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Yesterday I spent over 250 bucks to ship my books back to the states–and those weren’t even all of them. Today I put down 175 to send back random knickknacks, ranging from USB cords to half-finished scarves to paper fans from Kyoto. They should arrive in mid-January.

After much deliberation, I’m giving most of my cardigans and purses to the school so they can “sell” them during their annual Market Day. It will take all my willpower to part with my hot pink handbag. Not that I would ever carry that thing around the land of Uncle Sam, anyway.

I’ve found that a lot of stuff that I bought in Korea would never be worn in the U.S.–long shirt-dresses (over pants!), bright tote bags, sparkly blazers . . . the only thing I can see myself wearing are my silver and green heels, and that’s only if I pair them with something low-key. I was surprised to see my fashion sense shift during my stay here, and even more surprised to see it shift back once I started to pack my suitcases.

So yeah, I’m giving/throwing most of my clothes away.

Monthly tests, monthly syllabuses (those I haven’t started), presents for the kids/teachers, packing . . . and I’m leaving tomorrow.

No sleep.

And this just in: Two bloggers met me, and were understandably underwhelmed. In my defense, I’ve been having bad hair days. That zaps my mojo.

Cute hipster Bonnie Conquest takes me out to Hongdae.

Despair over how beautiful K-boys are with Amanda.

Also, spent Saturday night with the girls in Itaewon. I’ve finally accepted that the ‘won was my hood. Yeah it’s dirty and you come up with all these strange characters. Yet I drank there, I fell asleep in its seedy clubs, I binged on Thai and Indian cuisine, spent way too much money on books and even spent the night at a run-down love motel (cramped next to a condom dispenser!). I’ll remember it fondly, and with a tad of embarrassment.

Tomorrow is my last day. I will only teach the kindergarten classes, and I said farewell to the elementary students today. Received a few gifts (my supervisor told me not to tell the students I was leaving, but a few found out), took photos and exchanged emails. The hours passed by in a haze–I didn’t even tear up. Maybe because I’m so exhausted and have so much more to do by tomorrow afternoon.

Something doesn’t feel right. I have everything sorted out, everything’s scheduled and I’ve said good-bye to all my friends. But something’s wrong, something’s lacking, and I can’t put my finger on it.

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For the first time, I wired money to the U.S.

Bonnie Conquest said it would take only 40 minutes, but I sat at the manager’s desk twiddling my thumbs for an hour. Next time should be faster . . . but I’m closing my account on Friday, so maybe not. Anyway, I sent transferred 8 million won, which is almost 8,600 American dollars. And my boss still needs to pay me for December, not to mention my bonus (which is the equivalent to an extra month’s pay) and Thailand airfare.

I have spare cash in the apartment, hidden in an old pair of granny panties. (What? I. Am. Not. Getting. Laid.) So when I return to California I should have around eleven or twelve thousand in the piggy.

“You’re rich!” my mom exclaimed when I told her.

Not exactly, when you consider how much I made in the past thirteen months. I suck at saving money. And there are my future plans. I remain totally in the dark.

Right now I’m torn between education and social work. If I do go into teaching, it would be for preschool/kindergarten, because those are my favorite classes to teach. Then again, I assume classes in the U.S. are a lot bigger, thus there is more potential for me to lose my cool and get all military on innocent rugrats.

I’m also thinking about social work. Like I said earlier this month, I really want to help kids and the mentally handicapped–but I don’t have any experience with this sort of thing, aside from teaching hyperactive Korean kids.

And, I want to keep practicing yoga. It’s actually my strongest commitment right now, and what makes me the happiest and most grounded. I don’t know if I should follow my instructors’ advice and become a teacher (ask me in five years, or at least wait until I can get into Lotus position), but I’m determined to stick with it. I still want to study it in India or Nepal.

So I have to do some volunteer/nonprofit work, see what suits me best. I have to move to the city, because that’s where most of the opportunities are. I also have to go back to school . . . the good news is that some employers are looking for Korean speakers. So now I have an excuse to take Korean courses! I’m also considering Spanish classes, because this is California. But I’d rather stick with Korean, even if I never string together a decent sentence.

Until then I’ve got some dollars in the drawers. Dinner’s on me . . . when you feel like a combo at Wendy’s. Get yourself an extra side of fries while you’re at it.

