Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day One: A Success!

It's 5:30 in the morning here, and my body has decided it's finished sleeping. That's incredibly annoying, seeing as at 8:30 last night, I was half-passed out on Billy's couch, and couldn't even keep my eyes open enough to make decent conversation. Anyway, since I have three whole hours before I have to be ready for work, I thought I'd give you a painfully detailed rundown of my first 36 hours in Korea. You're welcome, all!

Yesterday morning, I got to talk to an array of family members before getting ready for work. I plan to do that again today, but it's not quite 5 in the afternoon, so no one's going to be ready to chat just yet. Also, despite the fact that my body refuses to sleep any longer, my mind knows it's before six in the morning, and my mind HATES being awake before six in the morning, so I'm not feeling particularly chipper just yet. I'm hoping once I am finished with this post I'll be ready to chat. This is also random (I promise I'll get back to the story soon): I'm actually hungry. This is the first time since I've arrived that I've wanted to eat. I've been eating, of course, but right now I actually WANT to eat. It's a surprisingly good feeling. (I'm eating leftover pizza from last night and girl scout cookies. It's amazing.)

After talking to my parents and family, I realized that perhaps I needed to shower before work. Okay, so I really needed to shower before work. My problem was that my bathroom looked like this:

Toilet? Check. Medicine cabinet? Check. Sink? Check. Shower? ... Shower? Hmm. Look again.

Perhaps my shower is this thing?

Indeed. That is my shower. I decided that the only way this shower contraption would work would be to hold it in my hands while I washed. Of course, I have no pictures of this, but you can rest assured it was complicated as heck. I don't think I've ever laughed so much in the shower. When I was finished, I hung the shower thingy back in its place... and that's when I realized that I could probably leave it there and shower under it like a normal shower.

That's the plan for today :) Additionally, I couldn't figure out how to get the hot water to work. YJ told me to press a button on this thingy:

I tried that, but I couldn't get it to work, and I forgot to ask him yesterday. Today's shower will be equally cold, but less comical.

So after my overly complicated shower, YJ picked me up at my apartment and walked me to the school. When I got there, he introduced me to a handful of administrative people, took me to my classroom, and peaced out. My Korean teacher, Hana, was there, so I got to meet her and chat. She's maybe the nicest person in Korea. She's ridiculously cute and tiny, and she's spent the last two weeks decorating our classroom. It's not quite finished yet, so I'll hold off on posting pictures until things are a little more organized, but rest assured it's one of the prettiest classrooms in the building.

Since I didn't have any students, I decided to wander around the building and try to make friends. I walked past a few classrooms until I found someone who acknowledged me in the hall and invited me in. My new friend Meghan.

Meghan is from Canada and has been in Korea for a couple years. She was one of the original teachers when GATE opened, so she's really a wealth of knowledge. She introduced me to her kiddos, and here are some of the outstanding responses I got:

"Your hair is very comfortable."
"Are you from North United States or South United States?"
"Is there a West America, since there's a South America?"
"Yeah, I already know you."

I spent much of the day in Meghan's class, watching her teach and trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to do it. Much of the work comes straight out of workbooks, which is horribly sad for the kids, but kind of a relief for me. Meghan gave me her lesson plans for the week so I don't have to worry about them, but I still have no clue what I'll actually be doing with the kids. My class starts today, and only one of them has ever been in school before, so this might be a bit of a challenge. On the bright side, I only have five students (five! hahaha) as of right now, so there's little likelihood of being overthrown. Today will probably consist of routine-building. I have no idea what the routines will be yet since I just arrived and can hardly figure out how to bathe myself, but we'll just wing it. I'm guessing people kind of expect me to fail a little bit this week, so I'm not worried about it. I just need to survive until the weekend and I can plan something better then.

After school, vice principal invited all the teachers out to dinner, so my other new friend, Kat, and I decided it would be fun. The other girl who lives in my building walked me home so I could change, then Kat and I headed out to locate the restaurant. When we arrived, everyone else was already eating and chatting... and they were all Korean. None of the other foreign teachers had decided to attend. The table they were sitting at was already full, so Kat and I had so sit one table over. Sarah, the vice principal, came over to our table and helped us order. Before long, more Korean teachers arrived and sat with us, so we didn't look so much like unwanted step children anymore.

Tangent: It's proving to be slightly challenging to understand the culture. For example, in my school, the teachers are referred to as either foreign or Korean. Each foreign teacher has a Korean teacher, and it's stated just like that. Not "co-teacher" or "assistant teacher" but Korean teacher. Apparently the Korean teachers make far less than we do, and their jobs are infinitely harder. Hana has already put in SO much time making our classroom beautiful; she's been there until midnight the last two nights. When the kids come, she'll be in charge of sending home detailed letters of what I do with them, contacting parents for any and all issues, gathering and serving all the meals, and a crazy amount of other tasks. I'm in charge of teaching. That's it. It feels ridiculously unfair, but there's not much I can do to change it. The foreign teachers have their jobs, and the Korean teachers have very separate jobs. They don't mingle much; not many of the foreign teachers are friends with their Korean teachers, and it doesn't seem to bother anyone. Hana is so very lovely, and I hope that we'll be friends. She tracked me down a couple times to bring me food because she knew I hadn't eaten since the plane and wanted to make sure that I was well fed. She's worked her butt off on our classroom, and won't accept any offers of help. She just tells me that my job is harder than hers and I should not worry about her. I really hate saying it, but it feels a little bit like having a slave, and it makes me slightly uncomfortable. I'm in her country, and yet I have a higher status that she does? How is that even fair? When I walked in the room, she looked at me and said, "May was right, you are so pretty. It's intimidating." This absolutely gorgeous girl thinks I'm pretty? I looked like a hot mess - I'd hardly slept at all, and my fight with the shower certainly left something to be desired. I'm pretty because I'm American... and that just feels wrong. I feel like I'm being rewarded for something I didn't do, and it's so very strange.

