I’m still alive! And still the least consistent blogger on the Internet. I’m consistently inconsistent. That’s something, right?
I visited the good ole’ U-S-of-A recently (I’ll get to that soonish) and received so many comments on my lack of blogging, that if I had recorded them I could auto-tune them into a beautifully snarky symphony.
SHERI T., THIS ONE IS FOR YOU. 🙂
This year has been entirely insane. Most of it has been wonderful, but a major change in my plan for the year made things a lot more hectic than I expected. You’ll find the long and probably confusing explanation of those events speckled throughout the post below.
In January, the director of my academy, AbaTron (name changed for security purposes or something), asked if I wanted to renew my April contract for a second year. My students were lovely, but the school itself certainly had its flaws. Regardless, I told him I would renew my contract on the condition that he give me about 2.5 weeks off in October to go home for my “sister’s” (re: my friend’s) wedding. Since foreign teachers NEVER renewed at AbaTron (probably because the director was a super skeevy dude, among other reasons), he agreed and we set up a contract explicitly stating the dates I needed off.
For all the downsides of this school, I was pretty pumped because as I may have mentioned before (and as anyone who has worked in a Korean hagwon knows), vacation is not a thing. You barely get national holidays off, much less time for a two-week holiday out of the country. I booked my flights home for mid-October and started counting the days.
At the same time I was making those arrangements, three of my amazing friends from home were working on their own trip out here to see me in September. I knew I’d have to work most of the days they were here, but there would be at least one four-day weekend while they were here and we planned to make the most of that time.
The year rolled on and I did cool stuff and things in spring.
Korea carried on being a never-ending source of wonder and fascination.
My students continued being adorable and (mostly) awesome.
In late May, I finally flew down to Jeju Island with some friends. It really is as beautiful as everyone says. We had ample time for lounging on the beach. And I got to catch up with my old pal David from my TEFL course in Prague, who lives and teaches in Jeju. Plus, it was Karen’s birthday that weekend, and since she and I didn’t work until 2pm on Monday we got to stay an extra night. It was a fantastic trip with some amazing people. The humidity and the bugs were pretty bad though, so we didn’t hike the volcano. I’ll have to go back for that!
In June, myself and the other three foreign teachers at my school got some interesting news. There’d been rumors that AbaTron wasn’t doing super well. They’d had us condense from two buildings down to one back in March, and the skeevy director who originally hired us either quit or was fired, we’re still not sure. We knew that some major change was on the horizon. We were all half-expecting to hear that our school was closing, but instead the “corporate” branch of our academy (which was a franchise) decided to buy out the owner.
So in mid-June we all had 1×1 meetings with the new HR rep to discuss what that meant for us. We found out that because our school was changing owners, we all needed new visas, and we had to end our current contracts (through the current owner) and sign new contracts starting on July 1st with the new owners in order to get our new visas. This was unfortunate for a number of reasons. Two of our teachers were only a month away from completing their contracts and getting their bonuses, but because the original owner abandoned ship and cancelled the contract, they both got screwed out of their bonus (equal to one-months pay upon completion of the contract), which was awful. I still got mine because I had completed my first contract and was onto my second, but that really sucked for my friends.
At the time of the change, I was the person who had worked at AbaTron the longest (crazy, I know!), so the plan was for me to stay since they needed someone who really knew the ins and outs of the school, students, etc. I was fine with that, but adamant that I still be able to take my already-booked trip home in October. The HR rep first told me it would be no problem, but a couple days later informed me that his manager felt it was “too long to be away from the students.”
I was given the choice of canceling or drastically shorting my trip (missing no more than 5 days of work when I had planned to miss 13), or I could finish out the semester and they would give me contract for just one month (until the end of the semester), ending August 31st, and a Letter of Release so I could find another job.
I thought about it for two days, made a few Pro/Con lists, and weighed my options. In the end, I decided there was no way in hell I was changing/shortening my first trip home in a year and a half, and decided to take the contract ending on August 31st.
In late July, for “summer vacation” (a four-day weekend), Karen and I scampered off to Hanoi for a taste of Vietnam. In so many ways, it is the polar opposite of Seoul. I instantly fell in love. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The energy is so different from Korea. And once you get used to crossing the scooter-filled streets (the trick is not to hesitate), there’s so much to see and do. Our trip was crazy and far too short, but I can’t wait to go back and visit the country properly when I’m finished in Korea. Someday.
Then it was back to Seoul for my last month at AbaTron. I had put off telling my students that I was leaving—many of them were so excited when I told them I had renewed for a second year. It’s hard on them, the constant turnover of teachers… I said my goodbyes (though a few of my favorite students still text me), and on August 31st went on my merry way.
Since the school provided my apartment I had to move out of my apartment, and my beloved neighborhood of Banghwa. I took my bonus and sublet an apartment in Dongnnimun for three months. I knew nobody would hire me when I needed 2.5 weeks off in October, so I didn’t start looking for a job until after I got back from America. The time from applying, to interviewing, to being hired and starting work here is literally a matter of days, so there wasn’t much point until I was back in the country.
