Thursday, October 18, 2012

i'm quite the professional

Despite what the calendar says, California is adamantly opposing the change of seasons. The temperature has dropped to around seventy a handful of times in the last month, if your hand only holds two items at a time. Yesterday, I decided I didn't care. I was tired of wearing flip flops in October, and I made up my mind to wear boots to work.

Since I'm currently the most scattered hobo on the planet with possessions in three separate locations, none of which are the house I signed a lease on last night, I have been a tad bit limited in my attire options as of late. Specifically, I'd run out of clean socks at Lauren's house. This is entirely my own fault as I only brought one pair with me, stuffing the others in a suitcase that ended up... somewhere, not here. I'd gotten completely dressed before I realized my only clean pair of socks had already been worn more times than is technically acceptable. I considered my other shoe options, but ultimately I decided that my wearing of the boots would not be hindered by such a silly thing as a lack of socks. My critical thinking skills are limited at six-something in the morning, and I deduced that putting an insert in the boots would suffice in lieu of clean socks. I stuffed the inserts in the bottom of my boots and headed out the door.

All seemed to be going according to plan until I started to climb the hill to my classroom. I realized immediately that, without socks, my feet rubbed against the inserts in my boots and made an incredibly loud farting sound. Many of you are not eighth grade teachers, so you will not fully understand how emphatically I must stress this next statement: when you spend your day with twelve-year-olds, under no circumstance may anything on your person ever make a farting sound. Not your chair, not your shoes, not even your stomach rumbling. If a sound can even remotely be considered a distant cousin to a fart, you'll lose control of every single class that walks through your door that day.

When I reached my room, I scanned around for something that could act as a barrier between my now-sweaty feet and the bottoms of the shoes. Unfortunately, I haven't made myself at home enough in my classroom yet to begin storing clothing items in the cabinet, and I came up short. With only a few minutes left before my first class would enter, I spotted the tissues on my desk. That'll work! I told myself. I unzipped my boots, wrapped my feet in tissues, and stuffed my feet back in the shoes. Getting up to test my impromptu solution, I was proud to discover that my shoes were completely silent. Well done, self, I thought, and I began teaching my morning class.

A few hours later, I was called to a 504 meeting to discuss the educational accommodations for a student in my class who has some learning disabilities. As I discussed various plans for helping this student succeed, a thought crept into my mind. There I sat, providing professional input to a team of educators, administers, psychologists, and parents, and the whole time, I had tissues stuffed inside my boots to keep them from farting. Of all the teachers at the school who could have made these important decisions, they chose me.

The girl wearing tissues as socks.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

Imagine you're getting ready for work. You went to bed later than you should have, so you throw on the comfiest work clothes you have in an attempt to convince yourself you're still in pajamas. You fix the pieces of hair that went berserk during the course of the night, smear just enough make-up on your face to cover the dark circles, and load your toothbrush with toothpaste. As you begin to brush your teeth, your half-awake eyes wander to the corners of the mirror, checking out the reflection of the room behind you.

In the left-hand corner of the mirror, you see your window, curtains open, blinds turned just enough to let the first bits of morning sun in. There's a silhouette of a man blocking the light.

That's basically one of my worst nightmares. It was also my Tuesday morning.

I snatch my phone off the counter and back into my closet, toothbrush still dangling from my mouth. I type 911 into the phone, but then it occurs to me that by the time anyone could arrive, this man would be long gone. My not-yet-fully-conscious mind trips over itself trying to decide if this is actually considered a 911-worthy call or if I need to find the police department's non-emergency number. I stood, paralyzed, in my closet for what I'm sure was less than a minute but felt like my whole lifetime, until I saw the man climb back through the bushes and walk away.

Now that time has passed and I've replayed the incident a thousand times in my head, I hate myself for what I didn't do. Why didn't I take a picture on my phone? Why didn't I call the police immediately? Why didn't I hire a trained assassin to protect my apartment? Instead, I gathered everything valuable in my apartment and moved to the kitchen, willing myself to leave for work. What if the man was waiting until I tried to leave, then he planned to grab me outside? I couldn't get myself to walk out the door, but my apartment no longer felt even a little safe. I stared out the peephole, letting my courage build; then I sprinted from my apartment to my car. I made it all the way to work before I started crying.

I went into the office before going to my classroom, and I relayed the story to two of my coworkers. They convinced me I needed to call 911. Before I knew it, there was a sub in my classroom and I was back at my apartment filing a report with the least empathetic police officer in the world. He told me that since I was fully clothed when I noticed the man, it wasn't a big deal. I wanted to punch him.

I can't even begin to explain how thankful I am for my friends, Lauren and Brad. I moved all my valuables (including myself) into their house while I try to figure out what to do. It will cost a crazy amount of money to break my lease, but I think this is a case where I have to cut my losses in favor of not having some creepy man watch me get ready for work. But if I break my lease, that still leaves me with the question of where to go.

I've kind of started to make friends, and there are a few girls that I may be able to share an apartment with. As much as I prefer living alone, I'd flat out feel safer with other people around. I also may be able to switch into another apartment in my complex, but I'm not sure whether moving a few buildings over will be any more comfortable than my current place. Whatever I decide, I'm certain of one thing: sometime in the next few weeks, I'll be moving. For the seventh time in twelve months. Why do I even bother unpacking at this point?

Monday, September 17, 2012

why i deleted facebook

In an effort to annoy as many of my friends as possible, I deleted my facebook a few months ago. Okay, that's not precisely the truth, but it's about as valid as any other excuse. I suppose I just got tired of it. I got tired of everyone being able to know what I was up to, I got tired of wasting hours stalking my old roommate's brother's friend's cousin's grandmother just because I could. I lamented the fact that people wrote on my wall instead of calling, and I decided I wanted to go "off the grid" for a bit.

I never intended for it to be permanent, but the longer I went without my newsfeed, the freer I felt. Who cares if I look like an idiot at my friend's wedding? I can't be tagged in pictures! Oh, random people from high school got in a silly fight over a guy who wasn't worth it ten years ago? Doesn't matter to me! I don't have to see it! People I needed to talk to had my phone number, and everyone else faded into an obscure memory.

That's not to say I haven't missed my familiar old social network. In fact, it was actually the specific times I missed it that further convinced me that being disconnected was the healthiest choice for me. Nights when I'd come home from work much later than I should have, weekends when I didn't interact with anyone but the girl I accidentally bumped at the Redbox. Those were the times when I wanted to "just check"... just check if he's still dating that girl... just check if my friends had been to a noraebang recently... just check if everyone else's life was, as I suspected, significantly happier than my own. I was afraid of comparing myself, afraid of making myself believe I was inadequate and boring and unwanted. To be fair, I'm still afraid of those things.

But this weekend, I bought a pomegranate. I'd never bought one myself before, and the guy at the grocery store tried to talk me out of it since they require an inexplicable amount of effort to prepare for consumption. When I got it back to Lauren's house, I shook the seeds into a bowl of water, the way Deb used to do it in India. I thought about all those times Deb would bring in bowls of pomegranate seeds and let everyone eat them as though they took no more effort than a banana. Had I been the one to seed them, I'd have punched my friends in the face before I'd have let anyone else eat those precious little pains in the butt. As I sat on Lauren's couch (sharing the seeds, of course), I decided I really wanted to tell Deb how much I appreciated all those times she brought me pomegranate seeds.