Anyway, so this post is getting really long. I'll try to wrap it up. After dinner, Kat and I headed out in search of Billy's hotel. Meghan had called the tourist line and gotten directions for me: Gangnam station, exit three, walk five minutes, turn right, walk one minute. Seriously. Those were my directions. Kat offered to help me find it, but I asked her if I could try to do it on my own and she could just correct me if I went terribly off-course. I think I amazed both of us by finding it right away. I didn't get us lost at all - just walked right to it! I literally skipped down the sidewalk (and received more funny looks from Koreans), and we went inside to call Billy.

He met us downstairs (how he knew I was there, I'll never know), and we went up to his room. There were only three of us, so euchre was a no-go. We talked a little, and I curled up in a ball on the couch. I wasn't asleep, but I was really close, so I was lucky that Kat maintained conversation well. A little after nine, I stole a roll of toilet paper from him and Kat and I headed home.

I directed us home without any troubles, which made me all kinds of proud. The second I got in my apartment, I changed into pjs and passed out on the bed. I thought it'd be no trouble to sleep straight through until my alarm, but that didn't work out quite as planned. That's okay. I'm planning to take an uncomfortably cold shower and walk up to Dunkin' Donuts to get breakfast for me and Hana. (Yes, I already ate half a pizza and I'm planning to get donuts too. Don't you worry about it.) Tonight, Kat offered to take me to the Wednesday night service at Jubilee, but I've already blown the last two nights without buying anything for my apartment, so I need to go do that tonight. I'd love to be able to unpack sometime soon. Next Wednesday, though, I'm totally there. :)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jet lag

Before I left, I told my friends that I didn't believe in jet lag. I had decided it was mind over matter.


I arrived in my apartment a few hours ago, and the very first thing I did was pass out on the bed. I did manage to get the table cloth-like sheet down before I fell asleep, but I couldn't be bothered with blankets. Now that I'm slightly better rested (I'm still planning to go back to sleep here very soon), I'll try to give a little better of an update.

My apartment is pretty nice. I'll get pictures posted soon, but I'm too lazy to get out of bed and try to find my camera. Plus, I'd like to set a few things up around the place to make it look a little more homey when you all see it. Here are some apartment fun facts:
- The landlord came by and talked to me in Korean. I tried to explain to him that I didn't understand any Korean, but he didn't seem to know any English. We both just smiled and giggled nervously until he finally gave up and went away.
- My shower IS the bathroom. The bathroom IS the shower. There's a drain in the floor, and I'm assuming I'll have to become very coordinated to hold the water thingy and wash my hair simultaneously. Shaving my legs will be out of the question for a while.
- The refrigerator smells like something died in it. I don't know where to find cleaner, but it's okay because I don't have any food at the moment.
- I'm not sure if it's safe to drink the water, so for now, I'm just going to be very thirsty. If you know me at all, you know I can drink a gallon of water with dinner, so this is a tad bit painful, but I'd rather err on the side of safety than end up puking my guts out.
- I don't have any dishes, but it's okay because I don't have any food at the moment.
- My window looks out at a lovely brick wall. The roof of the building next to mine has a plastic kids' play thing on it, and once it's light out again, I intend to find out if mine does too. Also, I'm hoping to jump from one roof to the other, SpiderMan style.
- I have a washing machine, but the directions are in Korean.
- Ditto for the stove.
- And the air conditioner.
- And the tv remote.
- I found a Chanel bag under the sink and have been using it for trash. For some reason, this strikes me as very funny.
- We passed a Starbucks on the way to my apartment. I think I can find my way back to it in the morning? I surely hope so.

Sitting here on my table cloth bed, it's easy to imagine that I'm just in a new apartment in Cincinnati. In fact, when I was asleep, I dreamt that all my friends were here, in this new apartment, and we were exploring the city together. It was quite sad to wake up and find myself utterly alone. I think things will be easier tomorrow, when I have something to do and people to meet. Right now, I'm in an apartment that's much too cold (but I can't fix it) that smells a little funny from being closed up for a while, and I'm just lonely. It's a weird kind of lonely; being in a city of 11 million people, yet the only person you've tried to talk to in the last six hours doesn't speak your language. It's lonely with people all around, and in my experience, that's the worst kind.

Oh, but this is exciting: when I very first started thinking about moving to Korea, I found a picture of this bridge:

and knew I needed to find it as soon as possible. Well, it's practically right outside my door. We passed it on the way in, and I started bouncing in my seat. People looked at me funny. Korea's either going to stifle my joy, or I'm going to learn to not care what people think. Please God, let it be the latter.

I'm still feeling really sick from the plane food. I originally thought I was just sick because I was trying to type on a moving bus, but I get a little dizzy when I try to stand up, so it can't be that. I'm going to try to sleep it off; I have to work in a few hours, so I don't have much choice.

Until next time...

I live in ASIA.

Right there. That's Asia.

Here's the post I wrote about an hour ago:

I’m on the bus with YJ, riding from the Incheon airport into Gangnam. Despite the fact that I have been sitting for the past thirteen-plus hours, I am exhausted, so I can’t promise that anything in this post will be coherent. Plus, I can’t even post this until I find a wireless connection somewhere, so maybe I’ll edit it up all pretty before you all see it. Or maybe not. Probably more fun this way.
I spent my international flight between two new friends, Alex and Liz. Alex is moving to Vietnam to study the river deltas, and Liz has been all over Asia - I honestly can’t remember which part she’s currently moving to. They’re both college students, and both incredibly friendly, so the flight felt more like an extended dinner date than the torture I was expecting. Sometime during the flight, Alex pulled out a map. Apparently for his exchange program, he is required to take a test on Vietnamese geography upon his arrival (thank goodness I’m not expected to do the same). The three of us picked out funny things on the map, and I really should have written them down to share. There’s a field of phallic-shaped religious sculptures that have sacred butter rubbed on them for good luck... or something... now that I’ve typed that, I sincerely hope I misunderstood the description. Anyway, so while we were examining the map, I remember thinking “man, I wish I were cool enough to move to Asia like this kid’s doing.” Yep. Let that sink in a bit.
The meals on the plane were pretty tasty. One of them consisted of rice, veggies, and some meat-like substance that I’m going to believe with all my heart was beef. The Korean dish was served about two hours into the flight; right after the meal, they closed all the shades and declared it bed time. At the end of the fake night, they woke us up and gave us... beef stew. I’m more a fan of breads and such for breakfast, but apparently that’s not the way they do it in Korea.
I’m going through a tunnel right now. Thought you ought to know.
Ooh, now there’s a pretty orange bridge! Wow, this couldn’t possibly be more ADD.
YJ just answered his cell phone “yoboseyo” - which is what I was told was hello! I understood Korean! This is gonna be cake.
I just saw a bubblegum pink van.
This post is rapidly deteriorating in usefulness. I suppose for now, the important things are:
  • I am safe in Korea.
  • I am heading toward my apartment.
  • I’m not scared in the least little bit. Granted, I’m not in the city yet, but I’m taking this as a good sign.
  • I am nauseous as heck. Curse that beef stew breakfast.
Okay, no more typing for now. Too queasy. One day, I’ll regret not having recorded more of my emotions upon arrival... but right now, I just need to focus on keeping the contents of my stomach on the inside of me.

