Hagwon? I hardly know won!

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Better Busy Than Bored March 20, 2011

I haven’t written in a good long while because I have been one busy little beaver.

In February I spent a week in Bangkok and fell in love with Thailand. The food, the architecture, the hospitality, the weather. I loved it all. For every dog that isn’t in Seoul there are five running feral on the streets on Bangkok. There must have been a table tennis tournament in town, because people kept asking if we wanted to see a ping pong show. My life flashed before my eyes every time I sat in a tuk tuk.

I took a zip line tour through the rain forest which is the single most fun thing I have ever done in my life. Flight of the Gibbon picks you up in Bangkok, drives you out to the forest, you get to see some of the wildlife in a small and very up close and personal zoo, and then you zip line from tree top to tree top.

Just... Hanging Out!

Zip lining through the Thai rain forest

On a bike tour through the Thai country side with Absolute Explorer, I got to see shrimp, fish, and rice farms, even more wildlife, experience authentic Thai culture and have lunch at the mayor’s house.

Biking through the Thai country side

Taking a bike ride between rice patties

I met my parent’s foreign exchange student. Irene and her father showed us around for a whole day. We got to see Bangkok with Bangkokians, the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, an elephant show, the restaurant inspired by the world-famous Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng Bunker. It was a tornado of hospitality.

The week in Thailand is the happiest I’ve ever seen Doug in our 10 years together. I fell so deeply in love with the Land of Smiles that we are now planning to move there this fall.

Kin, our friend who has been at the Hopyeong branch as long as we have, has finished his contract. After spending a few weeks traveling, he will go back to Colorado on Tuesday. It’s a pretty big bummer.

The crew one last time

Saying goodbye to Kin

The teacher who was hired to replace Kin bailed on us leaving us one teacher short at the very last-minute. This means that we’ve all had to pick up the slack. At the same time, our school opened a new kindergarten. So in addition to teaching 40 hours a week (to those of you who don’t teach, that’s a lot of classroom hours) I’m also teaching 3 and 4 year olds who don’t speak a word of English how to stand in a line, how to sit still, and how to sneeze into a tissue.

The good news is this, I prefer being over worked to under-worked. I like just a little stress in my life. It keeps me on my toes, makes me feel accomplished. I’m making good money. I’ve worked 60 hour weeks back home and still only brought home about $600 for that week. Not the case here. I’m working hard and getting paid what I’m worth. That’s a really good feeling. I’m so busy, I don’t have any time to spend any of that money. I only have one more week of this run ragged schedule before a new teacher arrives and takes a few classes off of my hands.


Also, when I do extend myself too far, get sick and miss a class, my students concern is adorable. I received the following note, “to teacher Hellow teacher!! I’m a Jenny. How are you? Are your sick? I’m very worry for you. I’m very sad. Teacher thank you! Beacause you teach me. good bey!” Worth it!

I’ve learned by working with the kindergarten students that while I enjoy and plan to get a degree in early childhood education, I don’t want to teach kindergarten as a career. I don’t want to be the one who has to break them in. I’m also learning that I’m ready to go back to school. I’m on the hunt for programs that will allow me to take some classes on-line, so when my schedule opens up, I can start chipping away at my goal of becoming a really honest to goodness teacher.

If that wasn’t enough to keep a girl’s head spinning, I’ve also joined the Republic of Korea Derby. We practice all the way south in Dague, which means I’m getting a chance to see more of this country that I’m living in. The girls are great and diverse from all over the United States and the U.K. with different reasons for coming to Korea and share a common love of derby. Most of the girls have never skated before but always wanted to join a league back home. My skates are ordered and I am anxiously waiting for them to arrive. I’ll be once again skating as Pippi Longshocking due to the Korean’s insistence that I look an awful lot like “Bibbi.”

My darling husband, who is working really hard to get the most he can out of his own Korea experience, has joined a band in Seoul. He practices every Sunday and is a much happier camper now that he’s a rock star writer once again.

I’m packing as much life as I can into the time that I have. I only get one chance at this and I want to make it a good one.


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
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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.