There are probably a dozen different times throughout the day that I think of something I want to say to someone. Sure, I could use email or a carrier pigeon, but really the bottom line is that in order to protect myself from potential sadness, I isolated myself from the form of communication that kept me connected with so many people I care about.

So tonight, I logged into facebook for the first time in a few months. Now I'll be able to actually be invited to my own birthday party next weekend, and I can finally catch up on pictures of my nephew. However, I am still keenly aware of how easily "just checking" can turn me into a weepy, lonely mess, and I'm going to be overly cautious for a while. I don't have the app on my phone, and I won't allow myself to check it more than once a day for ten minutes. I'm not going to use the search function to find any exes (or their new girlfriends). I won't be posting status updates because, honestly, I care too much whether anyone finds them entertaining. If I find in a few days that I can't hold myself accountable to these new guidelines, away it goes. The last few months have shown me I need facebook about as much as I need Halloween Oreos. Sure, I like them. But if I start going overboard, I'll just throw them away and get on with my life.

Crap, now I'm going to go eat some Oreos. Stop judging me!

Monday, September 10, 2012

thoughts on being new

As a kid, I never had to change schools. The kids in my kindergarten class walked across the stage with me in high school, and since there weren't many of them, I knew them all. Every once in a while, we'd get a new student, and we'd all become really interested in him or her for a few weeks. Soon enough, however, that new student became just one of us, and we went on with our regular elementary school lives.

When I got to college, I was at the peak of my now draining extroversion, and I made friends immediately. Looking back, my methods were questionable at best; I met two of my best college friends by walking up to them in a huge field full of freshmen and demanding their screen names, and I met another of my college roommates by sharing a bed with her. My dad's never met a stranger, and his approach to meeting new people rubbed off on me tenfold. I guess College Me just always assumed that everyone I met was just as excited to be my friend as I was to be theirs, and for the most part, it worked out pretty well. I'm sure I creeped a few people out, but don't we all sometimes?

Moving to Cincinnati was hard for me because, for the first time, I was up against people who already had friends, thankyouverymuch, and didn't need an obnoxiously peppy newbie to add to their circles. I went to church by myself for months before it occurred to me that not everyone shows up to church sans a posse. The more I realized I was missing out on socialization, the lonelier I became, until my friend Beth invited me to her small group. Beth's friend group largely consisted of transplants - young adults who had moved to Cincinnati after college and were creating new lives there. Despite the fact that I liked the Jonas Brothers at the time, they welcomed me with open arms. Every time I drive away from Cincinnati now, I cry knowing that I don't get to live life beside those people anymore.

When it comes to making friends, Korea takes the cake on ease of execution. I met my friend Kristen by facebooking her a month before I even moved there, and the day we all met Kelsey, we escorted her all the way back to her apartment. All my friendships were on steroids there; everyone remembered what it was like to be new and did everything they could to help ease the transition.

California's not the same.

I've been here for nearly six weeks, and aside from my coworkers, I haven't made a single friend. It's not for lack of trying; I've been to three different churches and two different young adult groups. I've tried to join six different bible studies and only one has actually given me enough details that I could show up. I thought I had found friends at a singles group I found (don't even get me started on how much I hate the concept of a "singles" group), but whenever I'd ask the other women in the group out for coffee, the resulting expression of confusion and annoyance made me want to get sucked into a hole in the ground.

I've never experienced such resistance trying to make friends. I went to a picnic on Saturday, and I nearly had to pull my car over on the way home because I was crying so hard. I think about those Sunday mornings in Korea that I slept through my alarm, only to be awoken a half dozen times as each of my friends realized I wasn't at church, and it physically hurts. Aside from the people I knew before I got here, not a single person has my phone number. I suppose people could have tried to add me on facebook, but since no one has asked me why I'm not to be found, I'm guessing that's not the case.

I promise this isn't just a post to gain your sympathy (okay, maybe a little). This new kind of loneliness I've been experiencing is really causing me to reflect on the kind of person I am when I'm comfortable in a new place. Once I've been around long enough to recognize the regulars, I want to be the person who always notices a new face. The kind of girl who invites new people to small group or has friends over for dinner. I want my friend circle to never feel closed off; I want to always have enough room in my life to spare an evening at a coffee shop to get to know someone who desperately needs a friend.

Before you panic and contact me on every form of communication available to you (Grandma), it's really not that big of a deal that I don't have a lot of friends right now. I'm still getting used to my job, which means I'm the last car in the parking lot at night and the janitor sometimes has to kick me out because he's leaving. I come home and crash on the couch before I even acknowledge what time it is. I spend eight hours a day listening to my own voice, and the last thing I want to do when I finally get home most nights is talk to another human being. It seems my introversion is skyrocketing these days, leaving me little energy to pursue any conversational exploit more complicated than talking to my television screen. For right now, this is my life. And even when it's lonely, it's so very good.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

my first year

I suppose since my position on the pay scale claims that this is my second year of teaching, I can't actually claim to be a first-year teacher. I did spend an entire calendar year teaching my k-babies how to hold pencils and count, but this is a whole different ballgame. These kids are less likely to pee their pants, and more likely to fail state testing if I turn out to be a fraud. The stakes are higher, the hours are longer, and the paycheck is better (although rent is far from free). This is my first official teaching job, in my opinion, and I want to document everything so I don't forget how I'm feeling right now, in two weeks, at Christmas.

It's shocking to me that we're wrapping up the second week of school. What happened to all those days I spent reading random books from the library or organizing all my plastic bins with my grandma? How is it that I've already lived in California for an entire month? I already have a driver's license and license plates. I have a most-frequented grocery store and favorite farmer's market. I don't need google maps to get me around town anymore.

As each day goes by, I write blog posts in my head about what life is like here. I have one about dating my city, one about why I deleted my facebook, and one about kids who already hate me; however, every night when I get home, I can't muster up the energy to type them out. I leave school around 7, sometimes 8, come straight home, make dinner to the best of my ability, and promptly fall asleep on the couch. Around ten I stumble to my room and try to fall asleep in my bed, but by then my mind is just rested enough to want to consider what types of vocabulary activities would be best the next day. I remember when I got my first job waiting tables, and I used to be up all night rehearsing how to write the orders on the order tickets. Now, I'm up all night trying to figure out why one class seemed to understand pronouns while the other one didn't.

All that to say, I've only written one post since the school year started, and I know I'll look back on these few weeks and wonder how I managed to get through them. Teaching is hard. I put in a lot of work, and my reward is thirty kids shooting lasers at me with their eyes because they just don't care about the difference between third person limited and third person omniscient. Sometimes they get so out of control that I'm shaking with fury as I order them as far away from my room as possible. And sometimes they borrow my favorite book and come back the next day having read the whole thing and wanting to know which faction of society I think I'd be placed in if I lived in that particular dystopia. 

It's one of the biggest emotional roller coasters I think I've ever experienced. Yesterday, I locked my door and cried for half an hour. Today, my disaster class was actually pretty controlled while I was being observed, and I felt a small taste of victory. I know today was only day nine of being Ms. Raasch, but so far, I can say with quite a bit of confidence that even with the hangups and train wrecks, I'm still really glad I'm a teacher. Despite the fact that I work quite a bit, I still don't feel like I'm going to work in the mornings. Seeing my biggest problem child successfully identify 50 different words' parts of speech makes being called a racist the day before not so significant.

