Fresh from a 3-week visit home, and burdened with weeks of idle time at my desk (deskwarming, whoo!), I’ve spent today scouring the internet for articles like, “What comes after Korea?” and “How to Become Location Independent.” These are the travel bloggers we look up to – THAT’S the traveling I want to do! He’s writing and traveling for a living!! But, you know what? Visiting home has made me really appreciate what we’ve accomplished so far, even if we haven’t reached our ultimate goals yet. As Lao Tzu said, A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In homage to a newfound resilience, here is a list of things we’ve done so far. We’ve compiled bucket lists, wishes for the distant future – now let’s trace our footsteps and give ourselves a pat on the back.
1. Moving out for the first time…around the goddamned world.
Yeah, I know you’re thinking, “That’s so obvious!!!” But nearly two years after of independent living, it’s easy to forget the shaky beginnings. Yes, Marta has roughed it in Australia (applause, applause!), but there is some security in a planned return, in having a sturdy network (school, friends, family) around you. However moving out for good, into the void, is incredibly daunting. I myself had never stepped foot beyond the nest before Korea. I remember sleepless nights at home, thinking in a panic, “I’m not ready to move out I can barely keep on top of homework never mind bills and rent and HOLY SHIT ADULTHOOD! WHAT IS THAT?!” The prospect of being so physically separated was terrifying. Mom’s not there to book your doctor’s appointments, teach you how to manage your bills, or sort out bank stuff for you (well….she still does). If you’ve got a problem, you’re on your own, kid. Oh, and it’s all in a completely different language handled by strangers in a system you know nothing about. Good luck!
The upside: I remember Skyping Marta about this, and both of us saying, “I was so scared…but it was really easy! I love living on my own!” Despite the extreme terror I felt every time I turned on the gas range, living solo has been so strengthening. Go us!
2. Being thrown into our job completely unprepared.
We thought we’d have a cozy orientation period, extensive lectures on teaching methods, time to move in and adjust…Hell no. Day 1: Leave airport, get shipped to your apartment, drop off luggage, go straight to class. WTF?? We knew absolutely nothing about of teaching. But we figured we knew how to be good students; it would be easy, like our grade school classes back home. We became starry-eyed about our most inspiring college professors – we’d be like them! Wrong. Wrong, wrong wrong. It’s like sending a Discovery Channel aficionado straight off the couch into cockpit of a spaceship as it comes hurtling down to crash land on an unkown planet 500 lightyears away. Just a whole lot of “HOLY SHIT WHAT DO THESE ALL BUTTONS MEAN?!”
Case in point: On my first day, I was escorted to class and asked to participate in the grammar lesson and game. I had expected Korean students to be docile, attentive, and well-behaved – that’s the stereotype, right? But as soon as the game was announced, the students burst into a chaos of excitement, running wild through the classroom, shouting, hitting each other…and there I stood, like a shell-shocked store owner during the Vancouver riot. Suddenly my co-teacher thrust a bizarre contraption into my hand, and said, “PUT THE PAPERS ON THEIR BACKS!” and I thought…
I could barely wrap my mind around Korean tape dispensers, and I was supposed to illuminate the way to global cultural enlightenment through second-language learning??
Nowadays, Marta and I talk about our classrooms with the ease of otters in water. Things that work, things that didn’t work, ideas for future camps and classes. In fact, now we pull our hair out at the incompetence of our co-teachers. Yesterday I sorted through my desk, and seeing work I’d done at the beginning of my stay, it was easy to pinpoint the trash-worthy attempts. This has been the ultimate learn-on-the-spot experience, and we kicked its ass.
3. Navigating a completely foreign language.
We’re nowhere near fluent – hell 90% percent of the time, we have no idea what’s going on at all. Most conversations with our coworkers end up like this:
And most attempts to teach our students English end up like this:
But we can get a damn lot done, considering. We might get flak for not knowing more, and of course, there is a boatload of frustration at every corner, but we’ve also picked up a whole lot by immersion. Without learning as much as we have, we wouldn’t be able to:
Order food in restaurants.
Take intercity buses (or city buses for that matter)
Call for home delivery.
Shop online (or in stores)
Navigate this beast of a metro system
Have stilted but (sometimes) endearing conversations with the friendly neighbourhood ajummas, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, etc.
HOLY MOTHER OF F** SH** SHE SAID “ANNYEONG”
JESUS F** HOW DID SHE KNOW WHAT I SAID?!
Yeah, I know what you sayin’, bitches. I’ll call you out on your shit
Operate domestic machinery
Distinguish laundry detergent from fabric softener…it’s a serious conundrum, guys.
[Sidenote: I swear to god that is not me in the photo…just a super creepy Google doppelganger. It’s freaking me out, man!!]
Speak in shittily coded messages
All in all, not conversational, but most definitely functional. When you live here 24/7, it’s easy to forget just how much we can accomplish with our language skills. This is a language we had absolutely no prior exposure to – how it sounds, what it looks like, grammar, syntax, intonation. Our coworkers have had a lifetime of English education, and I speak more Korean than they speak English sometimes. So to all the “Y U NO LEARN KOREAN” haters out there – fuck off, move to India and learn Hindi on the fly, then we’ll talk.
