Looking back, I sometimes forget what a labor of love it was to get here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

People find strange ways to make money.  And more than you’d think do so by staffing English teachers in Korean schools.  Or at least claiming they do.  Of all things…

I suppose you can say that our journey of teaching abroad began three years ago.  We originally considered the idea while on a trip to London in 2006.  But we had already committed ourselves to a different adventure, moving to Chicago, which was to happen only a month after we returned home.  So we kept the idea on the table and eventually decided that 2009 was the year to make the move.

It feels as if we really started the ball rolling in March.  That was when we contacted our first recruiter and set into motion, little did we know, the typical Attempting to Move to Korea Experience.  We thought we had it in the bag.  This recruiter lived right down the street from us, met us face to face, laid out the details.  And then told us to wait.  So we waited.  We were ahead of the game, had to bide our time for months since we didn’t want to leave until mid-September.  It was no big deal, we thought.  In the meantime, we had an awesome summer in the city, I received my TEFL certificate, and we arranged to spend time with family in Cleveland until it was time to board that plane.  In August, once our temporary move to Cleveland was in place, said recruiter fell off the face of the earth.

It felt devastating to slowly realize what was happening, to start at square one so late in the summer when we had been very diligent to work ahead.  But as I said, we found out this was a pretty typical experience.  We spoke with other teachers and, though frustrated, knew we weren’t unique.  We contacted other schools and recruiters and soon found an entire subset of the human population that makes its living like seedy used car salesmen.  We received countless emails that stopped just short of “What can I do to get you into this hagwon today?”

It was kind of comical but presented a new challenge.  We weeded through honest offers and utter crap emails and spent many late nights on the phone with every “Sally”, “Jessie”, and “Lana” in South Korea.

But now I can officially say that we will be moving to the port city of Mokpo in December.  I will write more about our work there soon, but this position was so different than any we had previously considered.  We will be teaching at a local university, starting a new English program for them, and taking on the biggest professional and personal challenge of our lives.

The most difficult aspect of these last few months for me was realizing that, in moving to the other side of the world, the world doesn’t act the same way you do or the way you expect it to.  Yes, I’ve lived in urban areas, done a fair amount of travel, and have long since lost the rose-colored glasses.  But there’s a certain naivety that surfaces anytime you embark on something completely new.

For me, this process revealed my feelings about something as simple as one’s word.  When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.  When someone else says they are going to do something, I expect them to do it.  And I expect it in a relatively timely fashion.  Radical, I know.  But time after time, I’m reminded that the word of other people ain’t so reliable.  Usually it’s an occurrence so small and insignificant that I still hold a general faith in humanity.  But this time I learned the hard way that when you put all your eggs into the basket of someone who, quite literally, offers you the world, you’re probably going to end up with a lot of rotten eggs.

I realize it’s been more than a month since I’ve posted anything about this transitional time in our lives, key time when there’s plenty to think and write about.  But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Until I had something solid to write about, I felt like a failure.  A failure to myself.  A failure in writing.  A failure to the integrity of my word.

I felt that if I put these experiences in writing, they would become real.  They would call into question everything I had said so definitively to everyone around me.  I’m moving to Korea.  I’m going to teach in a hagwon.  I’m going to follow XYZ steps.  And, yes, I’ll happily eat your cakes and welcome you with open arms to my farewell parties.

Well, shows what I know.  Life is still that delicate balance of going out and grabbing what you want while patiently allowing what’s meant to be unfold.  So I should probably learn the art of saying less, so that I don’t have to answer too many questions about what the hell I’m doing unemployed and still hanging around Cleveland.  It just took longer than I expected to make this happen.  But it is happening.  My word is still worth something.  To myself and to others.

So alright then, let’s move to Korea!