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A Little Older Now

I had a soft spot for my supposed replacement, Jo, ever since I heard of her. Not only did she have the same name as one of my sisters, but she was the same age too and just out of college. And a vegetarian.

A part of me wanted to hate her, because she was going to take over my kindergarten kids. But as I began writing to her, telling her how much money she would need, what toiletries she wouldn’t have to worry about, the best coffee shops and cute little boutiques, I embraced her like a mother hen. I always enjoy showing the newbies around, buying them dinners, teaching them easy little phrases and escorting them to touristy spots.

Then she dropped out, dashing my dreams of a sunny, bikini-clad bliss in Thailand.

But, oddly enough, I never felt anger towards her. I was disappointed, and I was exhausted, and I was filled with so much longing for warmer pastures, but I couldn’t blame her. The job is demanding. I’ve had breakdowns. And I couldn’t imagine someone my sister’s age with this role, thrust into a country in which she doesn’t know the language and is expected to work ten to thirteen hours a day.

Unfortunately for Jo, the drama didn’t just end when she failed to show up to work eleven days ago. Our director had her passport.

Understandably, Jo emailed me several times about this. I told her to come here and pick it up, or at least send a friend over if she was too embarrassed. It wasn’t like my boss was going to hold her down and force her to work at Wonderland.

Nobody was going to insult her (to her face) or even question her motives. True, everyone was a tad bit resentful, because the school’s winter program had to be canceled. But I think we all understood why she left, and as a whole we’d decided she wasn’t strong enough for the job anyway.

Last Friday she arrived with her agency’s representative, thirty minutes after telling me of her arrival via email. (As you could imagine, my supervisor and director were a bit snippy about this last-minute house call.) During my lunch break I went down to see her, while her rep was speaking to the director. I could see she’d been crying.

“I’m sorry,” she kept saying.

“Relax,” I told her, rubbing her shoulder. “Nobody can keep your passport, and the director isn’t like that, anyway. Can I get you some coffee?”

“No, that’s okay. I’m sorry.”

“Did you find a job?”

“No. I’m going to go home soon.” From the look on her face, I could tell that she hadn’t had the most pleasant time in Korea.

“Can I take you out for dinner? I get off at seven-thirty–”

“No, I’m going home soon.”

She looked so young and traumatized. I just wanted to hug her, but with the director in the next room I knew it would be inappropriate.

After lunch I met with my supervisor, C, to discuss her meeting with Jo.

“She just kept saying ‘I’m sorry,'” C sighed with a little laugh. “‘I’m sorry, I want my passport.’ But is she really sorry? She doesn’t know how she changed our school. Because of her, we had to cancel our new winter classes, and you’re leaving early.”

“Well, she’s only 23 and fresh out of college. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting all these responsibilities.”

“Yes, she’s 23 but she’s an adult too. And she has to have some responsibility.”

“Did she get her passport back?” I asked.

“She’ll get it back. But she needs to pay us for part of your plane ticket to Thailand.”

My airfare (including a flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai) was about 650,000 won. “And how much does she have to pay?” I asked warily.

“Two hundred thousand won. She has it easy, but she kept asking if she could get a discount, because she worked here for three days.”

“What?” Shelly exclaimed. “It was her orientation. She was only observing us. She never taught a class!”

“I know. So we said no, she has to pay all of it. And she kept saying that she has no money. So I don’t know about her passport.” She gave an exhausted sigh. “What to do.”

“Two hundred dollars,” I mused after C left. “That isn’t too much. I thought she would have to pay for all of my airfare to Thailand, and the recruiter’s fee that the director paid Jo’s agency.”

“She’s a lucky girl,” Shelly said. “I don’t see why you feel bad for her. She didn’t even give the job a try.”

“Well, Wonderland’s hard. I quit once, remember? I mean, I finished my contract, but only because I felt loyal to C and our co-teachers. And by then I was so invested in Taekwondo, and had friends and liked living here. Jo doesn’t have all of that.”

“You’re a saint. If I was in your position I’d hate her. You keep saying she’s just a kid, but you aren’t much older. You really aren’t mad at her? Even just a little?”

To be honest, I’m more grateful than anything. As much as I wanted to help C and my school, I knew that it was my time to go. Something was holding me back, and the hesitation is still there. But I’m thankful that Jo ditched, forced me to work through December, and made me realize how tired I am, how much I miss my family. And how much I really need to be in California right now.