Sometimes I still feel like I'm playing some kind of teacher game. It blows my mind that I'm the one the parents email when they see their kids are failing or that nearly a hundred a fifty students identify themselves as mine at some point throughout the day. I can't walk from my classroom to the office without being ambushed by "where are you going?" and "do you need me to do anything for you?" and "yo Ms. Raasch, do I gots to come to class?" I met a parent today and got to tell her that her son has had some trouble paying attention, but that today he was phenomenal and did all of his work. And I get paid for that.

Hopefully next week I'll manage to write down more stories so when I look back on my first year of teaching, I'll be able to remember exactly how much I hated and loved it at the same time. But right now, it's 10:30, and that's way past my bedtime.

Monday, August 20, 2012

i wore a sweater vest

My junior and senior years of high school, I had the same English teacher. A lot of students in the school purposely avoided having him (mainly because of the dreaded "senior project"), but he was absolutely, no questions asked, my favorite teacher. In elementary school, I used to say I wanted to be a teacher because I'd never really seen many other professions in action, but I can say with confidence that if I'd never had Mr. Ahlm, my major would likely have stayed resolutely away from the education department.

Every day I saw Mr. Ahlm at school, he had on a different tie and a sweater vest. On the off chance I saw him out in "the real world," it blew my mind to see him in a t-shirt. My English teacher wore sweater vests. End of story.

So today, when I officially became an English teacher in a regular American classroom, I wore a sweater vest.

I don't have enough to continue with the trend; in fact, I went to Kohl's on Saturday night in a panic hoping to buy more vests for my first week. Alas, today will be my only sweater vest day for a while. But that doesn't make me any less of an English teacher.

The past few weeks have been a blur of meetings, curriculum planning, and IKEA runs. As I said in my last post, it's weird knowing that I live here, and that I likely will live here for at least a few years (five years and I qualify for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program; seven years and I qualify to be a hipster). Today, however, all the chaos and stress and late-night planning came together, and I got to introduce myself to 143 kids as their teacher.

It's going to be rough. I can already tell my third block class is going to secure my spot in a mental institution, and my sixth graders feel like slightly taller kindergarteners in their desperate need to please. One of my kids couldn't remember my name today and called me "Mrs. Racial," and another one gave himself papercuts to try to get out of class.

But then...

Then there's the little dude who said he likes to "write his heart out" at home. And the girl who asked if she could borrow books from my library even though she's not in my class. And my fifth block class that cheered when I told them what books we're reading this year. I laughed out loud as a kid tried to convince me that Batman takes place in LosAngelesNewYork instead of Gotham City, and I took a picture on my phone of the questionnaire response that said I might be his new favorite teacher. I let the whole class borrow books from my bookcase, and when I turned around, they were all quietly reading even though I had told them they could talk.

It's going to be hard; there's no question about that. But I've never been more excited to go to work, and that's saying something. Of course, there is the added bonus of securely knowing that I'll be able to pay all my bills every month for the next calendar year, and that I have mediocre health insurance in case I decide to play in traffic after third block one day. I also finally, finally, found a church home this past weekend, so I'll have friends here starting September 9 (stupid small groups being on break for the summer). It seems California really is home for now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

someone else's apartment

Even though it has all my stuff in it, this apartment doesn't quite feel like home yet. I feel like I'm housesitting, like I'm visiting a friend who happens to never be home when I'm here. It's like someone else lives in this apartment, someone who likes all the same books I do and has a stack of Korean ramen in the pantry. Someone who wears the same size clothes as I do and has a picture my nephew finger-painted. I recognize this stuff, but it doesn't feel mine.

I guess maybe I'm too used to living out of a suitcase. I'm used to borrowed spaces and carefully chosen memories; I'm used to temporary, simple, sparse, uncomplicated.

But here, I have all my stuff. I have clothes I haven't worn in years that I didn't even remember I had. I have an entire fridge to fill with foods I like (even though it currently has only taco shells, colby jack cheese, and chocolate milk). I have pictures on the walls of everything I've ever done that's made me happy. I live here.

Everywhere I've lived in the past two years has felt more like an extended-stay hotel than a home, and I can't seem to wrap my mind around the permanence of this move. I can buy a huge picture of the Brooklyn Bridge if I want to because this living room is mine. I can put a single pan in each cupboard because I don't have enough things to fill an entire kitchen myself. I can get a driver's license with my address on it because this is the only address currently associated with my existence.

I'm still waiting for this all to feel real. Maybe when I start making friends I can invite over, or when something breaks and I have to figure out how to fix it myself. Maybe it'll be when I get a dog that's registered under my name or when I have to argue with the cable company over my bill. I just don't feel like this is my actual life. It feels too grown up, too stable.

I'm not saying I'm unhappy; just baffled. When did I get to be a month away from turning twenty-six? How did I end up with a job that enables me to afford an apartment like this all to myself? Who decided it was a good idea to sell Graeter's at the grocery store when there's no one to monitor my eating habits? I feel like just last week I was trying to understand how my shower worked in a foreign country, and now suddenly, I'm living in a parallel universe where I have a microwave and a lease with only my name on it. 

Sometimes I'm afraid I might wake up and still be heading to work in Cincinnati, my greatest accomplishment being that I memorized the Dewey Decimal System without being asked. If you had asked fifteen-year-old me what I'd be doing in ten years, never in a million years would she have guessed this. I wish I could go back and write her a little note, tell her to hold on tight because life is going to go places she'll never imagine. And one day, she'll be sitting in a little apartment in California, and the only thing she'll know for sure about her life is that it's awfully blessed.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


According to my temporary driver's license, I am officially a Californian. Tonight marks my one-week anniversary in the Bay Area, but I find myself feeling just as foreign here as I ever did in Seoul.

The thing is, in Seoul, everyone knew I was foreign. If I got in the wrong line at the post office? Whatever, she's white and can't read the signs. If I stared at the bus routes while six buses passed me because I couldn't figure out which one I wanted? No big deal, she's just trying to sound out the names of the stops. If I totally screwed up restaurant protocol and mistakenly ordered a sock instead of a dinner? It's kind of cute; the foreigner thinks she knows what she's doing. It was expected that I'd make incredible mistakes on a regular basis, and I actually had a blast laughing at myself.

When I announced I was moving to Cali, nearly everyone agreed that this would be much easier than moving to a new country. After all, the language, the currency, the alphabet, and the fast food restaurants would all be exactly the same as Ohio (with the exception of In-N-Out burger and its unnecessarily complicated secret menu). Unfortunately, I've stumbled across some subtle differences that make me feel like I might as well be wearing a t-shirt that says "I most certainly do not belong here."

It's just little things, really. Like when the girl at the grocery store pushed my cart out to my car and helped me load my bags into the truck, I asked her if I was supposed to tip her, and she kindly told me she couldn't accept tips but was just trying to be nice. I felt like an idiot for even asking. Then today at the DMV, the clerk asked for my passport to apply for a new driver's license, and I hadn't even considered that she might want to see that. After waiting for an hour to be helped in the first place, I had to drive home and get my passport, and by the time someone could get around to helping me when I returned, it was too late to take the written driver's test.  The clerk told me I'd have to come back another day to start the process over, and I must have looked like I was about to cry because she changed her mind and let me take it anyway.

