Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You're going to Korea?! The reactions, comments, and FAQs about my "big decision"

Since I've been telling people that I'm going to Korea, I have received quite the mixture of reactions.  In general, people can be broken into two groups:

Group 1--The Cheerleaders

This is the group of people that have been my biggest supporters and kept me from losing my sanity in this whole crazy process.  They're the people that encourage me, and are genuinely excited for me.  Common responses include:

"That's awesome! Good for you!"
"Great....you should totally travel while you're young!"
"Wow...that's so cool! You are going to have an awesome time!"

To you, the people that fall into Group 1, I am thankful.  There are days I seriously questions this decision, and your support and enthusiasm has allowed me to stay true to what I know I really want.

Group 2--Everyone Else

This group includes those who think I have completely lost my mind, or simply can't fathom why I would decide to leave my cozy life in NH to live in Asia.

Here are some of the FAQs comments, and reactions I've been receiving (along with my responses):

Question: You're going to Korea?  I hope you're not going to the North!

Answer:  Ok, people.  I know sometimes you think this is funny.  Other times, people are completely serious.  Let me just clear this up. North Korea is not really fond of Americans (unless you're Dennis Rodman?)....why on earth would they ever invite American teachers to work in their schools?  They wouldn't.  And they don't. Yes, I am going to the SOUTH.

Question: Aren't you afraid of getting blown up by the North?

Answer: I think sometimes people think I'm just not familiar with North Korea.  The truth is, I have been following the developments with the North for quite some time now.  I've not only followed it myself, but also covered the situation with pretty much every class I've taught since my internship.  And even with that, I am not very concerned about it.  Our media loves to play up the threats by the big, bad, communist North Korea, but if you study the situation closely and look beyond what the news wants us to believe, it seems improbable that they would ever act on any of those threats.

Would I prefer not to be next to a country with a crazy dictator and nuclear weapons?  Of course.  However, there are many reasons I truly believe I won't be blown up by the North--if you would like to have a conversation about it, I would be happy to go more in depth about why I feel safe moving to Korea.

Question: You're going to Korea? Why?!

Answer:  Ok, this is a question I can understand.  I suppose most people don't put Korea on the top of their lists for "must see" places.  However, anyone who has ever looked into the world of teaching abroad knows it's one of the top places to go. Yes, we would all love to go teach in Europe (as many people frequently tell me...that's where I SHOULD be going...), but that's not really an option in the world of ESL teaching for Americans.

There are a few reasons I chose Korea over other countries. I put a lot of research into choosing a country to teach in, and while I was almost sold on Thailand, there were certain realities I had to face. While I wish I could make decisions without thinking about money, that's just not real life, at least for me.  I have oodles of debt from my student loans and I have a car payment that isn't going away anytime soon.  Therefore, I had to choose a country that would pay me enough to allow me to keep paying these bills.  Korea is one of the top paying countries for ESL teaching, so this was a big benefit to choosing Korea.

Furthermore, I really liked the EPIK program because it is run by the government and provides a week-long orientation before you're sent out on your own.  You are also provided with a place to live, vacation time, and medical insurance.  Overall, it just seemed like a much more secure decision than the other ESL jobs where you arrive and are expected to do everything on your own.  I'm really just not brave enough to move to the other side of the world without having some sort of support there.

The other main reason I was interested in Korea was the difference in culture.  My main purpose of wanting to live abroad is to to experience something completely unlike what I have experienced living in the US. Yes, I someday want to travel Europe.  But I was the experience of living in a completely different culture, and you can't get much different from western culture than eastern culture. I can't imagine a better way to learn about the world than by throwing myself into a culture with a completely different history and traditions, and Korea can definitely provide that for me.

Comment: Oh, I know someone who taught in Korea!

Response:  It's no secret, Korea is a hot spot for those interested in ESL teaching.  Most people probably do know someone that has gone there to taught--I do not by any means claim that what I'm doing is unique.  It is important to note that there are many different type of jobs in Korea, and everyone has a completely different experience.  I don't even know completely what to expect, so just because you know someone that has been there doesn't mean that my experience will mirror theirs.

