23 May 2008

How did this happen to me?

I have been putting this off for some time now, relating the crazy tale of how I ended up going to South Korea to teach English, but a conversation with Brian (who you will meet in a moment) yesterday kind of got me thinking about the way that thing led to thing in an almost imperceptible and, in retrospect, unstoppable chain of events leading up to my imminent departure.

I think it all started with an email from CareerBuilder.com. "Teach in Asia" or some such drivel. As I read it I remember thinking: "Wow. That would be cool. I bet they have good sushi." I looked at a few sites, filled out a couple of "online applications," was contacted by a few recruiters, sent out a resume, got accepted to the recruitment queue, and waited around for a job offer. In the meantime, I got a passport.

This was back in November, and at this point very few people knew what was in the works. I kept in under wraps because at this point even I didn't seriously believe that I was going to actually pick up and move to the other side of the planet. Eventually word got out a little, and people started asking me: "Do you seriously believe that you are going to pick up and move to the other side of the planet?" And when asked this question, the answer was invariably, confidently, yes.

Thus began the second phase. Don't dare me to do something: I will likely do it. Especially if it is foolhardy, reckless, socially unacceptable, or involves drinking, eating or nudity. I became trapped in my own false confidence. This actually turned out to be a good thing. I still wasn't convinced that going was a good idea, that I even wanted to go, but I kept giving myself positive reinforcement by being forced to basically lie about my confidence level in regard to the whole adventure.

This couldn't have happened at a better time. Around this time, in late Spring, I got a contract offer from a school in Busan. I tentatively accepted and began the long process of producing the documentation that they needed to proceed with my VISA application on their end. This included a background check from the Illinois State Police (which, to my amusement and surprise came back spotless) which had to be Apostilled by the Illinois Secretary of State after being notarized. This document alone, when produced, stamped and double-stamped cost a pretty penny. When I had accumulated the requisite documents (including my original college diploma) I sent them off to Korea via Fedex, who subsequently raped me as well. (10 Pieces of paper=$51 postage?)

This was also the period when I discovered "The Horror Stories." There are ex-pat forums for people teaching in Korea, and it seems that the most prolific entrants are also the most profoundly bitter about their time in Korea. Some, like those who got over there only to find that their school had gone broke and closed (a not altogether infrequent occurrence, from what I gathered), leaving them stranded and penniless, had legitimate complaints. Others seemed to be bitchy, nitpicky whiners who were unable to see that things were a little different in this culture and that compromise was necessary. If I had read some of these things in the early stages of this process I would have likely abandoned it, but...

At this point more people knew, more bold statements had been made, more money had been invested, more bridges were burning or at least doused with gasoline, and I was beginning to turn the corner and arriving at phase 3 (where I remain) which is...

Get me out of here! I can't wait to go. I have concerns, I know it won't be easy, but I am ready to go.

Which brings me back to my newfound friend Brian. We met while getting Passport/VISA stuff done ($45) at the Korean Consulate in Chicago. He has a friend who has been teaching in Korea for seven years. She went over there to teach for one year and never came back.

Brian is from St. Charles, MO, at teaches eighth-grade English at an inner-city school in St. Louis. He related a story of disillusionment with his current job and a former wife, and a desire, like my own, to do something different. He, too, felt that the project had at some point taken on a life of its own, and that he was into what I call phase 3 now. (He had better be, since he leaves in ten days.) But anyway, it was nice to talk to someone else who was going through the same things I was and had the same fears and concerns and hopes. We agreed to stay in touch. He should be a valuable resource once I arrive. He seems to have a much better handle on things due to his detailed research and his talks with his very experienced friend.

That is it in a nutshell, as they say.

I received my travel itinerary from the ticket service this morning. June 24 10:10 AM: NW1680 Lambert to Detroit then NW0025 Detroit to Tokyo Narita then NW0005 Tokyo Narita to Pusan Kinhae. 7466 miles. 16.75 hours. 14 timezones.

Hopefully I will get my passport back from the Korean Consulate and I will be on my way.