Multiple times throughout the day, I find myself feeling about two inches tall as I realize that things aren't done quite the same way here. Thus far, I haven't done anything law-breaking (to my knowledge), but the menial things I just can't get right keep me feeling resolutely in the "out-of-state" camp. In Korea, it was obvious I didn't quite belong and I was stumbling my way through everything. Here, I feel like I'm simply too dumb to complete basic tasks.

If I haven't mentioned it recently enough, I miss being in Seoul. But tonight after making a fool of myself at the DMV, I made soup in the microwave (because I have one!), sat on my couch (because I have one!), and watched a movie on my tv (because I have one!). I suppose once I get to the other side of that ominously steep learning curve, life here won't be so bad.

Having the amazing city of San Francisco a thirty-minute drive away helps quite a bit too. Courtney and I took the ferry over on Sunday morning, and we chatted with some of the most delightful people I've ever met. A Chinese woman who knitted Angry Birds hats, a man selling surprisingly difficult wire puzzles, a hippie photographer who invited me to let me stay at his commune up north whenever I'd like, and a cab driver who offered to pick me up at my apartment any time I wanted a chauffeured ride into the city. I bought some melted wine bottles for my apartment and Courtney stole a set of chopsticks from the best dim sum restaurant in the state before we sat along the water, contemplating whether the Golden Gate had been photoshopped onto the skyline. I'd seriously consider becoming a panhandler if it meant I could spend every day in that city. And oh the languages! One of my favorite things about being in Korea was being surrounded by words I couldn't understand. In San Fran, I swear I heard a dozen languages in an hour. I love knowing I'm smack in the middle of a ton of different cultures, yet for that moment, we're all experiencing the same thing (man, I'm sounding pretty hippie already, huh?).

This post totally derailed from where I had planned for it to go...

... but isn't that the way life is sometimes? And it's those unexpected turns that end up taking you where you never knew you wanted to be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

newer sometimes really is better

I'm in New Orleans this week for a training conference courtesy of my new school. I haven't had much time to explore the city, but I have been able to get out and see a handful of touristy sites. The last time I was in Louisiana was spring break my sophomore year of college. Hurricane Katrina had hit a few months before, and I joined a few thousand other college kids who gave up their spring breaks to dig through moldy old houses and help put this city back together. Needless to say, the city has changed a lot in the last six years. And so have I.

My college roommates and I often say that if we could do college again, if we could share a house again, we'd so it so much better this time around. We'd be less selfish, maybe a little more patient, perhaps leave fewer dishes in the sink. The years that have passed since we moved out of that little house on the corner across from the elementary school have taught us far more than our just-out-of-high-school minds would have acknowledged possible. Simply put, we're better now than we were then.

I often think about this in regards to Korea. If I could get my hands on a Time-Turner and drop myself back on that airport bus that gave me my first glimpse of Seoul, I'd do it in a second. I'm not ashamed of anything I did in Korea, nor do I regret any of the choices I made. I just think I could do Korea better if I had another chance. I could have more grace with the kindergarteners who are struggling to learn an annoying new language. I could focus more of my conversations on what's going on in the lives of my friends instead of pining over a lost relationship that took up far too much of my energy. I could create more exciting activities to use in the orphanage rather than playing with the same flashcards every week. I could travel an hour by subway to see my friends just because I love them.

It's disappointing to think that in some ways I wasted my year in Korea. I didn't learn as much Korean as I should have, and I didn't spend as much time trying to understand the culture. Sometimes I wish I could write two-years-ago Nikki a letter and teach her a few polite Korean words before she even gets on the plane.

Fortunately, I'm not 100% a Debbie Downer. I also recognize that had I moved to Korea the day I graduated from college, I'd have crumpled like an autumn leaf under an elephant's shoe (elephants need to wear shoes for the sake of hyperbole. just go with it.) before I even made it to baggage claim. I'd never have been able to navigate Thailand as fearlessly as I did, and I'd probably have eaten McDonalds every day due to the sheer familiarity of it. When I moved to Korea, I was the best version of myself yet, and I experienced it the best way I knew how at the time.

I guess this is all rolling around inside my head because I'm starting my first "real" year of teaching in a few weeks, and I know I'm not going to be magnificent right out of the gate. I'm going to finish the year, look back, and think, "Man, I could have done a million things better if I had known then what I know now!" I'm going to make a lot of mistakes and I'm going to do a lot of things I'll have to forgive myself for. But as long as when I get to the end of the year, I'm better than the girl who is about to walk in the door in two weeks, I've done alright. It's only if I get to the end of a year and haven't changed even a tiny bit that I'm failing. Everything else is just a learning curve.

Author's note: If you've been around the blog for a while, you're probably wondering why I haven't posted in two months then come back with this weird blob of self-reflection. It's just been that kind of a summer, folks. But don't worry! I've found all kinds of spectacular story-making activities in California, not to mention my upcoming school year with a bunch of awkward middle schoolers. And who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and Cali will fall off into the ocean. That'd make one heck of a blog post, don't you think?

Monday, May 28, 2012

if at first i don't succeed...

Once upon a time, I thought I wanted to write books. It was my senior year of college, and I had decided that two months before graduating, I no longer wanted to do the only thing my astronomically expensive education had prepared me to do. Instead, I was going to be a famous author.

My baby cousin (who actually is a really good writer), took me under her wing. She read every word I emailed to her and never failed to respond with any less enthusiasm than that one time my Grandma Dottie told me that I could totally open a breakfast-only restaurant because my scrambled eggs were by far the best scrambled eggs she had ever tasted in her life. I was delighted. Maybe I had failed at becoming a teacher, but there was no doubt in my mind that I'd be the next JK Rowling.

I spent my last semester of college writing my very first book. My cousin doted over it and told me how we were certainly both going to be spectacularly famous, despite the fact that (in retrospect) my book was complete hogwash. Soon after that book was rejected by every agent under the sun, I started writing my next book, and what-do-ya-know, it was actually kind of okay. Not publishable, but a good idea with some charming (if not fully developed) characters. Unfortunately, no agent wanted that one either. I'm officially the worst person in the world at handling failure, so I quit writing books and inexplicably decided to go back to the other thing at which I had previously failed: teaching.

This blog is basically an account of how I thought I'd make an awful teacher yet instead came to discover it's the thing that makes me happiest (this blog is also about how I think I'm Asian). These days, I spend my free time dreaming up what rules my classroom is going to have in the fall, and I'm stoked about the enormous amount of post-it notes I have in my immediate future. Friends, I diagram sentences for fun. I used to teach my kindergarteners big words just because I like hearing "facetious" as often as possible. I don't know that there's any other career that would make me as complete as teaching.


I've been reading a lot lately. Multiple books a week. And I'm starting to miss day-dreaming about seeing my name on the NYT Bestsellers List. I miss having characters acting out a story in my head, and I miss jotting down every silly phrase just in case it can somehow become dialogue. I miss finishing a chapter and reading it and thinking, "this is mine."

Sara's been not-so-subtly hinting lately that I should dust off my old story lines and see where those characters want to go. She's in the process of rewriting a series she worked on for nearly a decade because she's decided that the effort of tearing it apart and starting over will be worth it. She casually mentions every chance she gets how much she misses my characters, and it's making me miss them too.