**Update: I'm in my apartment now, stealing internet to post this. I'm absolutely wiped and don't even feel like going out to find dinner. I just want to sleeeeeeep.

Waiting in Chicago

I can’t connect to the internet at the Chicago airport (lame), but I don’t want to forget the three hours I’ve been on this adventure thus far, so I’m going to write them down. I promise I won’t blog every three hours once I get there. :)
Last night, I realized that I wasn’t even close to being ready to go. My bags were packed but horribly uneven, my carry-on was strewn across the house, and I teared up every time I looked at my widdle nephew. I stayed up until 1:30 getting everything organized (PS: I have to give a shout-out to everyone who texted me last night to wish me good luck. It really meant a lot!), then my alarm went off at 4:15. You know from previous posts how I feel about early mornings, but this time I popped out of bed. It turns out that an impending departure from the country prevents sleep. Who knew?
Dad, Mom, Kiss, Rob, Wy, B, Grandma Pat, and Grandpa Bud all accompanied me to the airport. The drive was a little surreal - I felt like I was going home as we journeyed through Cincinnati, but then we just kept on going down to CVG. I think I kept myself in check throughout most of the ride by reminding myself that even when we got there, I still had plenty of time to spend with my family. I checked my bags, and we lined ourselves along the wall, all avoiding eye contact to keep from crying. Kiss passed along Favorite Nephew so I could spend my last twenty minutes holding onto him; every time I’d look at him, I’d tear up (I’m doing it again just thinking about it), and he’d give me his crooked, open-mouthed, toothless grin that I’ve gotten quite accustomed to these past two weeks. When that didn’t work to cheer me up, he opted for puking on my hoodie. Also good.
Grandma Pat reminded me - multiple times - that I really didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to, and Dad offered to take me to Disney World today if I stayed. Without going into too much detail, I went around the circle twice, hugging my family and crying all over them. I have to say, that was hands down the hardest moment of my life.
Security was uneventful, and I found the gate without too many troubles. My plane had already boarded (we took too long to say goodbye, apparently), and I slid on at the last minute. I pulled my camera out and took pictures as the plane launched me away from my home, my family, and my friends.
I spent the first twenty minutes of the flight shaking and sobbing into my sweatshirt. I remember two thoughts going through my head simultaneously: “what the hell am I doing?” and “would I look funny if I put on my sunglasses?” (it was really bright on the plane). I tried to read Mockingjay, which I have been waiting for for MONTHS, and I couldn’t focus at all. I must be a glutton for punishment because I ran through all my goodbyes, one by one, and cried about them again. Not the most productive way to spend time.
Eventually, my childlike delight in air travel took over, and I stared out the window. I found animals in the clouds, made up stories for the teeny tiny people below, and watched the wing right outside my window. I swear the thing was moving. I know that planes don’t actually have to flap to stay in the air, but I swear to you, that wing was moving up and down. Don’t give me that crap about angles and perspective - I saw what I saw, and my plane was flapping.

By the time we pulled into Chicago, I was actually starting to feel excited again. The flight attendant came over the speaker and announced where everyone’s connecting flights could be found. “If you’re heading to Denver, you’ll be at gate H12. If you’re heading to Palm Beach, you’ll be at gate D4...” I was bouncing in my seat, biting my tongue to keep myself from shouting “but what about ASIA, Ms. Flight Attendant? Where do you go if you’re moving to ASIA?!” She didn’t announce my flight, but I apparently decided that it didn’t matter, so I didn’t bother to ask directions. Hehe, do you see where this is going?
I trotted off the plane, my carry-on in tow, and wandered around the terminal. Seriously, just wandered. I wandered up and down the American Airlines terminal a few times before I finally realized that maybe, just maybe, my Korean Air flight may be elsewhere. I rounded a corner and started reading signs. The international terminal was number 5, and I was in number 3, and I couldn’t find a single sign that pointed toward where I needed to be. What I DID find was a sign that said “Children’s Museum”. I stood under that sign for a good minute or two, debating whether the museum would be a worthwhile venture. While I was pondering this, a man about my dad’s age walked up and commented on my hoodie (not the puke; the fact that it said Miami). He said his daughter also went there... blah blah small talk... then he asked if I was lost. I proudly told him I was considering the Children’s Museum instead of my flight (and his opinion of my sanity plummeted). He offered to show me where I needed to go, so I said goodbye to the museum and headed off toward terminal 5.
When I finally found my gate (where I’m sitting as I type this), I checked the internet connection to try to text my fam to let them know I’m safe. My computer wouldn’t connect (well, it would have for ten dollars, but I’m cheap), so I headed off in search of lunch instead. In the American Airlines terminal, I walked past a McDonald’s, a Starbucks, and Wolfgang Puck, but here, the only option was the over-priced sandwich station. I begrudgingly forked over ten bucks for a tortilla and some chicken, and got a handful of quarters to try the pay phone. I can’t remember the last time I used a pay phone for real, and my daddy didn’t even answer. I figured he was the most likely to have his phone on him, but apparently he wasn’t able to get to it fast enough, so I left a message and ate my chicken tortilla thingy.
That brings me to right now. I’m surrounded by the people I’ll be spending the next thirteen hours with (I’m going to try to start a sing-a-long, I think), and I’m writing an unnecessarily long blog post in the form of a word document. All my updates will arrive at the same time on my blog, but rest assured, they were written throughout the trip!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Twenty-four hours until take-off

I've stopped posting facebook status updates about Korea because I'm starting to think I might be getting on people's nerves. I know that's silly; if people don't want to hear about my life, they can always hide me on newsfeed. But it just seems like overkill to post "Nikki is terrified" every few hours.

