Thursday, June 23, 2005

Early Days Part 0: The move

NOTE: Getting ready to come home has got me thinking a lot about when I came here. Really, this is Early Days part 5 or 6 or something, but I think it's more appropriately titled part 0 because this all takes place before I even CAME to Korea.

I was looking for jobs on the internet when I came across the ad by accident. Teachers Wanted: South Korea. I remembered that just a few months earlier, I was looking at jobs in Japan, and I had nearly taken one. I wanted to see the world, no question, but was I ready? I saved the link and then moved on to look at other jobs.

As I browsed the jobs, my mind kept coming back to working overseas: when else would I be able to do this? I had no job, I had no school, and I had no other things tying me down. Certainly, in just a few months I'd have these things. A job, a girlfriend, which would eventually lead to a better job, maybe a wife, maybe kids. I'd never have an opportunity like this again in my life.

I typed Korea into a search engine and came up with other jobs: Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejon. I looked them all over. I looked up Japan, Taiwan, the Phillipines. I found many that I was qualified for. I called and IMed some friends for advice, all of whom where terribly supportive (you know who you are). After thinking about it for about a day (or for years depending on how you look at it), I started filling out applications.

My first call came that night. So did my second. The ball was rolling. I had interviews within 24 hours. I had contracts went to me within a few days. By the end of the week, I had already made my decision. After being offered two jobs in Korea, one in Japan, one in Taiwan, and one in the Phillipines, I decided to take the job in Daejon Korea. The other Korean job was in Seoul, a city of ten million people. Honestly, I didn't take the job out of fear. I'm glad I didn't: Daejon is much more "Korean" than Seoul. Seoul is certainly a nice place to visit and a beautiful city, but I wouldn't want to live there.

I started applying for passports and visas the next week. I started packing. I started letting friends borrow things and having going away parties. But what I was doing didn't really hit me until my final week in the US. I got scared. VERY scared.

Was this the right thing to do? What if I got there and I hated it? What if things didn't work out, or I got hurt, or something happened back home? I tried to put on a tough face, but I was scared out of my mind. I almost called it all off as I packed away my final belongings and headed over to my parents' house. Could I even handle this?

One thing that I'll always remember about my last week in the US is my going away party with friends. People who I had grown very close with over the last few years all gathered at my house, and quietly sipped wine and beer. We sat outside chatting until almost 4 in the morning. Those people are all over the US now: I'll never get a night like that again.

I was physically sick when I headed up to the airport. Because of parties and nervousness, I hadn't slept in two days. I was tired and my stomach was killing me. We packed all my stuff into the car, and there was a certain finality to everything that was unsettling. I thought we would be late, but we ended up having an extra hour to kill before I boarded the plane.

I'm glad the goodbyes were muted: I don't think I could have handled an emotional goodbye.


Reverse Culture-Shock: a preview

Just because I'll be in the US soon, don't expect the blog to shut down. I'm going to use my time in the US to tell some untold tales, but also to chronical my "reverse culture-shock." A lot of my friends here say that you experience this. You see things that you didn't notice about your own culture before. You have a hard time getting used to doing things the American way again. You don't get pop culture references anymore. You struggle not to listen to everyones conversations because you understand everyone again (when you're in a country that doesn't speak English, you develop English radar. If you hear the language spoken outside, you hone right in on it).

In any case, it WILL be weird not to speak in Korean anymore. It WILL be weird to get whatever I want and be able to ask any questions I want. It WILL be weird to drive again. It WILL be weird to not be stared at, oggled, admired, hated, or ignored everywhere I go. I'll be just another fish in the sea. We'll see how THAT goes.


On coming home

There's a good reason I haven't written anything or posted pictures in a while: I'm coming home....but only for a visit. I've spent the last month getting everything in order, finishing up a lot of lose ends, and saying good-bye to Korean friends. I have a LOT to tell of what's happened, and I have a LOT of pictures to post. Expect then when I actually get home.

As far as the return date, I don't know for sure yet. Most likely, I'll be arriving within a week or two: as early as this weekend, as late as the first week of July. This is because the teacher that's replacing me is having problems with her visa and can't seem to get to Korea. It looks like now she'll come on a tourist visa (instead of a working visa) and will be here soon, though (although she'll have to go to Japan to get her working visa within the next couple months). When she makes it, I go home.

I'll be home from early July until mid August. My job in Busan starts September first, but I'm hitting Japan before I settle back down in Korea. I know a lot of you want to see me during that time, and I'll do my best to accomidate, but you have to remember, this is a vacation for me (and a well deserved one), not a "running around seeing every one time." I'll do my best to get in a bunch of visits, but I can't possibly spend time with you all, especially since I'm travelling while I'm in the US. Don't take is personally; it's just how it goes.

Anyway, talk to you all later and most likely see you in person soon.


What Kind of Minority are You?

Now that I've been a minority for a year, I've realized a few things about myself. I'm not the "angry Black Man" minority. I'm not the "try my best to fit in" minority, either. What I am is a "pissed at my own" minority. Let me explain:

--I find myself apologizing for other westerners all the time.
--I'm always asking my Korean friends do you resent, get pissed off by, or get frustrated with one or another of the foreigners Korean actions.
--I often get pissed at friends because what they are doing "makes us look bad" and "perpetuates stereotypes."

Sure, I'm proud of my culture, but I also find that when you're in a minority position, people notice every little thing that you do. You have to be careful, because obviously, stereotypes and prejudices come from somewhere.

Who's fault is it that these things get started? It's hard to say. But I can say that being a minority is a very complicated thing. I have new respect and understanding for the minorities in the US.