Comment: Oh, maybe you'll meet someone there! Maybe you'll meet your husband!

Response: I kid you not, this is probably the most frequent thing I hear from people.  When I was talking to one of my students about moving to Korea at the end of the school year she looked at me with a thoroughly confused look and replied: "but how will you ever meet your husband in Korea?!"

Ok people, I am not moving to Korea to meet my husband (although I mean, I wouldn't be opposed to it if I met the right person)...but I am 24 and this experience is for me.  It's about exploration, self-discovery, and pushing myself to hopefully become a stronger person.

For now I think I will follow the sound advice from my 8 year old niece.

"Just don't talk to any boys.  And do NOT fall in love!"

Visa, Flights, and Preparations for Korea

Things that have been accomplished recently:

1)  Obtaining my Visa.  
This process actually went a lot quicker than I was expecting.  It only took two days for me to get my     Visa back after I sent in my application.  This hasn't been the case for people at other consulates--but           let's face it, Boston rocks.

2)  Booking my Flight to Korea!
.......Over $900 later and I have my transportation to Korea secured.  I leave the morning of August 18th from Boston.  I'll stop in Chicago, where I'll get on another plane that will take me to Korea.  I've never even been on an international flight, so I'm really not sure how I am going to handle that 14 hour flight.  What do you even do on a plane for that long?  That's longer than my electronics will stay charged.......

Things that need to be accomplished:

1)  Learning Korean
I've never been the type of person that enjoys learning languages.  Over the years I've dabbled in French, Latin, and Spanish, but I've never really become proficient in any of them.  The thing is, I hate memorizing.  Reading books? Writing papers?  Sure! But I hate to sit around and cram information into my head, and any way you go about it, learning a language is in large part memorization.  Of course, Korean is particularly challenging in comparison to the other languages I've been exposed to because it's nothing like English.  I am also just severely lacking the motivation to buckle down and study.  My brain is either in summer mode or completely unfocused because of the millions of thoughts I have about all the things I need to do before I leave.

I'm hoping to learn a little more before I leave.  If not, I guess I will be having some challenging moments once I arrive in Korea and I can't understand anything....

2) Finishing my pre-orientation courses
One thing I was completely unaware of when I signed up for EPIK is that once you are accepted you have to finish a bunch of pre-orientation online lessons.  There are 17 lessons in total, and each lesson has a quiz at the end. The lessons range from everything from developmental psychology (think Freud, Erikson, etc.)  to Korean culture, language, and history.  They're not difficult, but somewhat time consuming nonetheless.  Not to mention they are not the most exciting (and that's putting it kindly)....I never would have thought that I'd have to be listening to a lecture about Freud to prepare me for life in Korea....you just never know.  

3) Deciding what I'm bringing with me
I need to decide what needs to be purchased...there are many things I can think of, but seriously, this process has already cost me so much money that I'm not sure how much more I'm prepared to spend.  I think I will need to start packing at least a week in advance because there are just SO MANY things I think I need to bring....but the reality is that I can only bring two suitcases with me.  It will probably take me a week to sift through all the stuff I WANT to bring and all the stuff I actually NEED to bring.  Have I ever mentioned that I hate packing?!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Contract Day!

So this arrived today.

In case you are wondering, that would be my Notice of Appointment and my contract.  

This is getting real.

In a month I will be getting on a plane. And moving to Korea.  For a YEAR.

So much to do before then and despite the fact that I'm not working this summer, I don't feel like I have enough time. 

But for now....next step: Turn in my E-2 Visa application.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

This is for real!

So I started making a few blog posts months ago when I felt really conflicted about this whole process, but apparently I never "published" them, so now it looks like I wrote them all today....I promise, I didn't just go on a huge blogging rampage today.  I just don't know how to do this whole "blogging" thing.

Anywho, I digress, the important recent development is that after MONTHS of applications, interviews, and documents, and countless nights of tossing and turning from convincing myself something had gone wrong......