This job isn’t for everybody. You’ve got to have a steely resolve, something to save up for (or pay off) and a whole lot of support in and out of this country. You have to have the ability to zone everything out when places get too crowded, chill when you can’t read the menu and smile when locals laugh at your attempts with the language. You might not fit in the clothes, you might not like the food, and you’ll probably hate getting bumped and pushed on the sidewalk. You might realize that you aren’t good with kids.

You have to know that, ninety percent of the time, you’re going to be alone. And you must embrace that naked vulnerability with all you’ve got, or you’re going to feel like you have nothing.

I saw a lot of myself in Jo that day. That deer-in-the-headlights stare, the anxiety, the confusion and fear. She was disappointed in herself. It was heartbreaking.

You come here with a mad desire to conquer the entire peninsula, only to have all those romantic expectations topple on your pretty little head. Reality sets in, and you begin to doubt whether or not you can really live here. You begin to doubt if you’ve got the stomach for it all. I’ve been here for a year, and I don’t know how I did it. There were adventures I’ll always remember, people I’ll forever hold in my heart, and strength I didn’t know I had. But I don’t know how I did it. I don’t think I’ll ever know how I held it all together.

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As if my month couldn’t get crappier, I forgot to call my baby sister on her birthday (December 6th). I’m such a shitty sister, and all I want to do is kick myself in the teeth.

So sorry, Marbs–you know I love you, and I will totally make up for it.

***

Two hours of yoga, and all I could think about (aside from how I was out of the running for Big Sis of the Year) was whether or not I really wanted to stay here for another twelve months.

Just canceled my interview. Sorry, Bonnie, I know you pulled some strings for me.

Maybe it’s just the weather, or the holiday season, but between stretches and sit-ups all I did was doubt. Sure, I have a routine here, but is it really a life? Can I really put myself through another hagwon? At times it was rewarding, but it was too stressful. I teetered over the edge more than once or twice. (Keep in mind, though, that I am completing a contract for the notorious Wonderland.)

These days I ache for my family.

I haven’t completely written off another year in Korea. But it is a possibility I need to analyze over and over, and I’m going to need more than a month to decide.

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Did It Again

I quit my job.

The director was actually gracious enough to let me go on the 20th of December so I can spend Christmas with my family. They are still going to pay for my flight and my one-month bonus. Thank goodness, because I thought that was in jeopardy. They will also reimburse me for my flight to Thailand.

I’m glad I get to spend Christmas with the family, but I’m also upset that the job didn’t work out.

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In the past couple of months I’ve received emails from a few people interested in teaching in Korea. Many are concerned with how much time they will have to work.

Simply put, a lot.

Everyone will have a different experience here. Right now I work for this notorious chain (read past posts, you’ll know which one), but a lot of their standards were “tweaked” when I almost left a couple of months ago. I still spend too much time in the office, but it’s not as hectic as when I first started.

Here is my typical workday schedule. This excludes the third week of each month, because that’s when I have phone teaching (tutor the kids on the phone for five minutes, while their parents listen on the other line) and write report cards, tests and monthly syllabuses. During this particular week I can be in the office until 1 a.m. But I would leave a lot sooner if I didn’t have yoga class.

Daily activities that aren’t work-related are included, because I strongly feel your professional life is dependent on your personal life. Especially in Korea–if you just work, eat, shit and sleep, you’re going to get burnt out pretty fast.

7:00 a.m. Wake up, breakfast.

7:30 Jog outside, exercise.

8:00 Shower.

8:50 Leave for the office. My hagwon is really relaxed about clothes (you should really see what some of us wear–I wore my Reefs all summer, and right now I never wear makeup to school), so while I take long hot showers, it doesn’t take too long for me to get ready.

9:00 Prepare for classes. My morning poop usually occurs around this hour. (I suppose you don’t need to know that, but it’s an essential for me.) Sometimes, if I’m on top of things, I’ll take a yoga class in the next building, from 9:30-10:45.

11:00-12:15 p.m. Teach my first kindergarten class.

12:15-1:15 Lunch with the kids. Yeah, I don’t even get a real break, because I’m eating with my tots. Fortunately I supervise the low-maintenance kids, who I’ve barked trained into finishing their meals in 15-20 minutes. After they’re finished eating I prepare for my other classes.