4. Expanding our Palette
Alright, so this is an easy one for us. We’ve always been foodies and eager to taste any new dishes we could find. But live squid? Silkworm pupae? Fish guts stew? Blegh…and check, check, check.
5. Acquiring new hobbies and learning new things
You’ve gotta keep busy to keep sane. Some of the new things we’ve picked up, tried for the first time, or worked on are…
- Photography (Digital for Marta, Analog for me)
- Samulnori (Marta…regardless of how short lived it was, or how well you think you did, you went out there and fuckin’ did it yo)
- Ukulele (both of us!)
- Stamp carving (myself)
- Cooking – ohhhhh god the amount of cooking done between the two of us…we could fill a whole recipe book!
- Baking (both of us) – I am a disaster with an oven no more!! In fact, I just bought a new oven yesterday. And Marta’s Christmas cookies…DID YOU SEE HER CHRISTMAS COOKIES?!
- Mouse keeping (myself) – I just love making them little tubes and toys to play with…they’re a delight! Next up: maze-making.
- Street machine gaming (both of us…to a financially irresponsible degree)
- Crochet (myself) – it’s a seasonal obsession that is so, so fun!
- Video gaming (both of us) – lots of alone time means lots of shameless video game indulgence…sweet, sweet video games…
- Journaling/scrapbooking (myself) – I’m all about gluing shit in my notebook
- Templestay (Marta) – living like a nun…for a day, at least
- Drawing, oil painting, watercolouring (Marta) – her art club is awesome. Wish I could join more often!
- Dungeons and Dragons (both of us) – the nerdiness is strong in us
- Board gaming (both of us) – introduced to me through a friend…CATAN, TICKET TO RIDE, ECLIPSE, AHHH!!
- Graphic Novel Reading (myself) – very, very recent addition…why did I wait so long?!
A mighty list indeed, and that’s not even including all the cheesy Super Korean Cultural Activities we’re invited to do at work functions. Sure, having a desk job feels so mundane sometimes, but we’ve done a lot despite that! Would we have done so many new things sitting at home in Montreal, doing the same old, same old? I think not.
6. Travelling around the world.
Another obvious one. We might not be backpacking through the day to day, and there’s plenty more that we want to see, but we’ve covered a heck of a lot of mileage between us:
- Australia (Marta)
- Tokyo (Both of us)
- Mt. Fuji (Marta)
- Hong Kong (myself)
- Macau (myself)
- Guangzhou and some surrounding areas (myself) – taking an intercity bus in Southern China without my parents to help…ohhh boy!
- Vietnam (Marta)
- Cambodia (Marta) – both of these are happening soon…eeek! Envy! Excitement!!
And within Korea:
- Seoul (both of us)
- Wonju + Cheongju (of course)
- Masan (both of us)
- Burning Man Korea in Taean (both of us…whaaaaat!)
- Namhae Island (both of us…best holiday ever)
- Busan (myself) – Seoul of the south…with beaches
- Gangneung (myself) – lovely beaches
- Daejeon (Marta)
- DMZ (Marta)
- Ulleungdo (Marta)
- Dokdo (Marta)
So in a year and a half, that makes…5 countries and 12 cities between us. Wouldn’t happen back in Canada, would it now, eh?
7. Learning how to take care of ourselves.
Before leaving Canada, while in the depths of exam taking and essay writing through the night, my basic appearance consisted of: whatever shirt on the floor was least stained, crooked eyeliner (if even), smudgy glasses, and totally unmanaged body hair. Sure, we’d survived the awkward teen years, but what now? If there’s one benefit to living in a country that is hyper beauty-conscious, it’s that you learn to pick up the slack, even if it just means not wearing the same thing twice in a row.
8. Finding love
Maybe it was the whole “taking care of ourselves” thing, but here we both are! I know it’s cheesy, and I’m not one to consider “having a boyfriend” as a major accomplishment, but we’ve both had a rocky road to romance and it’s a pretty major thing in our lives. (Also it helped make this list an even 10. Sorry, boys!)
9. Surviving work stress.
Like I said before, being air dropped into your job halfway around the world ain’t the easiest thang. Between obtuse co-teachers (Marta), juggling 3 schools at once at varying school levels (myself when I also taught at a middle school…what!), or trying to gracefully evade the persistent nagging/attempted conversion from a hyper-religious, micromanaging coteacher (myself), the workplace has been…less than easy. But hey, we’re still here! Cynical and sick up of it, but here.
10. Just surviving, period.
You’ve read our complaints here, and anyone I’ve visited at home has heard the whole of it twice over, I’m sure. There’s no sugarcoating it – living here has, in far too many ways, really sucked for us. But we’re still kickin’ it, and god damn it we’ll get out of here and forge ourselves a glorious new path in life, because fuck all y’alls. We know what we want in life and we’re gonna take it. TAKE IT BY THE GODDAMNED BALLS.
So there you have it, a shameless self-congratulations to the both of us. Here’s to being the Barney Stinsons in life!