Monday, September 27, 2010

Pay day

I'm a millionaire!!! Ok, maybe not so exciting to those of you who are used to inflated currencies. But let's keep in mind I'm an American; getting a seven-figure paycheck straight out of college is unheard of. Indeed, it would be much more exciting if there was a dollar sign in front of the net payment numbers, but won or not, it's still money in the bank. At any rate, it's my first non-food service, non-retail, non-work study, real world, salaried paycheck. Exciting stuff.

And so it started...

My arrival in Korea felt something like walking into a glass door; you know, there you are, walking along looking at what’s in front of you when BAM! The wind is knocked out of you and you’re looking around startled and dazed wondering what just happened.

Forever the planner, I had always expected to come out of college knowing exactly what was next. Lo and behold, with graduation rapidly approaching I found myself a soon-to-be college graduate with no way to answer the question that every professor and parent just had to ask: “so what are your plans?” Of course, I couldn’t just say “nothing” so out of nowhere I started saying “I’m trying to get a job teaching English in South Korea.” At the time, I was really just saying it so I could take a break from finding interesting ways of blaming the economy and ignoring the fact that I had no plan. But by the end of the graduation festivities Korea had formulated into a real plan. From that point, it didn’t take long for a simple email inquiry on June 1st to turn into a one-way ticket to Seoul. Within two months, I had six trans-pacific phone interviews, declined an offer with one school, signed a contract with another, wrangled with the consulates in both San Francisco and Chicago, moved from Minnesota to Colorado, and packed my bags for my voyage into the abyss of “real life.” (Starting to understand the glass door metaphor?)

On August 11th, I arrived. There I was, standing alone in Incheon International Airport with my life packed into two suitcases and a backpack and little idea of what I had signed on for. As I sat waiting for my ride (which came an hour late) it became harder to fight off the feeling of “WHAT THE HECK DID I JUST DO!?!??!” By the time I arrived at my hotel I was frantically skyping my mom in tears not sure exactly why I was crying but needing reassurance nonetheless.

Indeed, everything is less scary in the morning. Already on my way to my first day of work, I was crammed into a “school bus” with a bunch of adorable 4-year-old Koreans. It’s hard to feel frightened when surrounded by tiny humans. I had a nose picker on one side, a pair of pigtails tickling my arm on the other as their owner bobbed in sleep against my purse, and across from me was a bespectacled girl glaring at me, clearly unhappy with how much space I was taking up.

Clearly they waste no time here. Less than 15 hours since I arrived in Seoul I had already been briefed on my position (most of it going way over my jetlagged head). And with that, I quickly ceased to be the shell-shocked foreigner as I officially became “Shelby Teacher” and was launched into my year as a teacher, getting only two days of observation before I started teaching my own classes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

To Hell with Lemons

Four months ago, I walked across a stage at Macalester, still harboring hopes that an international development organization would call to offer me my dream job. Today I sit in my closet-sized apartment in the Pungnap dong neighborhood of Seoul, South Korea one month into my year as a kindergarten teacher. Unfortunate? No. Unexpected? Perhaps.

For most, unemployment or (worse), the threat of becoming a career waitress, is not enough to send one running to the hills. But in my case, the realization that my snazzy resume and fresh-out-of-college enthusiasm would do little for me in this economy made the “hills,” AKA: Korea, a rather appealing place to run to. Indeed, common wisdom instructs us to “make lemonade when life gives us lemons.” But, wanderlust kicked in and sent me searching for kimchi instead. Thus, I find myself a 22 year old expat, ready for anything and blogging about everything. Such is life.