So instead, I'll write a blog post.

I'm getting very scared. This whole adventure was starting to feel like a silly game you play in your back yard, yet instead of being Indian witch doctors under the weeping willow tree, I was a girl who pretended she was actually strong enough for a move to Asia. I packed up all my bags, said all my goodbyes... but I think I'm ready for the game to be over. It was hilarious while it lasted!

I told my mom last night that I really want to have the stories from Korea, but I don't quite want to start the adventure. I just want to have done it. She told me I should just back out and make up some stories, and let me tell you, that sounds pretty appealing right now. If I'm nervous now, I can't imagine how bad I'm going to be tomorrow at this time, when I'm sitting in the Cincinnati airport, having said goodbye to my family for the last time for a whole year. Maybe one day I'll look back on this experience and wonder what all the fuss was about. After all, it's just one year (I've already been alive for two dozen others), and it's just another city. The people I meet there are just people, and the job I'll have is just a job. I certainly hope that fun and exciting things happen in Korea - in fact, I'm kind of counting on it - but when you really break it down, it's just regular old life. I'm still going to be plain ol' Nikki Raasch, the girl who giggles at all the wrong times and is always, always cold. Even on the other side of the world, I'll still just be me, and I know me. That's one person in Korea I'm positive I'll get along with.

I hope I don't spend the whole day today worrying about tomorrow (wow, I don't think I've ever had a more applicable situation for that verse). Tomorrow will surely worry about itself, and I'm going to miss all the fun memory-making that could occur today if I waste it all away being anxious about tomorrow's flight. It's a new adventure, one that I willingly signed up for, and one that I'm very excited to embark upon. But for now, I'm going to go sit on the couch with my family, and soak in this life as much as I can before everything gets turned on its head.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm impossibly fickle.

The tracking number on my visa finally shows that it's in the mail, so I emailed my principal to tell her the great news. She responded by sending me my ticket confirmation and the teacher handbook for the school. In true Nikki fashion, this sent me into a spiral of panic.

I suddenly don't want to go (again).

The principal didn't send me anything I wasn't expecting; of course I'll need a ticket to fly out, and of course I'll need to create a power point to introduce myself to the class. And, honestly, some of the things in the handbook were downright exciting: per the school's curriculum guide, I'll be teaching fairy tales once a week, and once a month we have a party in the gym to celebrate learning. I mean, how fun is that? Perhaps it's simply my aversion to grown-up responsibilities, but I'm being flooded with an irresistible urge to call everything off and disappear to Neverland. I know I need to make money, and I know that I'm excited about this adventure, but I also know that I've enjoyed hanging out with my little sister and favorite nephew every morning this week, and I know that I like having immediate access to a Graeter's whenever the craving hits. I know that I desperately want to go on this adventure, and I know that I desperately want to stay.

I suppose it's not too late to back out. I could apologize profusely to the school, probably have to reimburse them for my flight, and head back to Cincinnati to rejoin the life I left behind only a week ago. I'm sure I haven't missed much. But going back to Cincinnati instead of off to K-land will guarantee me to miss something. I'll miss my adventure. I'll miss out on the friends I could have made and the stories I could have told. From this end, the whole adventure is terrifying. A "Mr. YJ" is meeting me at the airport in four days - FOUR DAYS - and I'll be thrown headfirst into a country that doesn't (entirely) speak my language and a culture that is still a complete mystery to me. But the beginning of everything new should be a little fear-inducing; life is too short to make the comfortable choice every time. I remember the first time I went to Young Life camp in high school - it was a week trip to Georgia with people I knew, and I panicked. My Young Life leader had to actually come to my house and repack the bags I had strewn across my room, and I ended up having a fabulous time. This time, there's no one to repack my bags. If I took everything out, my family would breathe a collective sigh of relief and Korea would just be another crazy scheme Nikki backed out of. This time, it's up to me to keep it all together.

On a related note, most of this sudden panic is likely linked to PMS. I can just see all the men reading this nodding along, thinking to themselves, "yeah, you women go crazy!" And you know what? It's absolutely true. Once a month, my hormones and emotions fly off the charts, and there's not a darn thing I can do about. So suck it up and bring me some ice cream.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tick tock, tick tock

I'm getting very frustrated with the government. So much so that I kind of want to call and yell at someone, and that's not quite in my nature (nor would it be beneficial in any way).

I was supposed to leave for Korea on Friday of last week, but I didn't have my visa yet. So it got moved to Monday (yesterday), but I didn't have my visa yet. So it got moved to Wednesday (tomorrow), but I don't have my visa yet. So it got moved to Friday, but I'm not sure if I'll have my visa by then, so it's getting moved to the weekend. It's driving me crazy.

Patience is so not my thing. I'd rather just not eat than wait in a long drive-thru line, and I'll pay twice as much to buy a book at Barnes and Noble just so I don't have to wait the four days for Amazon to ship it. When I make up my mind to do something, I go do it right then, and it's positively killing me that I'm at the mercy of an office full of grumpy secretaries to determine when I leave on my adventure. My family is delighted that my date keeps getting pushed back; they've seemed to enjoy having me around this last week, and they're not eager for it to end any time soon. I appreciate that, I really do, but I can only be "ready to leave" for so long before I start pacing trails in the living room. My bags have been packed for over a week, and I've been living out of my pile of donation clothes ever since. I'm sleeping in the extra bedroom, and every night I have another "I'm going to miss you"-style dinner with someone else who makes me cry. I love that I'm so loved, and I feel terrible complaining about having too many tearful goodbyes. But I'm emotionally exhausted, and just ready to goooo.

