I created this blog in order to keep track of my travels, look back at the travel experiences I had, and share my moments with friends and family. It may also be a great resource for those that may be preparing to follow a similar journey. Since I started this blog after some of my initial travel experiences, I thought I’d tell the stories as I remember them up until this current date of April 2012. This first post will be of my first moments leaving the United States to live abroad as an English teacher in South Korea.
Many people ask me, “What made you go to Korea?” Well, it is interesting how teaching in Korea came about. Looking back at my moves between Eau Claire, WI (My home town) to Seattle, WA a couple times, my untraditional timing of post-secondary education, and struggles to work my way up with a company in corporate America, I emotionally and mentally had enough. I was unhappy and extremely miserable. It is amazing that it is at those moments in life where you hit bottom, opportunity jumps in to help steer you into another direction. This is what happened to me…
I was at my local watering hole Da Joynt, a small hippy bar on Water St. in Eau Claire, WI, where I was sipping on my Leinies taper listening to some tunes playing on the jukebox when I looked to my left to find a girl I knew who went to school with one of my younger siblings. It was Dave Racine’s sister!! Dave and I had gone to elementary and middle school together and it had been years since we had seen each other. I asked her how Dave was and what he had been up to. She said, “He is teaching English in Korea.” Hearing this immediately peaked my interest and I continued to ask her more about it. She told me about the free flights there and back, 1 year contracts, pay, benefits, etc. Hearing about the opportunities in Korea got me excited, especially when I compared the work situation I was currently in. I had thought about teaching abroad a few times before this, but never thought of Asia. Also, I dreamed to have a job that gave me the opportunity to see the world. Before Korea, I never had a passport and had only been to Niagara Fall, Ontario and 20 min. outside Vancouver, British Columbia. Fortunately, Dave was in town a couple weeks later to give me the low-down on Korea and hook me up with a recruiter he once used.
So when I brought up the idea of moving to Korea to teach English to my mother, I could see the worry on her face. She was about to head out the door with my grandma Rose and said we would talk about it later. I told her, “Ask grandma what she thinks!” Well, she did and my grandma thought it would be a great opportunity to travel and see the world. Hearing this from my mother’s own mom put her at ease I think. When I told my dad, He said, “You just moved back here from Seattle, make up your fucking mind. Jesus Christ.” Well, he may have just gotten done with work and was a little ornery, but he did have a point. Here I was bouncing around the last ten years trying to “find myself”.
So, it was settled, I started the paperwork process to go to Korea. I was looking at trying to go around March of 2009, but scored a job at Ewha ALS in Daejeon, South Korea for a December start. I missed Christmas that year, the first ever, but at least I got to see a lot of my family for Thanksgiving along with having my last deer hunting season.
So, the day came where I was going to the airport to travel abroad for the first time ever. I did not really have any feelings of being sad or happy. More like a feeling that it was just the next step in this journey of life that was supposed to happen. My friend Nicole, who I kind of was dating for the last three years before this journey took me to the airport. She cried a lot. I wonder if my parents did when I left my house? Either way, I am happy to have had the support of my closest friends and family as I began this big shift in my life!
My first plane flew out of Minneapolis, MN to Chicago, IL. There I had a short layover before I boarded my flight on Korean Air to Incheon, South Korea. The plane was awesome because of its personal media screen and roominess! The Korean flight attendants where the hottest flight attendants I had ever come across with my previous domestic US travel. Plus, they were so kind, friendly, and helpful. Seems hard to find from US airlines these days. I arrived at Incheon International Airport around 4pm Korea time where I was supposed to wait for my recruiter. I sat around with my bags for about a half hour, because he was late, freaking out. I thought maybe they forgot about me and I had NO idea what to do next. Finally he arrived and got me on a bus to Daejeon. I didn’t sleep that well on my fight. But, the heat on the bus was so intense I slept almost the whole way to Daejeon. I do remember looking out my bus window and seeing tons of neon crosses across the city. It seemed kind of strange to me, but I remembered reading about that in another blog about Korea at an earlier time.
When I arrived in Daejeon, the bus driver told me it was my time to get off. I got my bags and waited for my future boss, Mr. Cha, to show up. He was about a half hour late which caused me to freak out again as I sat their smoking my first cigs in over 24 hrs. He finally found me and took me to a love motel, where I would stay my first few days in Korea. It was a Thursday and I was set to start that next Monday. After getting me to my room, he then took me to the school to meet the other teachers. At this point it was about 9 pm and I was beat. I said hi to everyone and then went back to my motel and crashed.
The next day, I was told to come to the school to sit in on a few classes. It was nice to see how some of the other teachers taught. I also got to meet some of the kids and get my bearings. I had heard of horror stories where the day a teacher fly’s in, having to teach as soon as they get to the school. After sitting in on a few classes I went back to relax and then I met up with the teachers for a good-bye/ welcome dinner of samgepsal! It would be my first Korean meal ever. For those that don’t know samgepsal, it is pork you cook on a grill in front of you, then put it on a leaf with some sides like onion, rice, red sauce, garlic, etc. and shove it in your mouth. I also had many shots of soju, Korean style saki, and glasses of beer to begin my night of drinking.
Spencer, who had taught at the school before, was also starting his new contract the same day as me. He had just spend the last six months in Hong Kong or Thailand and was back to make some money. He took me under his wing and out to Bon Bon in Dunsan-dong for more drinks. I met a ton of new people and got completely hammered on my first Friday in Korea! It was great fun and he got me in a taxi where I then found my way back to my motel to pass out and experienced my first ever soju hangover the next day.
So, this is the story of how I arrived in Korea and began my life of travel and living abroad.