I woke up Wednesday morning to an e-mail from my recruiter telling me my placement had been secured. The results are in, and I'm heading to Gyeongbuk Province.  That would be the pink, highlighted area for those of you who are not familiar with Korea (which in reality, is probably about 99% of the population)


While many people request to be in the major cities in Korea, I didn't have much of a preference, so it's easy for me to be content with Gyeongbuk.  I won't know the exact town that I'll be in until the end of August, but apparently I could end up in a smaller city, a true "small town", or a suburb-ish area.  We'll have to wait and see!

Regardless, I think Gyeongbuk will be a sweet location for the following reasons:

1) There's a lot of history! I'm obviously all about the history, so I'm happy to be in a province where I can indulge my inner history nerd.

2) It looks beautiful! There are a lot of mountains, which means some good hiking! Also, lots of coastline, so I could end up near the beach.  I wouldn't complain about that!

3)  Being located in the central part of the country means I'm not too far from anything.  Gyeongbuk is relatively close to a few of the major cities: Daegu, Ulsan, and Busan.  Of course, if I'm in the northern part of the province I will be a little further, but Korea reportedly has a great public transportation system, so it shouldn't be too bad!

The wait to get my placement WAS THE LONGEST EVER! They warn you that it takes some time to get your placement, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for it. I started this process in the winter, and my documents were in by the beginning of June. Needless to say, everything finally feels REAL, which means my thought process has been working a little something like this:


Wait....I'm going to be away from my friends and family for a whole year?  That's a long time....


But I don't even speak an ounce of Korea.....


But what if the Koreans don't like me....

BUT I'M 24!! YOLO!

Do I even like Korean food?

Ok, so you get the gist. I'm guessing I will feel this way for pretty much the rest of the summer, but until then I just want to focus on spending as much time as possible with my family and friends.  Time is of the essence!

EPIK Limbo

June 16th.

Wait.  June 16th?!  What?

I have 4 more days of school left.  I'm not entirely sure what it is going to feel like when all of sudden I have no grading, no planning, no e-mails to send, and no photocopies to make.  This has been my life for the past ten months and all of a sudden, it will come to a screeching halt. The part that makes it most scary is that I'm still not certain about my future in the fall.

All of my documents have been submitted to EPIK.  I had a little bit of a set back once I mailed my original documents because not long after I mailed everything I realized that I had sent the wrong version of one of my reference letters (and of course that happened even after I checked everything a million times...figures.) I also had to send out another paper that I guess EPIK wants from people who have teaching experience (apparently it's a new thing for this term).  So, my documents got out a little later than I was hoping, but there are still plenty of positions, so I'm not all that concerned.

So now, all I do is wait...and wait.....and wait a little more.  I should know my placement by the end of June, but of course, I am hoping for it sooner rather than later.  Until then, I'm just kind of in EPIK limbo.

I still have mixed feelings about leaving.  It's been an internal tug of war for quite some time, and the fact that school is ending and I have to think about how I will never be in my classroom again, never see many of my students again, etc. makes it that much harder.  I've always been overly emotional about periods of my life coming to an end, and this is no different.

Documents, Documents, Documents!

There they are...aren't they beautiful?

Originals and copies...ready to go! 
These, my friends, would be the pictures I texted my friends not too long ago.  Why you ask? Because well, this day has been moths in the making. Today, I finally mailed out all of my EPIK documents to Taiwan.  Taiwan, you might say? Yes, Taiwan, because that is where my recruiter is located.  I send everything to my recruiter, and then he will send them to Korea after checking them and making sure everything is all set.

I had all my documents ready to go last week, but I was waiting on my recruiter to ok the scans of my documents.  I didn't hear anything from him all week, which naturally made me start to panic, but it turns out he was sick for the majority of the week and out of the office.  Still, I am nervous because I know at this point it is getting late in the game.  I"m totally freaked out that I will have forgotten one of my documents or that I will simply be too late and the positions will all be filled.  I have spent countless hours getting all of these things together...not to mention the money I've spent on getting all of those lovely pieces of paper pictured above.  Just to ship everything from NH to Taiwan was $81 (as Megan said, that's 7 or 8 mojitos on a cruise!) I'm not really sure what it's saying about my life when I start to measure the cost of things in amounts of alcohol.....but regardless, I think I'm going to be broke by the time I actually get abroad!