The longer I wait, the more freaked out I become. Last week, I was so excited for my adventure. I moved out of my apartment and into my parents' house, and I was just waiting for that last stamp to release me off into the great unknown. But now I've had an entire week at home to think about how my bank account is terrifyingly low, how I still don't know how to ask where the bathroom is, and how I don't know a thing about teaching first grade. Now that I'm leaving on Saturday instead of Friday, I'll be arriving Sunday afternoon, which gives me a whole fifteen hours to get settled in before my first week of teaching. This does not please me at all and there's nothing I can do about it. Well, I can whine to the interwebs. That's productive.

I suppose I really just wrote this post for my future self. One day, I'll look back on this post and chuckle at how worried I get over things outside my control. A month from now, my departure date will hardly matter at all, but right now, it feels like it's the most important thing in the world. Can I make a new-life resolution for my year in Korea? I think so. I'm going to stop worrying about things I can't control and start just enjoying today. Someone remind me of this in two weeks when I'm stressed out about something laughably insignificant again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Interviewing at the Consulate

Yesterday I spent eleven hours in the car. Jealous?

I had to interview with the Korean Consulate in Chicago to get my visa. Before I go much further in this story, I should explain that I don't know whether the Consulate is the person with whom I interviewed or the office as a whole. In my imagination, the word Consulate is a title, akin to "the wonderful Wizard of Oz", and that is how I will refer to my interviewer for the remainder of this post.

Grandma Pat and I left at 3:45 yesterday morning. Five AM and I hardly get along; 3:45 is my arch nemesis. If I could rid the world of 3:45, I'd feel a whole lot like Spiderman blowing up the Finisher, and I don't doubt that I'd have a day recognized in my honor. Anyway, so we left at 3:45 and drove to Chicago.

I didn't bother to look at the route beforehand since my trusty GPS always gets me where I need to be. Somewhere in my twenty-plus years, I'd been told that it takes six hours to get to Chicago, so that's what I counted on. Five hours later - at 8 AM local time - we pulled into the Windy City. My appointment with the Wizard wasn't until 10:50, and we had nearly three hours to kill. Normally, this would be quite an adventure, but significantly less than half a night's sleep had left me exhausted and cranky. We wandered around the city, but I was far from being a bundle of fun. My grandma, on the other hand, seemed to be energized by lack of sleep, and trotted around that city like it was her only vacation in a decade. At least she had fun :)

At 10:30, we trudged up the stairs to the Wizard's office. By the time I got to the counter to check in, my hands were shaking so much I had to set my papers down. I knew the interview was really a series of questions like "Do you want to go to Korea?" and "What continent is Korea on?", so I had no legitimate reason to be nervous. But the tiny woman on the other side of the window held the key to whether I get to move to Asia next week, and that made me all kinds of anxious.

I sat down on a couch to wait next to my new friend Billy. He wasn't my friend when I sat down, but once we discovered our mutual adoration for euchre and he told me the one thing he needs in his suitcase is his George Forman grill, I knew we'd get along just fine. We chatted about living abroad, etc (you don't really want to know the specifics of small talk, do you?) until we were called back together along with another girl for our interview, leaving Grandma Pat with Billy's mom on the purple couches.

The Wizard was incredibly friendly. Billy and I admired the view while we waited for the Wizard to be ready. When he sat down, he pointed out the window and said something about a foot and Lake Michigan before laughing hysterically. Either Korean jokes are very different than American ones or something did not get translated properly, but Billy, Angelica, and I just chuckled awkwardly. He asked some very basic questions ("What will you be doing to make money in Korea?"), but he quickly abandoned those for standard chitchat. We discussed Angelica's college (Northwestern - wow) and the fact that Billy and I are rivals (I claimed to care more about THE Ohio State University than I actually do for the sake of animosity. I think I even scooted away from him on the couch to make a point.) Then the Wizard started asking me questions.

I should note that he didn't ask anyone else individualized questions. The three of us would each answer in turn to all the previous questions, but he suddenly decided he only wanted to talk to me. He asked if I was fifteen (thanks, Wiz) then laughed at his own joke. When I told him I am almost 24, he launched into a story about his 24-year-old daughter who is studying to get her PhD. Suffice it to say, I didn't connect much with that story, seeing as I am abandoning all educational responsibility for the sake of teaching some first graders their numbers. I've never had any desire to get a PhD, but I nodded along politely while he bragged about his daughter. (He was so proud of her; it was adorable).

He proceeded to ask me more questions - just me - while Angelica and Billy watched. I included them in conversation as best I could, but when discussing my younger sisters and what they do (no joke), the other two in the room had little to say. He then asked if Billy and I were dating. No, he didn't ask; he stated it, then asked why we were teaching in different cities. We tried to explain that we were not dating and that we had actually just met in the waiting room, but the Wizard would hear nothing of the sort. He finally finished by telling me that if I don't want to date Billy, he's certain I'll find someone I do want to date in Seoul. Um, alright?

As we walked out the door, he pointed at me and said, "This one is very bubbly! She will have fun in Korea." - as if the other two were destined to sob pathetically in their rooms every day. The three of us left the Wizard's office, exchanged email addresses, and headed off to our respective cities.

Now is more waiting. I left my passport and a nineteen-dollar envelope at the office, and once they process my application, my passport will be overnighted back to me. The principal of the school (who seems to be the most precious woman ever) had already emailed me twice asking if I can leave on Wednesday. Assuming my paperwork gets processed first thing Monday, the earliest I can leave is Tuesday, and I don't have any guarantee that it will be processed on Monday. It's weird and a little irritating to not have any set details, but this means that I will FOR SURE be able to get Mockingjay before I leave so I can read it on the plane. I won't even notice the flight with that book in my hands! Hooray!

