave us a free drink. The food here is great and cheap! There is no tipping which is counter intuitive especially since the service is so good.

Started to feel sleepy from the miles of walking and the days of travel so I would say I took a nap. Really, I passed out for a few hours. Upon waking, I checked the internets. Some of the people from training were meeting for dinner and studying, what could go wrong?

Our companion who has lived in Korea for 2 1/2 years showed us around. We ventured further from the hotel, but still walking distance. Through a small underground market and down a few blocks and we were ready to eat. We had our first meal that required grilling at the table. They bring you a plate of raw meat and bunches of side dishes and off you go. It was life changing good. I won’t have time to miss beef brisket with BBQ this good. We had our first experience with soju which lead to my first experience in a public bathroom that was for “a woman.”

After dinner we went to Oktoberfest, which had, wait for it… all you can drink beer which cost… wait for it… $12! This wasn’t PBR for a dollar night. This was good beer. I was peeing like a pregnant lady.

Being the wet blanket that I am, I called the night to a close. Being married to a total rock star means that when you are sleepy and in a foreign country with a group that wants to keep drinking when you want to get home at a reasonable hour, he talks them into walking you to the hotel. The rest of the group partied into the wee hours, so I hear tell.

Today was our first day of training. They went easy on us poor jet lagged kids. After handing out the binders and going through a quick orientation we were all shuttled off to Seoul Medical Center for our exams. I’ve never felt more like a prize goat. Arm here. Stand here. Take off your bra. Pee in this. These ladies were not messing around.

Our group gathered and followed the most able person back to the hotel, in the rain, with no umbrella. A troop of drenched foreigners plowing down the road was quite the sight. I got the Korean equivalent of a “How you doin’?” on the subway. That’s right I took the subway! We made it back, changed into after work clothes and headed out for sit on the floor, take off your shoes dinner.

I cannot over state how great it is here.


And now for something completely different April 24, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 9:30 pm

24 hours is a long time to spend between airports and planes. By the time my head hit the pillow at my hotel in Seoul last night (at what would have been 11am back home) I had no problem falling asleep. Now I’m awake and typing at 9:30am, ready to start my first day in Seoul jet lag free.

As I suspected, air travel, even to the other side of the globe, is far less stressful than packing up your life and saying goodbye to everyone you’ll miss. Simply follow the meticulously clear directions at hand and then sleep and read. No lost baggage, no stolen money, not even a crick in my neck thanks to my freshly bought neck pillow.

I wish I had silly misadventures to make you laugh, but unfortunately everything went swimmingly. My sincerest apologies. I did see a lady feeding an Egg McMuffin to an infant. It made for a fond farewell to American culture.

My last view of America was watching San Fransisco give way to a forceful cloud cover. Now I am here. It would be silly to miss where I am for where I am not, so I won’t. I’ll be spending my day trying to find my footing in a place where everything is just a little different. It’s a little bit like learning to walk on Nerf.

I now have the city before me. Training starts tomorrow. I have today to rest and explore.


I prefer peeing to crying in public April 21, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 2:49 am

I saw my friends for the very last time before I leave. I cried… in public. It was gross. I hope you’re happy.

They did exactly what I needed them to do. They reminded me that I can do this. Maybe I’ll be lonely for six months, but I’ll get the hang of living and working in Korea. Even if there isn’t anyone there now who will be bestest friends with me, when new meat arrives I will know what they are going through and make them feel welcome and we will be ex-patriots together and miss cheese and talk about the shows we wish we were watching and go out to lunch and I will be just fine and should stop being a big baby…

but I’m scared. I just said goodbye to some of the best friends that I will ever have. Are they worth staying in Dayton and working a job that I am too smart for? I really don’t know.

Right now, I just don’t know.


Home Stretch April 19, 2010

This endeavor has proven to be more stressful than my wedding. At least when I got married I had an army of roller girl bridesmaids to do battle for me. The truth of the matter is, this isn’t something that you can do all on your own. People have surprised me with their support. I’ve got my parents here in town, who aren’t just supportive but are down right jealous of this move. My mother-in-law has spent the last two months as our spotter, there if we need her. Roller derby girls have cheered me on. My baby sister sends me texts telling me that I can handle this just as I think that I can’t.

There is no way that I can get everything done. No way that I can say goodbye to everyone I’d like to. There came a point when I had to let go and start enjoying the experience for what it is, a Tilt-A-Whirl. It might be scary and I may end up with puke in my hair, but it will have been a lot more fun than pissing away quarters at Wack-a-Mole all day.

Doug and I had a going away party this weekend at the local Catholic hangout, Jimmy’s Cornerstone Bar. I got to see some people one last time. I got to eat fried ravioli one last time. I got to drink Purple Haze on draft one last time. My mom got to hear stories about my totally inappropriate use of the vocabulary that describes the female anatomy from my derby days one last time.

As of yesterday, thanks again to people who proved that they can be counted on, our furniture is now in my parent’s basement. We have a class act situation on our porch that includes bookshelves and a CD player/tape deck from circa 1996 on the porch with a “Free” sign on them. So far, no takers.

I went back and forth for a long time trying to decide if this post should be about the total meltdown I’ve had this past week. Today I decided that everything that is going to get done will get done. There will be loose ends, sure, but I will be in South Korea in a few days. What are they going to do? Hunt me down in Seoul and make me renew my driver’s license?