Instead, I had three glorious weeks to really relax for the first time in a year and a half before my friends from home arrived in mid-September. And relax I did! As much as I loved living in Banghwa, it was at the edge of the city and meant spending a lot of time on the subway. Living in Dongnnimun had a lot of benefits location-wise. I walked everywhere. I explored the city in a way I had never really had the time for. It was wonderful.
And then, it happened…
Lindsay, Nicky, and Molly arrived in Korea.I’m still shocked that they came all this way just to see me. I wasn’t working, so I got to spend the entire 13 days with them instead of being at work most of the time. Picking them up from the airport was magical, and then we had two amazing weeks. I don’t have enough words to tell you how spectacular it was to have them here.
After they left (wah!), I had two weeks to relax and then it was my turn to get on a plane and head home. There a slight delay while I was trapped at Dallas Airport thanks to Hurricane Patricia, but after 36-hours of travel I finally made it home to amazing, beautiful, spectacular Wisconsin. Home. Home. Home.
I spent two weeks basking in the fall beauty of Wisconsin, and doing the stuff I love with the people I love. I hardly took any pictures, but I did come across this fantastic old gem of my sister and I. Classic.
And, of course, my “sister’s” wedding.
I even got to spend my last two days of my trip in Chicago (Chicago!) with the amazing Jess who finished her time in Seoul back in August.
It wasn’t a long enough trip, but I squished a lot of people into a small space of time. I have the absolute best people at home. I know I say this every time I write, but I 100% believe it. I could not do what I do without them. Fact.
I got back to Seoul in mid-November, and immediately began applying for jobs. I went on seven interviews in three days. A lot of people asked me if I was applying for jobs before I left or while I was at home. It sounds crazy, but there was no point. Things move so quickly here. The job I ended up taking, I applied for on Wednesday, interviewed at on Thursday, and started training the following week.
I got a number of offers, but I am so, so, so happy with the school I chose. I have some friends who teach/taught for a different branch of this school, so I was already somewhat familiar with their methods. The hours are longer (MW 9:30-7:45, TT 9:30-7, F 9:30-6), but I have about an hour for lunch where I’m free to leave if I want, and I have evenings again! No more working until 10!
I moved to my new apartment in Gajwa. My new neighborhood is great. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Digital Media City and less than 20 to Hongdae, so I can easily choose between half a dozen subway lines depending where I want to go in the city. I only live about a two-minute walk from my school, though it’s a bit longer if I have to wait at any of the four train tracks on the way there. The apartment itself is cute, cozy, and basically brand new.
My new students are adorable. I have my own kindergarten class now, called Gemini. They’re about 4-5 years old (western age), and had absolutely no English when we started on December 1st. It’s amazing to watch them learn things. I can actually see the progress. The kindergarteners are there from 9:50 until 3pm every day, and the rest of the day is elementary school classes. The first three weeks of the month, I only had two kids in my kindergarten class. I got one more girl two days before vacation, and I’ll have another boy when we come back from break. It’s kind of nice having the kids trickle in, rather than starting with a big group of non-English speaking kids. Having never really spent much time around kids this young, every day is a learning experience for me. It’s a challenge, but one that I’m really enjoying so far.
For the elementary school classes, I teach everything from grammar to literature to science (eek!). My school is an immersion school, so the kids speak nothing but English from the time they arrive at school until they leave at the end of the day. Most of them either came up through our kindergarten system, or lived abroad for a period of time, so their English is really quite good. What I like best, though, is that they’re actually happy to be learning English. They’re excited to talk to me. It’s great! We’re starting a new term when we come back from break on January 4th, and I’m really excited for my new classes.
Another huge benefit of my new gig is that we get real vacation! I get five days off over Christmas and five in summer, always a Monday-Friday. For this break, I had off December 24th—January 3rd. If I hadn’t just started the job, I probably would have gone home for Christmas. I certainly don’t mind working hard—and we work hard at this new school—but it’s all worth it when I’m looking forward to something.
It’s funny—when it happened back in June, I wasn’t thrilled about the sudden change in my plans for the year. It wound up being one of the best things to happen to me. I got to relax. I got to spend all of the time with my friends when they visited. I got a much, much better job.
To wrap up this ridiculously long post, I’ll tell you what I did last night. I went to check out the Christmas lights on the Cheonggyecheon Stream. I had been there with some friends on Christmas Day, but there were literally at least a million people there, so we couldn’t even get down to the stream.
As you can see, there’s a slight difference in the crowds on December 30th.
Well, I think that’s about all I have to say. It literally took me three days and three different coffee shops to write this post. The wifi in the coffee shops is much better for uploading pictures than the free network I get in my apartment, go figure. Maybe if I didn’t let it build up like this it wouldn’t take so long, but I’m a perfectionist. At least where the written word is concerned. I mean, there have been drafts.
I guess I’ll end this post a lot like the last one. I’ve had a surprising, eventful, amazing, beautiful year. I’ve been lucky enough to spend it with fantastic people—both here in Korea and back home—and I can’t ask for more than that. I have pretty high expectations for 2016, and if it’s anything like this year I know it’s going to be crazy and wonderful.
I’ve spent the year doing something I love. I hope you have, too.