My principal told me that they are all anxious to meet the "beautiful and talented new teacher" next week. I can't help but laugh as I imagine any boss I've ever had referring to me as either "beautiful" or "talented." Korea's going to be hilarious.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Farewell, Cinci

I no longer live in Cincinnati. All my stuff (and it's worth noting that I have far too much stuff) now resides in storage in various family members' basements, and my bedroom in my apartment is completely empty. I wish I could say it feels real now, but it still doesn't. It feels like every time I packed up my crap at the end of spring semester and moved it to a new home; it feels like I'm just shifting my life a mile or so down the road and everything will continue the way it's supposed to. Meredith's going away party is on Friday, and I won't be there. How can I not be there? I'm crying just thinking about it. Life is changing so much - and it's not at all outside my control. I instigated this change by applying for jobs there when I had a job here, by signing a contract despite knowing that I loved the life I had. It's all my fault really.

That's also somewhat liberating. No one is forcing me to take this next crazy step in my life. No one made me leave my friends and family behind in search of adventure and excitement. No one... but me. Sometimes I am literally forcing myself to step forward. I got my visa number yesterday and spent the entire afternoon dragging my feet before I finally called to schedule my interview at the Consulate in Chicago (it's Friday morning, by the way) because I knew that stupid interview was the last step in getting my visa stamped in my passport. I know I want to go, so I make myself move forward. I know I'll be glad that I did... eventually.

When I get to the end of my life, there are three things I've decided will measure whether I succeeded. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish/be blessed with (get married, have bunches of babies, see my books in a bookstore, be on tv for something exciting, etc), but none of those measure whether my life was a success. I'd love to be a wife one day, but if I'm not, my life wasn't a complete waste. Without these three things, though, I'd consider my life a bit of a disaster: love God, love people, and tell a good story. The first two I can do anywhere, and I sincerely hope I've done a good job with them up to this point. The thing about those two is that you can practice and practice your entire life and never really be perfect at them. Sometimes you'll still focus too many of your prayers on that boy whose eyes make you forget your name, and sometimes you'll still snap when your friend chews like a cow. I can never be perfect, but perfection wasn't really the goal in the first place. It's the practicing that matters. And I can practice those two no matter what continent I'm on.

The third one is a little trickier. I have some good stories so far; I certainly haven't lived under a rock all my life. But the majority of my stories are, well, safe. We almost got arrested sophomore year for breaking and entering... but they let us go because it was an honest mistake. I lived and worked at Disney World for a summer... along with about 15,000 other college kids. I almost died on my way home from England... actually, that's a pretty good story :). But when the characters in my books are having better adventures than I am, something's not quite right. If I can imagine adventures, I can certainly track some down and live them. I want the story of my life to be as much fun as the stories on my hard drive. And that's why I'm moving to Korea.

Korea's not going to be full of adventure every second (well, that depends on how feisty North Korea's feeling this next year). I know there will be times when I'll get home from work, eat ice cream for dinner, and watch Friends dvds until midnight. I know it's not always going to be glamorous and sexy, and that's kind of exciting in itself. I've never lived alone before, and I've never not had friends before. I'm curious to see who I am when there's no one else around. Who am I when I get lost trying to find my own apartment? Who am I when I find a restaurant and can't pronounce a single thing on the menu? Who am I when it's Friday night and I don't have plans, but I have a big city sparkling outside my door? I can't wait for the daily stuff; I can't wait to see who I am when my regular life is stripped away and I have to make a new one all by myself. Maybe adventure isn't just taking a big risk. Maybe the biggest adventure is actually discovering who you really are and embracing it. What the world needs is people who have come alive. Who am I when I've come alive?

Monday, August 16, 2010

See Ya Later Parties

I've attended a lot of going away parties. I'm at a fairly transient age, and my friends are hardly content staying in one location for very long. There was a summer during college that my roommates and I were literally in five different states, and a semester a year later that found us taking up space in three countries. I currently have at least six friends I've only seen via a backlit screen all year long. We're pretty good at keeping in touch, but it is a little rough to not get to spend real time with people you love.

None of the going away parties I've attended have every been focused on me - until now. This weekend I found myself the center of two such parties, and I have one more looming sometime in the future. It's a strange feeling knowing that the people I spent my weekend with - the people I've spent every weekend with for the last year or so - aren't going to be immediately accessible to me very soon. I don't like it one bit. But in the midst of the sadness (wow that's one of the cheesiest phrases I've ever typed), it's so beautiful to know that I'm sad to leave my life behind purely because I've led such a good life here in Cincinnati.

Also, I'm planning to shrink all my friends down and put them in my suitcase. Seems reasonable.

As far as updates go, I realize that this one doesn't contain a wealth of information. Here are the facts as they currently stand:
- I'm scheduled to leave on Friday (as in, four days from today). Nope, my suitcases aren't packed, but thanks for asking!
- I don't have a visa yet. I'm waiting to hear back from Korean immigration, and that can take anywhere from one to four weeks. We're on day 8.
- As soon as I hear from immigration, I have to take my passport to Chicago and interview with the Korean Consulate. I have no idea when that's going to be yet, but I know it has to happen.
- After I get back from Chicago, the school will book my flight. I'm predicting it may not actually happen until late next week, but really it could be any time after Friday. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I don't have to leave until after Mockingjay comes out so I can read it on the plane. (I know, I'm embarrassingly nerdy.)
- I don't know where I'll be living yet, but I pinky swear I'll tell you the second I find out. That may not be until I arrive. No, I don't think that's shady and I'm not worried about being kidnapped, but (again) thanks for asking!
- I do actually have some friends in Korea. I have no clue how I'll find them, but there are four people currently in Seoul or the surrounding cities who care about my well-being. That's phenomenal, in my opinion.
- My mom says she's going to put a box cutter in my carry-on so I can't make it through security. Apparently her reasoning is that I'll be safer in prison than in Asia. Suffice it to say, I'll be checking my bags a lot in the next few days.
- Yes, I'm very sad that I'm leaving. No, that unfortunately doesn't mean I'm going to change my mind. (Sorry!)