So, for now I sit and wait and anxiously stalk the tracking number that goes along with my documents.  

In the meantime...cheers to waiting! 

Almost there....

I spent from 4:00-7:30 this evening getting all of my documents together.  I started the process for EPIK at the beginning of February, when I submitted my application with the recruiter I'm using, Reach to Teach. From that point I began working on my application, which included essays and a lesson plan (which took me a ridiculously long time despite the fact that I'm a teacher--turns out I don't really know how to teach English....).  I also had to gather letters of recommendation and get my fingerprints taken for an FBI background check.

I submitted my application at the beginning of March. From that point my recruiter called me to go over my application and I made a few changes to my original app.  The revised application was turned in by the middle of March.  After that, I had a mock interview with my recruiter via Skype about a week later.  From that point there was a small lull as my application couldn't be officially submitted until April 1st.  I waited a few weeks to hear about when my interview would be scheduled.  I was away on vacation from the 20-27th, and as soon as I got back to having internet access I checked my e-mail and found out that my interview was scheduled for the following night. Talk about short notice (although really they gave me plenty of notice...I just wasn't in the country to know about it!)

In the "lull" period I received a bunch of steps to start collecting my documents because EPIK wants your documents right after your interview.  This has been the most time consuming part of the document process--getting my background check notarized, then shipping it to DC to be apostilled, and getting my diplomas notarized, then sending them to Concord to be apostilled, getting copies of transcripts....there is a ton of paperwork!

I found out I passed my interview a few days after my interview (beginning of May?), but I didn't have all my documents together yet, which is why it's taken me so long.  I finally got my background check back from DC on Friday.  Today I had to get more passport pictures taken (because you need 6 total for all the paperwork that is to come).  Of course, the lady at Wal-Mart didn't take my original pictures right, so when I went to pick them up, I had to take them all over again. Once I FINALLY had my pictures and other documents, I made copies of everything, then scanned the copies to my recruiter.  Now all I need is the OK to send the documents and I can finally mail everything out to Taiwan, where my recruiter will process everything.

This whole process has taken way more time than I can accurately depict.  It wouldn't be as bad except for oh you know, I'm also teaching full time right now.  Teaching consumes all of my time in itself, so running around doing all of this stuff has made some of my evenings pretty exhausting (not to mention the cost of obtaining and mailing all of these things around....it really adds up!)

Nonetheless, I am excited to almost be done! I'm crossing my fingers that everything works out, because as scared as I can be at times, I know this is what I want.

Life decisions at 23

One year ago, I was living in Newmarket, and about to finish up my Master's of Education at UNH.  It was perhaps one of the strangest and most challenging times of my life.  I was about to leave the world I had come to know and love over the past 5 years.  I loved my apartment on the river, my experience during my internship at Marshwood, and of course most of all, I loved my friends.  The fact that all of these things were about to be taken away from me when I received my diploma was unfathomable to me.  It's no secret the months leading up to graduation were tumultuous for a multitude of reasons, which do not need to be rehashed.  In short, I was emotionally drained and unsure of what was in store for me.  I was completely conflicted because I knew that I had outgrown "college life", but even knowing that didn't make it any easier to leave.

After a lot of tears and countless hours of unpacking my life, I was back in Manchester.  The only certainty I had at that point was the nanny job I had lined up for the summer.  Beyond that, I had absolutely no idea what the next months had in store.  