As I said before, I'm not good at failure. I was never good at sports because I sucked the very first time, and I never wanted to try again to get better. I bombed one day of student teaching, so I quit being a teacher. I didn't get published right away, so I quit being a writer. Thankfully, I gave teaching a second try and almost exploded with how much I loved it... perhaps it's time to give writing another chance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

i forget how to make friends

As much as I hate to admit it, I'll be living at my parents' house for the foreseeable future. I'm sure I'll figure something out soon and be able to get back to being a grown-up, but without a paycheck, I don't currently have a lot of other options. Since it's been nearly eight years since I've called this city home, I was fairly certain that no one I knew back then would still be around now to be friends. Therefore, I decided to look at Springfield as a new adventure and did what I'd do in any other city: I googled churches and set out to meet new people.

It turns out that I kind of suck at it.

Before I left Korea, I used to daydream about how I'd introduce myself to new people in America:

Potential new friend: "Hi, are you new here?"
Me: "Why, yes I am."
Potential new friend: "Where did you live before?"
Me: "Only the most awesome place in the whole entire world: SOUTH KOREA!"
Potential new friend: "I'm so jealous that I need to immediately become your best friend and maybe quit my job to move there myself!"

But last night was my first attempt at making new friends, and it looked a little more like this:

Potential new friend: "Hey! We went to the same high school! What have you been up to?"
Me: "I live with my parents and don't have a job."
Potential new friend: "Well, you haven't been around for a while. Where were you?"
Me: "You know... here... there... Cincinnati... Asia..."
Potential new friend: "I didn't catch that last one...?"
Me: "I don't have a job."

I have no idea what's wrong with me. In the weeks leading up to Korea, I messaged strangers on facebook asking them to be my friend; yet now I'm confronted with talking to people I used to know a few years back and I can't manage to form coherent sentences.

It's really easy to make friends overseas. All of my non-Korean friends in Korea had, at some point, packed up bags and moved to a new place where they knew few (if any) people. Everyone remembered what it was like to be new and therefore went out of her way to help new people acclimate as quickly as possible. It wasn't out of the ordinary to invite people to do all the same things you did while they figured out exactly what their place would be.

Here, everyone already has a life established. They have people they see on a regular basis and activities they've been doing for years. I have to figure out where I fit all on my own. What makes it even worse is that I know this is temporary. Whether I move to Columbus, San Francisco, or Shanghai in the fall, I know I'm not staying here. I don't have a long-term supportive friendship to offer; basically I'm just begging people to keep me from being lonely until I move again, and that feels all kinds of selfish. How do you make friends when you feel like you have nothing to offer the other person except incessant babbling about how exciting your life used to be? I suppose I'll just continue my valiant effort towards single-handedly doubling the library's circulation while I'm here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

just a job

As I fill out hundreds of online job applications and tweak my resume to fit everything I can find, I'm struggling with what, to me, is a very important question.

Do I need to have a job with purpose, or will a meaningful life suffice?

I could go right back to Cincinnati and the temp agency that hired me before would take me back and find a desk for me to fill. I can join another company that doesn't so much need employees as trained typing-monkeys and use the money they give me to pay my bills while I live the dream. But the dream doesn't ever have me wondering who stole my stapler.

I've always been a huge proponent of "don't live to work - work to live!" Back when I was desperately low on cash and trying to find any possible way to pay my bills in Cinci, I would have taken nearly any job. As long as my job gave me enough money to pay my student loans, I reasoned, it didn't need to be the most fulfilling job in the world. I just wanted to make enough to go bowling when my friends did.

Now, however, I'm standing on the edge of that same cliff, wondering if automatically deposited checks are enough. My job in Korea wasn't my favorite; hagwons are all kinds of messed up and I'd much rather be teaching Macbeth than Old MacDonald. But I knew every day that what I was doing mattered, that my efforts caused noticeable changes in the lives of my students. On top of my 9-5, I was involved in so many things that made my life exciting and left me feeling full. That job gave me the freedom to eat out with my friends after church and travel to Thailand during the summer. It was pretty much a win-win.

So the issue that I'm faced with is whether I want to return to a job where I'll basically have to tune out during working hours. I want to teach again, but I want to teach in an inner city school with underserved kids who maybe wouldn't have the opportunity to go to college unless someone can help them. Is it enough to just teach in any old school? Could I live in a nice little suburb and teach polite-ish kids who are automatically on the fast track to superficial success? What if I have to go back to a temp job in a cramped office? One year from now, will I be glad I stayed in America or will I wish I'd returned to my home-away-from-home?

Granted, if I go back to Korea, I'd be teaching the same little rich kids I had before in the same affluent area I'd gotten used to. However, in Korea it was more about what I did on my evenings and weekends than how I punched a time clock. I could go back and volunteer at an orphanage again. I could work at the soup kitchen again. If I went back, I'd really like to get involved with North Korean refugees this time around.

Can I make a life here that's just as meaningful as my life there was?

When people ask me what my favorite thing about Korea was, I tell them I liked who I was there. I liked that even when I was eating ramen and watching Friends, I was on an adventure overseas. I liked that I made a concerted effort to love others in whatever tangible ways I could offer, teaching English or ladling kimchi jjigae. I like that I always knew exactly how much time I had left there, so I made sure never to waste it. I'm scared I won't be as good at that here.

So that brings me back to the question I can't figure out. If I happen to be offered a job that doesn't offer any intellectual stimulation and doesn't make the world a better place, can I still be content knowing that my only opportunity to make a difference lies in my extra-curriculars?

Friday, April 6, 2012

yes, it's true. i'm not married.

I know what the Bible says: that it is not good for man to be alone, that marriage is a symbol of Christ's unending love for the church, that an excellent wife is worth more than jewels. I recognize that raising a family is one of the most significant ministries a person can be a part of, and that it's probably a good idea to have some kids around to drive me to the doctor when I get old.

But I also know that Jesus spent thirty-three years on this earth without a "significant other" other than the Father he served, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't whining about it. Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that it's better to stay single and that singleness is a gift.

Now, I recognize that I'll never be Paul, and I certainly will never be Jesus, and statistically it's incredibly likely that I'll get married. But that doesn't mean I need to spend every moment of my singleness eagerly waiting for this cursed season to end so I can start my "real" life.

I was talking to one of my friends the other day about someone we both know who is single. My friend made an offhand comment that she thinks this person isn't really the marrying type, but she immediately corrected herself, saying she hopes she's wrong. It was almost as if saying that someone might not want to get married is an insult, that it's implying that he'd never reach first class status. I didn't mention anything in the conversation at the time, but the comment has stuck with me. Why do we assume that it's wrong or shameful for someone to choose a path other than marriage?

Certainly there are people out there that choose to remain unmarried for the wrong reasons. If you're too selfish to want to share your living space, or if you're terrified of commitment, or if you're dating too many people and can't imagine choosing just one, maybe your priorities aren't quite in order. But I think a perfectly sane person can also choose to not walk down the aisle.

I know too many women who have given up on their former goals because their husbands had something else in mind. I know couples who've only been married a year or two who already wish they'd made a different decision. And I have friends who're pondering the kinds of adventures they could have had if they'd waited a few years before tying that knot. My heart breaks for those friends, the ones who thought getting married would solve all their problems and make them complete. The thing is, it doesn't take two halves to make a whole in marriage; you both have to be whole from the start.