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, I've uploaded a little clip of my Friday going away party. These are the friends I made my freshman year of college and are a handful of the most amazingly funny and loving people I know. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: if I can find friends half as great as these, my life in Korea is going to be something grand indeed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I have a date!

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon with one of my favorite families, watching my favorite six-year-old test to get his yellow belt in tae kwon do. The Grand Master of the school (who is apparently a REALLY big deal) walked around the room, signing the kiddos' boards and making small talk. When he came around to us, my friend Wendy told him that I'm moving to Korea. The following conversation occurred:

Grand Master Kim: You're moving to Korea?
Me: Yes, in about two weeks.
GM Kim: Do you have paper?
Me: (in my head) Why the heck do I need paper?
Wendy: *hands GM Kim a notebook
GM Kim: I'll be arriving on August 23rd. You will call me on the 24th in the evening. I'll take you to coffee. *pats me on the cheek
Me: Oh thank you! That's very nice of you!
GM Kim: You're going to be trouble in Korea. I can already tell.

This is very easily going to be the most badass date of my life. I watched some people breaking concrete blocks on Saturday, and that was just to get their black belts. I can't imagine what Grand Master Kim had to break to become a "Grand Master". Probably a building. Or a person. This is gonna be AWESOME.

Also, if it's this easy to get a date in Korea, I don't think I'll ever have to pay for a meal. Rock on!

Also also, I'm gonna ask him to teach me how to do this:


Saturday, August 7, 2010

No hugs?

I love hugs.

I could really just say that and this post would be complete. I'm a hugger. I'll tackle my friends from yards and yards away, I squeeze my mom until she can't hardly breathe, and I sneak into my roommate's bedroom just to snuggle. I heard once that every person needs three hugs a day to feel secure and loved. I need like thirty.

So you can imagine my dismay when one of my friends told me that hugging isn't really the social norm in Asia. Apparently pressing your body against another person's is an invasion of privacy or some nonsense like that. I don't know for sure since I haven't been there yet, but it rocks my world a little to consider that my love language may go unfulfilled for an entire year. I know that I'm not going to be the only American in the country who'll be hoping for a little cuddle time, but I really don't know if I can jump on board with this whole "bowing" thing. To me, nodding my head as a greeting says, "I see you, but don't you dare come any closer." It's what I do to acknowledge someone I don't particularly care for who has entered my range of vision, not how I greet my friends. Perhaps this is my first tiny taste of culture shock.

Luckily for me, I also enjoy holding hands. According to my research, friends of the same gender commonly walk down the street holding hands, and it's quite acceptable. This warms my heart; Kimi and I used to walk around campus holding hands, and that always tended to bring endless strings of catcalls from Miami's finest. It took me almost two years to find friends in Cincinnati who don't tense up and look at me like I have three heads when I sneak my hand into theirs, so it's comforting to know that I'll be able to slide right into some hand-holding to get my physical contact fix. If my life in Korea is even a little bit like this, I'll consider myself incredibly lucky.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Docs are in the mail!

Waiting on the government is even less fun than watching grass grow. The whole visa process amounts to really just one big headache, and it doesn't make it any better that every single morning this week, I've woken up to an email asking when my documents would arrive. Needless to say, I've been anxious all week. Each day when the mailman arrived in our building, he found me, crossing my fingers and grinning like a fool. Today it all paid off - my envelope was finally delivered. Woohoo!

Eighty-four dollars later, my documents are on their way to South Korea. Wow.

My bosses took me out to lunch today to celebrate my rapidly approaching departure. Tomorrow is my last day, but since I work from home, I won't be seeing all three of my bosses again in the morning. Today was the last day I'd see two of them, and so naturally, I cried. I think it's pretty safe to say that I'll be crying at least once a day for the next two weeks. Luckily, my emotions have outstanding elasticity. I cried at lunch, but I nearly hugged the mailman when he gave my my background check. Some might call that bipolar. I call it being a girl.

In other news, Ben signed for Saudi today. He'll be leaving in a little over a month, so I've started doing some research. I don't know a lot about the middle east, but since my friend is going there, I thought I'd look into it a bit. Here's what I've learned so far:

There's a lot of sand. It's everywhere. Ben, when you're bored, will you please build one of these?


Camels. So I don't have any sources to back this up, but I'm pretty certain that life in the middle east revolves around camels. People keep them as pets, they're the most acceptable mode of transportation, and I think may even be involved in international negotiations. This guy certainly is.

That's about as far as I got in my research before I just started watching this video. It's really the most comprehensive compilation of middle eastern fun facts available. You're welcome, everyone. You're all a little smarter now.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

And we're crashing...

My emotions are always pretty roller coaster-like. I'm the kind of girl who will sob after seeing an animal narrowly escape being hit by a car, get mad at you for eating my ice cream, and do the chicken dance for no obvious reason, all within about ten minutes. My wonderful friend Kirsten and I have been working on figuring out which emotions are good and which are wasted, then not letting myself feel the wasted emotions. I'm getting better at it - I don't let myself feel guilty about things I didn't cause, and I'm practicing dealing with conflict head-on so that my anger won't simmer. Growth.

But one thing that is proving impossible to get a grip on is how I feel about this whole Korea business. If you were stalking yesterday, you saw that I was practically bouncing off the walls with excited anticipation of my adventure. Now today, a whole 24 hours later, I'm distraught. It's almost as if my hormones have decided to enact every known emoticon back to back. It's rather exhausting.