Before I moved back home, I started to look into my options for teaching.  There were virtually no teaching jobs in the US, and any jobs that were posted for Social Studies teachers would get absurd numbers of applicants, many of whom would have more experience than I had with only my internship under my belt.  As I started to realize my options were limited, I began to look into options outside of the country. I've wanted to live abroad for quite some time. It was one of my goals during college to study abroad.  Clearly, that never happened as I elected to do an accelerated Master's program to save money and be done with all my schooling after 5 years at UNH.  While foregoing the option to study abroad was my greatest regret about my time at UNH, with a little bit of research, I quickly learned that there are tons of opportunities to teach abroad.  The prospect of teaching abroad immediately appealed to me--getting the chance to travel while teaching?  Not a bad way to spend one's early 20s.  I knew I wasn't ready to settle down for the rest of my life at the age of 23, so teaching abroad seemed like the perfect option for me.  I was sold.

Of course, God has a way of changing all your plans on you.  At the end of August I got an e-mail from one of my professors at UNH telling me that there was a last minute teaching position available at a local high school.  He gave me the contact information of the school and told me to get in touch if I was interested in applying.  It was a Monday and I had just gotten back from babysitting....after working at my church's weekend-long festival, mind you.  I was tired.  I wanted to go abroad.  I had a part-time job working at the museum.  I almost didn't reply to the e-mail.  While I really didn't think I had any chance of getting the job, on the off chance that I did, I thought it would mean giving up on my dreams of traveling.

But at the same time....it was a job.  A job doing what I went to school for....with a salary....and with benefits.  I responded to the e-mail, had an interview two days later, and was offered a job hours after my interview.  School started a week after my interview, and the rest is history.  

Don't get me wrong.  I LOVE my job, and to this day, I constantly remind myself of just how ridiculously fortunate I am to have a job.  Getting a teaching job right out of college is almost unheard of these days, and I am beyond thankful that I not only landed a coveted position, but that I have had the most amazing experience over the course of this year.  Am I constantly exhausted? YES. Am I forever behind on grading? YES.   Am I overwhelmed, almost on the daily? YES.  

But do I also work with some of the greatest kids? YES. Are the people I work with amazingly supportive and kind, generous people? YES.  At the end of the week, do I feel happy with what I'm doing with my life? Absolutely.

I love my job.  I love teaching.  I love the school I'm at.  And as much as I was dreading being back in Manchester, this year has been amazing.  Do I miss my friends from college?  Do I miss the seacoast?  Oh yes, I do.  But overall, I am in such a better place than I was a year ago.  While last year at this time I was a little short of a mess, this year I feel at peace.  It's really amazing what a year will do.

So, this brings me to my next point...if I'm so content, why would I want to change anything?

Well, this is the problem.  I am 23, soon to be 24.  There aren't many points in life where you can pack up two suitcases and move to the other side of the world.  Some people manage to do this at different points in life, but I can see the window closing for me.  I want to see the world.  I want to test myself.  I want to be outside of my bubble.  

Some people tell me I should just keep working here and travel when I can.  While I hope to travel throughout my life, I want to do more than just visit places.  I want to live with people from a completely different culture from my own.  I want to be able to make a home and find comfort in a country completely different from the US.  

Teaching abroad at this point is not going to be a step up for my career.  In fact, it's one of the main things that makes me want to stay put.  I have worked so incredibly hard this year, and I feel like I could be a much better teacher next year.  On some levels, it seems wrong to stop that momentum now.  

This is where the conflict comes in...what is advantageous for my career is not what is advantageous for me personally.  If I stay here I will become a better social studies teacher.  If I go abroad, I become a more well-rounded person.  I'm not sure I can have both at this point.  

I have passed my interview with the EPIK program in Korea. If I go, I'll be working with a co-teacher teaching English to students in public schools in Korea.  I have no experience teaching English.  History and government are my passions, so I'm not even sure I'll enjoy teaching English.  I won't be leading my own classroom. These are jobs that many people without teaching experience obtain.  I have a Master's in Education, and a year's teaching experience.  I am overqualified for the position.  

Don't get me wrong, I don't think the position is beneath me by any means, it just seems backwards from the way I wanted to do things.  I wish I could freeze the job I have now for a few years from now.

So, the decision I have to make is this--do I put my career on hold to accomplish a personal goal?

As of now, I think yes. Although, I'm not sure I will ever feel completely satisfied with any decision.