Crazy, but that’s how it goes April 8, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 10:43 am
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Going into this I knew that the moment I left my job my life would be a whirl wind up to departure, and I was not mistaken. I have two weeks left. How did that happen? I’ve said goodbye to my sister. I’ve spent time with my grandmother. I’ve started reading Korean Business Etiquette. My clothes are being separated into “Korea” “get rid of” and “keep in a box” piles. There is not a moment in which there isn’t something to be preparing for or someone to say goodbye to. Every night isn’t a question of what to have for dinner, but of whom to have it with.

While all of these preparations and goodbyes are keeping me good and distracted, I don’t think that this will feel real until I am in the classroom. It may be starting to sink in, but how can I begin prepare myself for something so totally foreign? How do you begin to wrap your head around everything that moving from America to Asia means?

The cost of getting to Seoul has added up. I will be making significantly more once things get started, but it has cost a lot of money to get this going, and I don’t have my airfare yet! Of course there are the costs of getting there, new luggage, plane tickets, fees for documents, sending everything over night, and as many fried pickles as one human body can safely hold.

In addition, you know that medical check list that keeps getting longer and longer? It’s the most morbid wish list ever because it is composed of having cysts removed, getting broken teeth filled, having basic shots and blood work done… All of that medical stuff that hasn’t been killing me so I’ve been putting it off for years due to cost has all caught up with me. Oh, to be a Canadian on this adventure.

Every moment I am awake, I am overwhelmed. The new language, the Confucian ethics, the shrimp flavoring on chips: fine, all fine. I’m looking forward to diving in. It’s everything leading up to it that has me running dizzy. It will feel so good to put my suitcase down in my apartment, to close the door behind me and to sit and breath.

I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. Of everything she’s been kind enough to pass along to me, I will be taking her adventurous spirit and her practice of conscious breathing with me to South Korea. Without those, this experience would not happen for me.


Point of No Return April 4, 2010

Filed under: Travel Blog — olgathered @ 4:21 am
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Have you ever left a job and wondered as your two weeks ticked down what kind of send off you would get? Have you ever walked in to a brake room on your last day hoping for cake but thinking that you might just get nothing but a “so long”? Well, I just had that best last day at a job ever! I had no idea I was so well liked. There were cupcakes, brownies, candy, streamers, and a banner reading “South Korea O Bust.” (they ran out of R’s) My fellow head cashier even got me a book with well wishes written in the cover. All this just makes things so much muckier.

Today was my last day at my good-enough job. Until today, I had a retail job that offered me great health insurance, paid me enough to cover my bills, and I didn’t hate it or the people with whom I worked. That’s the best I’ve been able to do for myself in the five years I’ve spent in Dayton since I graduated from college. Something that is far more awesome lies ahead; I get it, but it took me a long time to find just health insurance and a job I didn’t hate here. This job in Korea will be my 17th job. 17th! That’s how long it took me to find something not terrible, and I’m willingly walking away from it.

It’s hard to leave something familiar and safe (and dangerous in its own safe, familiar way) for something that is in South Korea. Anticipation and I have never been on good terms. Chutes and Ladders is the worst. You can be all ladders ladder ladders and then, BAM! out of nowhere, chutes! You can be rubbing sweet victory in your sister’s face just as you are approaching a terrible fall from Milton Bradley grace. That in mind, I’ve never been very good at settling either. The thought of realizing that 5 or 10 or 30 years has escaped me makes my belly feel like stone. You get one shot at this. All of the time that you get is all that you get. Days are numbered and, more often than not, wasted.

I expect a lot of myself and don’t feel as though I’ve been living up to my own expectations. I was doing OK all the way up to graduation and then even playing roller derby was great, but since my knee blew out it’s been not-bad-at-all, at best. I want more for myself, but wanting more and getting more are different. Actually going out there and doing it, working hard and hoping that your hard work will make it better but knowing that it might not is much scarier than just working at a job that you don’t hate. When I was a dance major in Chicago, my biggest hang-up was a total lack of confidence. To pull me out of it, my modern dance teacher told me, “Sometimes in life, you gotta take yourself by the balls.” God damn it, if that’s not how I live my life. Working at a bookstore requires no ball taking. I have got to grab my big brass ones and follow them all the way to South Korea.

I now stand with good-enough behind me, uncertainty surrounding me, and just ahead, the adventure I know I’m capable of.

That said, I’m going to go hug my knees to my chest and rock back and forth and let the severity of leaving a job in the worst job market of my lifetime wash over me while I drink Markers Mark, which they do not have readily available in South Korea.


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