A few weeks back, my small group helped me create a list of things I can do when I'm bored in Korea. I have this theory that boredom is a choice, and while I do sometimes choose to be bored (sometimes I even schedule it into my day), I do not want to choose it every time. I've never lived overseas, but I'm predicting it will likely follow this equation: boredom + facebook stalking people I miss = depression. You see, the reason I'm sad today is because people I love very much wrote on my facebook wall and told me they'd miss me. If that was you, thanks! I'll miss you too! And, not to throw blame or anything, but you've seriously bummed me out. In order to work my way out of this leaving-everything-I've-ever-known funk, I've decided to share a few of the items off the "Anti-Boredom List:"

- Find doppelgangers of my friends (this may be limited to my Asian friends. all two of them.)
- See a show in Korean and make up the plot
- Buy dinner with the earnings from a street performance
- Get a coloring book and decorate an entire wall of my apartment
- Pretend to be a tour guide at a national monument
- Find a cute boy to buy me dinner
- Talk with varying regional accents
- Make a video tour of Seoul for my friends back home
- People watch and select theme songs for each person who walks by
- "Love is a Battlefield." Hairbrush.
- Take up sketching and try to sell my masterpieces

Be on the lookout for blog posts as I mark things off the list. And (I mean this in the NICEST way possible) stop telling me how much you'll miss me, k? It kind of makes me not want to go :( If you want to tell me you'll miss me, instead, share a fun fact about your favorite animal. That way, neither of us will tear up, and I'll learn something too! It's really a win-win all around.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Countdown to Korea: COMMENCE!

Three weeks from today, I'll be starting my new job. Three weeks. That's 21 days. Spelled out, it looks like this: twenty-one. In Korean, it's... well, I don't know. 21.

My emotions are a roller coaster right now - sometimes I burst into tears just looking at an American flag or a cheeseburger (not quite true, but you get the sentiment). Then there are other times, times like this moment right now, when I'm really excited. Like stupid excited. Like I started skipping at the client site today. I can't even really come up with a word that properly conveys both my enthusiasm and elation. When you Google enthusiam, by the way, you get this picture:

I'll let you imagine me imitating all those faces, one by one, particularly the fourth one. Yessss.

I can't really put my finger on the cause of this sudden excitement. I still don't know any Korean words aside from "I want Starbucks!" and Seoul didn't magically turn into a smaller city. It's still flat out terrifying, but I'm so flippin excited I can't sit still. Last night I spent hours playing on Google earth, locating things that will be important to me when I get there - like the bright yellow children's library and a Pizza Hut.

A huge contributing factor is most definitely my friend Cassie. She's moving to Daegu on August 17th, and even though I have no idea how close that is to Seoul, just the mere idea of having a friend in the same country - a GIRL friend in the same country - makes me giddy. When I originally told Ben I wanted to go to Tokyo Disney, he begrudgingly agreed, probably hoping that he could ditch me at the airport and do something grown-ups like to do instead. But when I told Cassie I wanted to go to Tokyo, she jumped up and down! We've already planned our trip, including a stop at a Japanese gameshow because, let's be honest, Japan has the most ridiculous gameshows in. the. world.

Cassie and I also already planned how we're going to spend our "Harvest Holiday" (ie: Koreans celebrate my birthday as a national holiday. SCORE!). We don't have much figured out besides the fact that we'll be spending the three days bouncing from one Korean city to the next, but that's all I really need to know. I have PLANS with a FRIEND in KOREA. It's magic.

On a somewhat related note, it's pretty certain Benny won't be in the big K with me. He's been talking with the Saudi school, and he's being offered a pretty amazing opportunity on the ground level of an educational expansion. I'm still kind of scared it's all a ploy to kidnap cute, blue-eyed American boys, but he's excited (and perhaps a little too trusting). Instead of exploring Asia with me, he's opting to spend the year with 80 dudes in an alcohol-free, estrogen-free commune. I'm choosing not to be offended by this. :) Best wishes, buddy. Seoul will miss you. (Me too.)

Totally unrelated but thrilling: I've decided I'm buying a macbook to take with me. Be on the lookout for distorted pictures of my face that will no doubt be hysterical.

To sum up: I'm excited. The library is yellow. Japan has great gameshows. Ben's secretly gay. MACBOOK.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Notebooks and stickers and crayons - oh my!

First thing's first: how bad do you want to buy a box of crayons and try to build a little fort now? I mean, seriously.

I went to Target today to pick up a bridal shower gift, and I stopped at the little spot near the entrance where everything is a dollar (I'll buy almost anything if it's exactly one dollar). Since it's nearing back-to-school time, they had bins of sticky notes, planners, crayons - pretty much anything you could ever want to put in a first grade classroom. I stopped, of course, and took inventory of all the adorable, apple-shaped paraphernalia. I had a handful of "US Facts" flashcards before I realized that I didn't really have room to cart them over to the other side of the world with me. I was shocked to discover that this made me genuinely sad.

Moving to Korea wasn't really about the teaching for me. Yes, it's going to pay my bills, and I'm incredibly lucky that it just happens to be the field I'm trained in and, well, naturally pretty good at. When I think about being in SK, I almost never picture myself standing in front of a room full of kiddos, trying to teach them the i before e rule. Teaching was kind of just the unfortunate side effect of needing money to gallivant across Asia for a year. But I'm suddenly starting to wonder if maybe it'll be my favorite part of the whole adventure.

Friday night, I showed up to volunteer at CincyKids and got thrown into a classroom with a dozen five-year-olds. I've been volunteering at the Vineyard for four years now, but this was the first time I'd been in charge of that age group. I typically gravitate toward the toddlers; making conversation with a two-year-old rarely consists of more than "I like your shoes!" or "Where's your nose?" But as the little ones get taller, they start to get smarter, and I start to get nervous. What if they realize that I'm really not that cool? So I typically avoid them, but Friday night, I was stuck with them.

I have to be honest here - I only had this class of kiddies for about twenty minutes, and there were a handful of parent volunteers standing around to help if the kids somehow decided to declare anarchy and overthrow my authority. Regardless, I left feeling more empowered, like maybe this teaching thing won't be so bad after all. It turns out that it's kind of fun to have kids who actually delight in reciting back things they've learned or sounding out words on a poster. And it doesn't hurt to bust out some Simon Says when you accidentally line them up ten minutes too early.

Three weeks from tomorrow, I'll be starting training at the Gate school. I'm not going to say that I'm bouncing-off-the-walls excited, because I'm still pretty apprehensive about being responsible for the intellectual well-being of a room full of tiny people. But if I ended up with one of those "World's Greatest Teacher" pencil cups... I wouldn't hate it.