This has the potential to be the most stressful week of my life. It also has the potential to be the most thrilling week of my life. Since it is totally up to me, I’ve decided to go with enjoyable. It would be tragic to miss this for stressing about the details. I am determined to maintain my optimism and to not cry as my mother points out every single activity that I am currently doing for the last time.


Sweet Home Chicago April 14, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 10:04 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

There is very little in the world that will make you regret every decision you have ever made in your life, every turn you have taken that has led you to the place in which you currently stand, quite like checking in to a Super 8 Motel.

Being hired to teach English in Korea is not like going to Rome to study abroad. I am an immigrant, or at least I hope to become one in the next week and a half. Part of the immigration process is going to your neighborhood Korean consulate for an interview. No problem. The nearest consulate is just a quick 6 hour jaunt up the road from my house in Chicago, practically on the way to my local Circle K. After sending forms overnight, jumping through hoops and then booking a hotel in the Windy City, I was beginning to see why Cubans just build a raft and leave it up to the Caribbean Sea.

Rather than getting in the car at 4am to get to my interview by 10, I booked a hotel. No, I’m sorry. That was misleading. In an effort to save some money, I booked a Super 8 Motel just outside the city.

The point in my life in which I am giving away my worldly possessions, leaving my loved ones behind, and preparing myself for a new dietary reality is a bad time to check into a motel room in which the only things I could imagine anyone doing involve Mad Dog 20/20 wrapped in a brown bag and hooker-butts. While I was trying to decide which was safer to sit on, the bed or the slightly stained chair, a wave of increasing panic washed over me. What had I done?

Dear reader, it is at this point in the story that you should be informed, my husband is pretty awesome. Not only does he have rockin’ mutton chops, but he scooped up our things, got us a refund, and booked us a hotel downtown, all while I bumbled behind him like a moron helpfully holding our dress shoes and laptop bag with my mouth open.

An hour after walking into a room with an unmade bed and bottles on the table, we checked into the Red Roof Inn on the corner of St. Clair and Ontario. The extra $50 for the night was totally worth it.

We spent a perfect evening, not in my old Chicago stomping grounds, but on the Mag Mile (where I had my first retail job). We walked around while I pointed out my subway stop and found out where our interview would be the next day, and found ourselves just a block away from Navy Pier as it was closing up for the night. Our walk to the end of the Pier was lit by the lonely, spinning Farris wheel as the sound of seagulls filled the vacant park. Walking back through the arches and past the hopeful taxi cabs, a loud noise from behind pulled my attention back to the water just in time to see the fireworks going off.

In case you were wondering, my husband… like butter.

The knowledge that I loved living in Chicago is always jostling around in my head, but it isn’t until I get back that I remember just how much. It isn’t until I get back onto Wabash and stand under the El that I remember that I want–no, need to live in a big city. It feels like coming home. Breathing in the cancerous fumes and being bumped into by pedestrians who are used to doing battle with taxi cabs made me feel very much at peace about moving so close to Seoul. How different from Chicago can it be, besides their trains being underground and everyone being brunette?

Our interview at the consulate went swimmingly. As it turns out, I like Koreans and can’t wait to meet more of them. I read that they ask personal questions, but was still taken off guard when in the interview, the question of baby making came up. Usually, the “When are you going to have a baby” question is reserved for family weddings and Catholic fish fries. Even so, the people we met are friendly and eager to practice their English. Most importantly, they are committed to education, which I think is pretty great. Americans could certainly use a lesson in the value of a good education.

One weekend left to go. The only big thing left to worry about is packing up the apartment. Everything is coming together. The time for questioning and mind changing is long gone. All that is left is to just be excited. I think I can manage.


Roller Derby Saved My Soul April 11, 2010

The best thing that I ever did for myself was to play roller derby. Maybe getting hit so hard by so many women so frequently simply knocked the sense into me, but it was on eight wheels that I found myself.

Last night I attended an old school Gem City Roller Girl reunion potluck and I got to see some people who were very formative for me and who I’ve gotten to be very close to even since our derby days are done.

Before we get into this recounting, let me make one thing crystal clear: I do not care for crying. I mean sure, sometimes something gets in my eye while coincidentally something emotional is happening. That can’t be helped, but I do not cry.

Needless to say, there was a lot of dust in the air last night.

There are people who are really going to miss me. This is a new thing for me. I’ve known all along who I would miss, but it never occurred to me that my moseying on would leave an empty space in anyone else’s life.

You must understand, this is new territory. The hilarious girl you see before you, in the last five years, just figured out how to make friends. I spent my life lucky to have one good friend at a time. I’ve had a bad habit of putting all of my friendship eggs into one overwhelmed basket. After a lot of very deliberate work, my skin has only recently gotten comfortable to be in.

I’ve finally built a support system for myself that I feel confident in. For the first time in my life I have a lot of friends who I am certain like me as much as I like them. There are several people I can just meet for lunch, who ask me if I’m going out dancing. I am fortunate enough to have people who I really like to see, and I get the distinct impression that they like to see me too.

Now I’m leaving them.

The test before me will be to see if this was a fluke, if the only people who I am capable of forming lasting relationships with are women who willingly beat one another. Can I translate my roller derby bonding skills into a Korean social etiquette system that is thousands of years in the Confucian making? Stay tuned to find out…

Seeing as I am in a whirl wind of packing and getting ready, my potluck contribution was my last bottle of Makers Mark. Because my friends are the best, someone else’s contribution was a bottle of Knob Creek. I got to say a proper goodbye to my dear derby family and to Kentucky bourbon.


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