Sunday, August 18, 2013

Leaving Friends

If you've lived overseas--if you've moved at all--then you probably understand what I'm feeling right now. Any time you move far enough away to miss your friends and family, your heart splits--like the torn-off arm of a starfish. (I accidentally made a L'Engle reference. Oops.) If you're healthy--and lucky--you'll make enough new friends that your "torn off" social circle will regenerate--but that doesn't mean you'll stop missing those absent limbs.

Photo by Ed Bierman

I've made wonderful friends in the time I've been home. I had the opportunity to join an awesome writing group, and met people through book groups and old acquaintances as well. Now I'm moving away, though, and all those wonderful new friends are going to become lost arms.

Of course, I'll come home periodically. It's a long trip, but a decent ESL job generally pays enough for at least occasional visits to the homeland. We'll keep in touch on Facebook, too--Facebook is a lifeline when you're away from home. (If we were living 200 years ago, there's no way in hell I'd ever have left in the first place.) It's not the same, though. Quick meetings over coffee, or shared jokes online, can't replace all the meetings and game nights and parties I'll miss when I'm away. This is to say nothing of family--I'll miss them, of course, most of all.

But on the other hand, I get to see my "Korea friends." I don't just mean Koreans (though some of my Korean friends are as dear as sisters). I mean also the "foreigners" I met while working in Gimpo--teachers, mostly, who either stayed while I left, or wandered back again. We had a wonderful time exploring Seoul, and there's a special camaraderie among strangers in a strange land that can't really be replicated elsewhere.

One friend, in particular, is about to go back for her fifth year. We're already planning all the places we're going to go--we've been to Jeju-do and Osaka, and are hoping to make more successful trips before she finally moves back to Canada. I have a long list of places I want to go. Some are repeats (Jeju-do, Gangwha-do, Seoraksan). Others are tourist attractions (Herb Island, Namiseom). I'm looking forward to visiting amusement parks, testing out restaurants, and taking lots of pictures.

Preferably in silly hats.

I sort of grew up thinking that each person had one destined future, and that if you missed that destiny you would basically fail at life. I've been trying to get away from that. A lot of times you come to a crossroads, and there's no right path--you could take any of the three ways in front of you, or go back the way you came, and you'd be perfectly happy whichever way you chose. I was excited about Shanghai, and I tried to make it work... but even though I'm sorry it didn't, I'm excited about Seoul, too. I think this is going to be a good experience, and I'm definitely going to do my best to make it one.

Right now, though, I'm sitting in my room in my mother's house, listening to the frogs and crickets, enjoying the unseasonably cool and balmy air. I live in North Carolina, and it's far from a perfect place, but it will definitely always be home. I'm lucky enough to have another home I'm going back to--but I doubt there will ever be a time when I don't miss this one.

This was supposed to be a post about all the places I wanted to go when I got back to Korea. Sometimes things don't work out the way you plan them. (And that's okay.)


This post brought to you by the American Society for Maudlin Late-Night Meditations.

Friday, August 16, 2013

한국어를 공부하자!

I'd like to take a moment to recommend to anyone who's studying the language right now. It is hands-down the best resource I've ever used to study Korean (and I've used a lot of them). The lessons are clear and modular, supplemented on notes in PDF form, and there's a comments section where you can try out your language skills with the instructors' assistance. There are also printable "workbooks," advanced-level interviews for listening practice, and a store with extra audiobook lessons for under $5. I haven't used any of the extra lessons yet, but judging by the quality of the free materials I'm guessing they're pretty good.)

I actually heard about the site a long time ago, but didn't get into it until the last few weeks. After returning to Korea in 2011, I took a Korean class for several months, and one of my classmates recommended this as a good way to practice. Since I didn't think I'd be returning to Korea, I glanced at the site but didn't really pay attention. Now that I'm going back, though (job offers starting to come in!!), I'm taking my language study much more seriously, and TTMIK is really a godsend.

Most of the site users--according to the comments here, anyway--are under 20, and from a number of different countries--mostly non-English-speaking. Since the lessons are all in English (interspersed with Korean, of course), the abilities of these polyglot learners are definitely impressive. There are definitely some English speakers among them, though, and I can't help but be a little shamefully grateful that they haven't graduated from college yet. If sites like this really catch on--and the popularity of K-pop continues--there may well be an influx of really interested, enthusiastic, Korean-speaking English teachers to South Korea in a few years. Since the job market there is already getting competitive, it might be time for the rest of us to brush up our skills.

I first lived in SK from 2007-2011, and though I had a wonderful experience, I never picked up as much of the language as I would have liked. This was partly because of laziness (isn't it always?) and partly because I lived in Gimpo, and hadn't heard of any convenient language classes nearby. The textbooks available at the time were pretty terrible, and even though some of my Korean friends were up for language exchanges, we always ended up gossiping in English because it was easy and we were friends.

This time, however, I'm hoping to take the KLPT and/or the TOPIK, so I'm quite serious about studying. Though the lessons in TTMIK aren't quite as helpful as face-to-face instruction, when combined with daily immersion they should give me an excellent foundation.


In other news, I'm kind of developing an Instagram problem.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I have it.

Korea: The Re-Weigukin-ing

So I should probably have been getting on a plane for China today. It didn't work out that way, for various reasons. As of now, I'm doing my best to get back to Korea.

I've collected several of the required documents, including:

1) Three sealed transcripts. (The WCU Registrar's Office was amazingly prompt--thank you so much, folks!)
2) Six awful passport photos. At least they're not going on my actual passport?
3) A passport, valid until 2021.

I'm waiting (trying not to bite my nails) as the FBI processes my criminal background check. In the US, this can take anywhere from four to twelve weeks (it's been about three), and there's no way of knowing upfront how long it's going to take. In the meantime, I need to copy my diplomas and have them notarized and apostilled. I think there's also a health affidavit, but there are apparently several different versions, so I'll wait till the actual application process to fill one out. Fortunately I've had an E2 visa before, so I don't need to do the consular interview.

Of course, I still have to get an actual job. Because the process is so long now, most schools won't talk to you till you have all your documents in hand, and this has been rather a last-minute thing. I'm starting to get offers, anyway, but I'll have a lot more flexibility once I can just step on a plane.

I want to be absolutely ready when I do get my visa, so I'm thinning my possessions again and packing away what I won't be taking. I've also taken Yggi (my cat) in for a rabies titer test, which is needed according to the new animal import regulations. It was pure luck that I even found out the regulations had changed--can't remember what I was looking up, but I'm glad I figured it out in time!

I'm thinking about getting an Instagram account. I've never seen the need for one before, but cell phone photos are way more convenient, by and large, than using a regular camera. If I do get an account, I'll link it here.

Updates hopefully more regular henceforth. XOXO,


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Reawakening the Blog

For various reasons, I'm about to set off on a new adventure. Starting in August, I'll be teaching ESL once more--this time in Shanghai. I hope you'll follow along.

Right now I'm running around frantically trying to get my visa in order. I'd also love it it my house elf came back from wherever he's been hiding and started packing my stuff, but you can't have everything, I guess. These tasks--plus trying to export my cat--should make me very busy the next few weeks, not least because we've got a big family wedding to go to at the end of this month. Excitement is what pushes the world forward, I guess. Wish me luck!