I wish I'd realized this sooner. I spent all of college sizing up my friends, trying to decide if any of them would make a decent husband. I felt like every new class was a race to snatch up the single guys, and I was secretly disappointed every time someone chose to pursue one of my friends because I couldn't figure out why no one ever wanted me.

Sadly, this mindset didn't disappear when I was handed my college diploma; I continued to believe I would be second-rate until someone finally took pity on me and agreed to be my husband. I begged friends to set me up, I tried every online dating site anyone mentioned, and I scouted every room I walked into for The One. And man, was I miserable.

It wasn't until I was sitting on a rooftop in southern India that I realized what an amazing gift this season has been for me. I'm committed to no one but Jesus. I've been able to quit my job and move across the world because no one else was counting on me. I've had the beautiful pleasure of traveling across Asia on my own, making friends for the day with other lone travelers and scheduling my entire trip the way I want it. When I teach, my students are free to be the most important ministry in my life. If I had a husband and children, my time would be divided, but I'm able to allocate all of my energy to the kids in my classroom.

Being single doesn't mean I've failed. It means my life doesn't look exactly like yours, but neither does my haircut. That's okay. I'm deeply grateful for the life I have, and I sincerely hope you are just as thankful for the life you've been given. And sure, if someone comes along with whom a lifetime commitment is the logical conclusion, then fantastic! But I'm not going to start by desiring that commitment then seeing if I have any takers. I don't think my singleness is something to "fix". Getting married is going to have to be a significant improvement on what I've already got going on, and I have to be honest, this life I've got is pretty spectacular.

So don't feel sorry for me that I don't have a ring on my finger. I'm not waiting for my life to begin; I'm smack in the middle of living it. And if I have to dance to "Single Ladies" at a few more weddings, that's not the worst thing in the world.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

iambic pentameter and other such nonsense

I rarely like poetry. Maybe that makes me a bad English teacher, but I can deal with that if it gets me out of having to know the difference between a pantoum and a sestina. Occasionally I'll get on a limerick kick and send everyone I know a little rhyme, and I once held an entire conversation in haiku (the other half of that conversation is not my friend anymore, most likely because of that incident). For the most part, however, I stubbornly stick to prose.

For some inexplicable reason, I've been drawn to poetry lately. But not just any poetry, oh no. I can't be happy just reading a little ee cummings and going about my day. I like poetry slams.

I knew the concept long before I'd ever attended one; obviously I'd shown performed poems to my students before and I have had some friends that write in the slam poetry style. It's been creeping into my day-to-day for a little while now; from Jacob suggesting we write poems as a form of intercession, to Courtney bragging about the slam at her writers' conference, to Lauren having a competition on her DVR when I got here. I attended a slam in Columbus before I left, and last night Lauren and I made our way to a very artsy pub in Berkeley to watch some amazing poets compete. And now I want to do it too.

I've been writing poetry in my head since we got home last night, although none of it is even close to being worth performing. The thing with poetry is that it's so real; you can't hide behind clever anecdotes or verbosity. Poetry depends on precise diction and syntax, two things I'd rather just avoid in favor of telling lame jokes. When written well, poetry takes you places prose never could, introducing you to emotions drawn with words that feel as real as burning your hand on a stove.

No matter how many times I try, I can't seem to figure out how to write about India (or the end of Korea for that matter). Perhaps I'm just jobless and bored, but I think it would be fun to challenge myself as a writer and see if I can paint in verse what I can't seem to record in prose.

Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to watch videos like this and call it research.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

i know you mean well (i think)

I'm on a search for a new city to live in. I've been at my parents' house for a week and a half now, and after my vacation to visit Lauren in San Francisco, I have to figure out what comes next. I know I'm not going back to Seoul, but that only rules out one out of a few hundred thousand in the world. After living in Korea's capital, I really miss my big city, so I pulled up wikipedia's list of the biggest cities in the US. I scratched off a few I'm not interested in and called the rest my potential homes.

The thing is, the more I talk to people here, the more discouraged I get. Every time someone tells me that I need to "just get this out of my system" or that I should "do this while I'm young so I can settle down soon," a part of me curls up inside and hides away. I don't think that my desire to travel, my desire to make friends all over the world, my desire to see cultures other than my own and learn the way the world is so intricately knit together is a virus my immune system is working to get out of my body. I don't think this is some kind of inferior state, a mistake where I'll recognize my folly and come to my senses and have a "normal life." What if this is just me? What if these passions are part of my DNA, what if this is only the beginning of a life that seeks to know the world in a way you can't simply by reading about it?

I know people mean well when they tell me that they want me to live close by. I know deep down that they are just trying to find a way to say, "We miss you when you're not around. Please stay." But when I throw out a city I'd like to explore and it's met with a "eh, how about Columbus?", I feel like they're telling me I'm a failure. I'm not saying that everyone who chooses to live in Columbus is a failure by any means. What I'm trying to articulate is that when people tell me I shouldn't live in San Francisco or Chicago or Bangkok, I hear that I can't. I know they're just trying to keep me close to home so they don't have to drive as far to visit, but what I hear is completely different. I hear that I'm not clever enough, not strong enough, not brave enough, not capable enough, not something enough to handle living the life I dream of. And all it makes me want to do is prove them wrong.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't mind living in Columbus, but I want to move there because God tells me it's the next step on my journey, not because I "can't handle" living anywhere else. I want to know I chose my next city on my own terms, not because I was afraid of disappointing everyone who refuses to drive more than an hour to get to me. When things get hard (as life inevitably does), I want to stand firmly on the conviction that I'm living exactly where God told me to be and not have to wonder if I'm somehow in the belly of a whale.

I went to the doctor the other day, and the woman who checked my weight and blood pressure and such asked me if I was excited to be home. I told her I'm excited to start a new adventure, and she said she hopes I get this out of my system before I have kids. With the most polite smile I could muster, I informed her that when I have kids, they'll just have to come with me.

Monday, March 12, 2012

not really for you

I've been wanting to post on here nearly every day since I got back, but there's a little voice in the back of my head that talks me out of it every single time. You're not overseas anymore, it tells me. Your story isn't interesting right now. If your life were a movie, everyone in the theater would have gone to the bathroom or the snack stand for the time being.

But this morning, as I was surfing the internet, trying to figure out what on earth it is people do online for hours at a time, a thought struck me. Do you really write for them anyway? Or is this blog for you?

Oh right. It's for me.

With the blog being my primary means of communication with most of my family and friends while I'm overseas, I've gotten accustomed to the idea that things I post on here need to be interesting, exciting, entertaining. I feel like I need hilarious stories and breathtaking pictures to make my posts worthwhile, but honestly, I'm probably the only one who consistently reads my posts anyway. Well, me and my grandma. Hey, Grandma!

I know it's March and the last thing anyone's thinking about is New Year's Resolutions right now, but I've been thinking about them lately, and, as we just established, this is my blog. So we're going to talk about resolutions. Or bucket lists. Something about goals. Yeah.

The ever-present teacher in me came up with this really cool (note: "really cool" is subjective here) idea for a lesson about being specific in your writing. A car didn't just drive past; a 1969 silver Camaro roared down the windy country road. She didn't just fall down; the pig-tailed girl in the polka-dotted dress toppled out of the tire swing. You get the idea.