1:15-2:25 Teach my second kindergarten class. They’re always tired after eating (naturally, since I get dozy after my fill of rice), so it can be a bit of a struggle to motivate them.

2:40-7:00 Teach my elementary students. Raise hell. Consume heaps of children within hours. But I do get a ten-minute break after every two classes. (I finish teaching an hour earlier on Tuesdays and Thursdays.)

A lot of teachers I’ve met hate teaching kindergarten. I’m the opposite–I would much rather teach the younger lot because they love any kind of game, no matter how simple it is . . . I’ll probably play my Guessing/Tic-Tac-Toe game with them at least twenty more times before December. They’re also more enthusiastic about English and competitive when it comes to displaying their skills. They don’t get embarrassed when they make mistakes, and no matter how many times I yell at them to be quiet, they still love me.

The elementary kids are far more picky. Like, shut up, just be grateful you’re not writing sentences.

I’ve been more crafty these days as far as games go, I’ll work on them even during my breaks, mostly out of fascination for the laminator–sad, I know–and pastel construction paper. Yet, there are times when the older kids will look at something and go, “Teacher, I don’t like this game. Drawing, please.”

And then I’ll ask the class, “Who wants to play Pia Teacher’s game?” No hands. “Who wants to copy sentences from the book?” Silence. “Okay, who wants to play Pia Teacher’s game?” And everyone’s hands will shoot up.

Anyway, twice a month there are meetings, which usually last an hour.

7:00-7:30 (or until 8:40 on Tuesdays and Thursdays) Drink black tea and study my Korean books at my favorite coffee shop, where the cute barista always smiles sheepishly and bows to his waist when I leave. He has shaggy hair, thick glasses and wide shoulders. That’s all I know about him, but I’m fairly certain I should bear his children.

7:50-10:00 Yogilates.

On working days I take eight yoga classes a week, with two classes back-to-back on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Starting January, I will take the class ten times a week. It might sound crazy, but this is my idea of relaxing. I’m also looking for a studio in Seoul so I can practice on Saturdays and/or Sundays, although I should try practicing on my own at least once a week.

10:00-10:30 Dinner. I eat every two to three hours during the day, so I’m don’t get hungry in-between meals. I usually go to this little Korean restaurant near the school, because the staff knows I don’t eat meat and prefer less rice. Also, they give me extra servings of kimchi.

As you can see, I’m pretty busy, with just ten minute breaks sprinkled throughout my teaching hours. But once I got the hang of it, work began to go by a lot faster. I’d drag myself into the office on Monday morning and before I knew it I’d tell myself, “It’s Thursday already?”

Being prepared with what I’m going to teach makes the classes go by smoothly–I’ve had my fair share of awful classes, just because I didn’t have time to adequately prepare. Yoga has helped heaps as far as how stressed I get. I mean, I still feel the heat, especially when I have to write report cards, syllabuses and tests all at once, but I don’t crumble like I used to.

Anyway, I usually tuck into bed around 12 or one in the morning, depending whether or not I feel like updating the blog or my Flickr account. (Believe it or not, I actually do spend a lot of time on posts.)

That’s my typical day. Five to six hours of sleep a night, and I don’t get more on the weekends either, because that’s usually the only time I see my friends in Ilsan and Seoul. But that’s another post.

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Four More Weeks . . .

. . . and I finish my contract at Wonderland.

Quick updates before I start teaching: My employer wants me to stay here as the Foreign Teacher Supervisor. I was seriously considering it, because I’m comfortable here, I have a life here, I love my students and my friends are here. Plus, I don’t think you really “live” somewhere unless you stay there for over a year.

But I just can’t keep working 10-13 hours a day. It’s stretching me too thin, and I didn’t come to Korea just to work. Money isn’t really an issue–it will be once I go to grad school, but I plan to be far more conservative next year.

Plus, I want to devote more time to yoga and writing. (More on that later. Uh, lots more.)

Oh, and I will only spend six weeks in the states, at most. Hopefully I will secure a job for February in or near Busan. If I get a job for March, in February I will visit India.

I had planned to go to India in 2008, but I am getting really serious about yoga. So if there’s an opportunity I’m going to take it.

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