This idea of being precise in your descriptions can translate to being precise in your goals. "Go to the gym more" is ambiguous, hard to reach. So are "make more friends" and "travel." The goal is too vague to be practical; it's hard to wake up in the morning and think, "Ahh, today I shall be healthier." What does that even mean?

Our goals should be specific, concrete. Instead of "take more pictures," which is indefinite and difficult to measure, give yourself a tangible goal. Perhaps you could take ten pictures at every family gathering, or find one thing a week to take a picture of.

Yesterday I was in the car with my mom and little sister, and we were talking about bucket lists. My former roommate, Emily, had a "30 before 30" list that she kept in a spreadsheet on her computer (she made my heart so happy), and I always thought that was a fantastic idea. I'm discovering as I sit in my dad's big comfy chair day in and day out that adventure doesn't usually just happen to us; we have to go out and make it happen. Sure, it's challenging and we'll often be stretched more than we thought we could handle. But I'd much rather regret the things I did than the things I left undone.

I'm not going to force myself to write thirty goals for the sake of having a "30 before 30" list. I'd rather have five goals I'm actually passionate about than come up with thirty on the spot just to round out this blog post. I'm sure I'll get to thirty eventually. And I'll organize them all in a spreadsheet. And it will be magical.

Some (specific) things I'd like to do before I'm thirty:
- Perform an original poem at an open mic night
- Read a book in Central Park
- Hold hands and skip across the Great Wall (is this legal? eh, being in chinese prison can be a goal too)
- Teach at an underprivileged school in my licensure area
- Get five new stamps in my passport
- Perfect one recipe from each country I've lived in
- Memorize a book of the Bible
- Attend a conference or convention about something I'm passionate about once a year

Oh, and I suppose one of my goals is to finally write about my time in India. It'll show up here eventually, once I figure out how to boil three months of watching God do amazing things into a handful of paragraphs on a backlit screen.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

home, ish.

I've been awake for three hours, and it's not even six am. Oh jet lag, you think you're so funny, but I assure you that you're not.

I'm home, I guess. Back in America anyway, but I can't quite decide if that's home. I've lived in five different cities in three different countries in the last six months. I'm in Colorado Springs right now, tomorrow I'll be in Springfield, and less than two weeks from now I'll be in San Francisco. Then, who knows.

I know for a fact I'm not going back to Korea (right now). I don't know how or when I'll get back, but that little peninsula has stolen my heart and I know I can't stay away forever. Much to the delight of my parents, I'm staying in America for the time being.

The thing is, friends, America's pretty big. I've made a list of about fifteen cities I wouldn't mind living in, and the best plan I can come up with right now involves driving coast to coast sleeping on couches until I find the place that fits me next. Even though I'd drop this plan in a second if God changed his mind and sent me back to Seoul, I'm actually getting a little giddy about the prospects. I honestly don't know what comes next. I know I'm staying with Lauren in Cali for three weeks, then - nada. No plans, no agenda, no path.

I'm a big planner. Every time I've come up with a new passion, a new life plan has come with it. Decided I liked writing fiction? Bam - my imagination's already got me doing book signings and interviews on Ellen. Stumbled into teaching kindergarten overseas? Bam - started planning how to start a school in (arguably) the most hostile country in the world. Found out about modern-day slavery? Bam - dropped out of grad school before I even started to do a Justice & Mercy DTS and actually tried to get Not For Sale to hire me on sheer zeal. I, um, like planning.

But this next season, it appears that God's tying a blindfold around my eyes and whispering, "Just trust me." One of the girls on my team prayed for me a few weeks ago, and she felt like God was telling her that the passion I felt for Korea is nothing compared to how much I'm going to adore this next step, that I don't even know what love is yet. I'd be lying if I said I'm not a tiny bit thrilled. The only thing I like more than planning is brazen adventure.

So tomorrow morning, I'll hop on a plane back to my parents' house. I'll be there just long enough to maybe unpack a bag before I head off to the west coast to build blanket forts and tear San Fran apart looking for decent Korean BBQ with my favorite Lolly. Three weeks later, I'll fly back to spend Easter with my family, and that's as far as I know.

I'm unemployed, homeless, and ridiculously in love with Jesus. Let's go, God. We've got a story to write.

Monday, February 13, 2012

wide open future

It’s really no secret that I want to go back to Korea. More than once I’ve thrown a minor hissy fit in my prayer journal about how I want to be in Korea more than I want to breathe. Yes, I recognize that’s extremely dramatic. I’m just that kind of girl I suppose.

I had everything worked out on my plan to get back. I had applied for a great job at a Christian school, and I’d daydream as we drove down the road about being on a bus in Seoul. I planned out what my weekly schedule would look like, which ministries I’d be involved in, how I’d steal Taesun back from stupid Kelsey. I knew what date I was leaving and where I was spending the holidays. I knew what restaurant I’d go to my first night back.

I’d been checking my email every couple of days waiting for an opportunity to interview at the school I wanted. Everyone on the team knew my plans, and a lot of them offered to come visit me when I get back. A few days ago, I finally got the email I was waiting for, but it didn’t say what I needed it to.

The job I wanted was filled in house. I could always go back to my old school or even find another hagwon job, but I’ve been feeling lately that God has been telling me that my Korea adventure is over. That door closing was the sign I needed to confirm that I won’t be returning to the country I’ve come to adore in the fall. No more Seoul metro. No more Paris Baguette. No more OEM. No more Namsan. No more Jubilee. No more noraebang. No more Korean BBQ. No more underground shopping. No more homeless outreaches at Seoul Station. No more Food 2900. No more peace signs. No more Korea.

When I read the email that said the job I wanted was filled, I tried my very hardest to put on a strong face. I read the rest of my emails, signed off without responding to anyone (or wishing my dad and sister a happy birthday; sorry bout that), and headed downstairs to try to watch tv with my friends. I made it about three minutes before I ran out into the yard and fell apart.

If you don’t love a place like I loved Seoul, then you probably think I’m nuts. Not getting a job isn’t that big of a deal; I’ll find another job in another city and life will go on. But I’d become so convinced that I’d be seeing Gangnam again in just a few months, and having that ripped away from me was more than I could handle. I can’t remember the last time I’ve cried with such desperation. I was an absolute mess.

After I’d been outside for a while, a little frog hopped in front of me. I knew immediately that catching that frog would make me feel immeasurably better, so I wiped my eyes and chased him around the yard. He hopped under a bush and out of sight, so I gave up and decided to go inside.

I ran through the tv room hoping that no one would notice I was crying, but my room ended up having a few girls in it. I crumbled onto the bed without explanation, sobbing into my pillow. After a few minutes of the girls rubbing my back without having any idea why I was in such hysterics, I lifted my head up and whispered, “I’m not going back.”

It was time for dinner, so I had to make myself presentable enough that the rest of the team wouldn’t ask too many questions. I snuck out into the circle and stared at my feet while everyone else was eating, refusing to make eye contact with anyone.

When the meal was over, I headed upstairs to see if anyone would play euchre with me to get my mind off things, but the boys I was looking for weren’t around. I checked every level of the house and every room, but they completely disappeared. I had given up and was heading back down to my own room when the four people I was looking for scrambled up the stairs. They all had the most joyful looks on their faces, and the one in the front shoved a small plastic cup in my hand. I looked at his hand, then all their faces, then back to his hand. Why would I want an empty plastic cup? Couldn’t they tell I’d been crying? I thought the only way to get them to move would be to take the cup, so I reached out for it.

That’s when I saw the little frog in the bottom of the cup. And I knew it’s going to be okay somehow.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Paradigm shift: men wear skirts here

The last two weeks have been a lot of transition. We traded a small mountain village for a huge city; a freezing climate for a sweaty one; a team we had come to feel very comfortable with for a decentralized group we’re still trying to get used to. We have different roommates, different clothes, and an awful lot of mosquito bites. But God is good, all the time.

Our new location is wonderful and annoying at the same time. The food is different, the house is different, the people are different, the activities we do are different. Since I was so obsessively in love with Seoul, I assumed that I’d feel the same way about being in this big city, but that has not been the case. It’s not that I hate where we are; I just could never see myself living in a place like this long-term. It feels like nothing is easily accessible, and there simply aren’t enough Koreans here for me to feel at home.

One of my favorite things that we get to do here is working in a preschool. The slums we’ll be working in have hundreds of thousands – did you read that? hundreds of thousands – of people living in them, but there are only enough classrooms for two to three thousand children. One of the things the team here has been working on is setting up daycares for families in the slums so the parents are free to go out and find jobs. The slum we’ve been working in this past week has a WorldVision office, and the daycare had some gift boxes from Operation: Christmas Child. It’s surreal knowing that the kids we sing songs and play games with are the same ones that people in America see on commercials and have pictures of on their refrigerators. The world seems smaller, yet somehow America has never felt so far away.

The daycare is one of the most fun places I’ve ever been. Since I’m the only one who has any experience with preschool kids aside from the leaders, I was basically tossed in the room with a hardy “you got this!” It’s a teensy bit different teaching fourteen in my class in Korea to the forty-three we’ve got here, but the same basic principles apply; the sillier I act, the more they pay attention; the more they pay attention, the more they learn. The rest of my team stood around the room and helped when I asked for it, but it was mostly up to me to implement any kind of structured lesson. And I loved every single minute of it. When I left Korea, I thought that would be my last opportunity to teach little ones; I love that I’m getting this tiny reminder of how much fun it is to sing songs and be silly and call it a “job.”

While we're here, we'll also have the opportunity to work at some other really exciting places, like an AIDS orphanage, a leper colony, a restaurant, and a few other slums. I haven't been on any of the teams that have gone to those places yet, but I've heard really cool stories from all of them. Life is a little bit slower here; rides and translators don't show up until an hour after they said they'd arrive, but I'm learning to hold plans loosely and just see what comes next. I don't want to miss out on this season because I was constantly checking my watch.

In other news, I’m going to get glasses soon. When I was in Korea, my vision started to get blurry, so I asked a friend of mine to take me to the optometrist. Every test the doctors did came up just fine, and they sent me away with some eye drops and a question mark. Whenever my vision has started to blur in the last eight months, I’ve put in my drops and told myself there was nothing wrong. I’ve noticed it a lot worse here, but I’m stubborn and didn’t bother mentioning it to anyone. The other day, we were rehearsing for a skit where I play a nerdy bookworm (I think I was typecast), so I borrowed a pair of glasses from one of the girls on the team. The second I put them on, the whole world became clearer. I ran through the house, reading labels and looking out windows while my friends all wondered how I could have possibly not known that I needed glasses. I’m really stinkin’ excited to get my glasses and not have to walk up close to things to be able to see them anymore. Luckily I discovered this in a country where glasses are less than thirty bucks a pair; if I had to pay hundreds of dollars of them in America, I’d just go right on not being able to see far away.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Violence, lust, and other hard things

I don't want to write today. I want to sit in bed with my journal and watch the sun roll across the sky. I want to be in my classroom today, singing that cursed lunch and snack song they made me sing three times a day. I want to know tonight I get to see Taesun and ride the subway back to Gangnam with my iPod in. I guess today I miss "home."

I went to a Korean restaurant for lunch yesterday, and I nearly cried when I saw hangul on the menu. My friends spent the whole meal trying to convince me to go talk to the woman in the kitchen, but the only word I could muster up the courage to say was "thank you." We left and I took a picture as we walked away.

It doesn't help that I've had a hard week. As Jen says, the "grace goggles" have come off, and we're starting to become annoyed with the little things we used to find amusing. I remember when that happened in Korea, and I know that if I push through, I'll enjoy it here again. But right now, I'm frustrated, cold, and awfully lonely. I know I'm here with fifteen other people and it's nearly impossible to have a second alone, but just as I was after those first few honeymoon weeks in Korea, I'm lonely for people who know me. I'm lonely for people who know that mandu is infinitely better than momos, for people who know euchre is the best way to pass the time, for people who know Miami isn't just in Florida.

The kids at the camp are getting more comfortable with us, and that means they're acting the way they do with each other. It's beautiful that they know us and anticipate when we come to spend time with them, but with familiarity comes violence, apparently. I started to notice it earlier this week when I had a baby on my lap. A teenage girl was standing beside me, and she decided to show me how to play with the baby. She swung her arm back and slapped him across the cheek; when his face turned, she slapped his other cheek. I smacked her hand away and told her that wasn't nice, but I doubt she understood my English. She laughed and tried to show me how to play again, but I pulled the baby away from her. I didn't have much time to explain why, though; I had to rush across the path to stop a little boy from throwing rocks at his friends. The next time we went to the camp, my stomach fell out when I saw a little girl shaking a tiny, tiny baby to get him to stop crying. This world is so broken, and it hurts so much.

Time outside the camp hasn't been much better. Having been outside America the majority of 2011, I'm somewhat familiar with the stares that come with being Caucasian. As a group, we've had entire tour buses pull over to take pictures with us, and it's not uncommon to have people pretend to pose for pictures but really angle the camera to capture us. For some reason, this week I've lost my patience. We went to a temple next to a beautiful waterfall to pray, and I sat on a low stone wall a few yards away from the group. Two men approached me and asked for a picture, and before I realized what what happening, I had a line of men waiting to sit beside me. Each one inched closer than the last, and after very little time they were practically sitting on my lap, wrapping their arms around me. I frantically tried to catch the eye of our translator or someone on my team, and finally one of the girls saw what was happening and started pushing the men away from me. A handful of the ones who were still in line followed us away from the temple, but the men in our group stayed behind the girls so they couldn't get close to us. I noticed every glance that lingered a little too long on the way back to town, and I wished I could just melt straight into the road.

Please don't read these stories and make up your mind that this nation is terrible. My frustration with the culture doesn't in any way mean these people are less deserving of the love we came to show, of the medical care and English lessons and prayer we spend our days freely giving out. It just means I can't love as unconditionally as God can, and I'm learning to put myself aside so that others matter more. It's a tough road to walk, and I'm sometimes a terribly slow learner.

We have had some moments this week that I'll cling to forever. One of the girls in the camp chased me down to draw henna designs on my hands with a marker; when she turned her own hand over, I saw she had written my name in the center of her palm so she wouldn't forget it. We spent New Years Eve watching one of the most delightful movies I've ever seen, and when the calendar page finally turned, we gathered around a bonfire and danced for hours. Lemme tell ya, these people can dance. There are moments almost every day that freeze time for a second, and I recognize how incredibly lucky I am to be here in this place, with these people. Just like we have to do in every situation, I'm choosing to focus on the beauty instead of the frustrations, to focus on what can one day be instead of what is right now.