39,020 feet above the ground

There are few things I love to do on a plane more than watch the flight map. Something about seeing the little animated plane follow a destined path across the globe is incredibly satisfying to me, especially because I know that like the little plane on the map, I am also following a destined path across the globe.

I’ve never been on a flight so long. I didn’t even realize planes could stay in the air for almost sixteen hours. I also didn’t even think I’d fly up and over the North Pole, but it looks like I’m learning something new every day.

At this point, I am over halfway to Hong Kong, the first leg of my journey to South Korea. I made my way to the airport in evening of August 28, fully prepared to spend what would seem like a lifetime going through TSA and waiting in my terminal, drinking coffee so I wouldn’t immediately fall asleep when I got on the plane. To my surprise, going through TSA was quick, but passing time in the terminal was slow. Once 12:00 rolled around, everything was closed, and it was just me and a big group of strangers, all going somewhere together.

I passed the first 7.5 hours of my flight watching movies. The in-flight selection was surprisingly good. When I could no longer keep my eyes open through another movie I settled for music and games. When 6:30am EST rolled around, I decided that I could finally rest. By some miracle, no one took the seats next to me, and I was able to lay outstretched and sleep. Well, at least for an hour at a time before some sound or urge to roll over woke me up.

Now here I am, 10:30am EST and wide awake. I’ve caved and purchased in-flight WiFi. After all, I do have 6.5 hours to go until Hong Kong, and sleep seems like it may be a thing of the past, at least until mid-afternoon.

So here I am, 39,020 feet above the ground, just waiting to arrive at my destination and watching as the little animated plane makes its way across the world.

8/26 Two Days Out

I am now two days out from leaving the US and traveling to South Korea to begin my journey as an English teacher. Time feels as though it has been moving slowly, yet it is hard to believe that nearly three months have passed. When I first found out I would be moving to Korea, it felt so far off, an entire lifetime away, and yet the time has finally come. My bags are packed, my flight is booked, and I am constantly thinking about how on earth I am going to stay awake until 2 a.m. to board my plane.

People often ask me if I am nervous, and the answer has always been no. Two days out, that is still the case. While the path I have chosen to walk is not traditional, not typical, and not fully understood by others, I know it is where I am meant to be. I have always felt a strong pull out and away. In other words, I have never felt rooted, but always restless, ready for the next big adventure, perhaps because each adventure steers me closer and closer to the road I am meant to walk.

These next few weeks with be difficult, I understand that fact. I don’t speak Korean and I don’t know anyone, which I’m sure will feel incredibly isolating at times. I know that I will face these challenges, and I don’t know if being aware they will come, and come soon, will make my response to them any better than if I were going in blind. But somewhere along the way I learned that to let fear stop you from living will result in an unfulfilled life, one full of regret and what ifs, and that is not the life I want for myself. So two days out, I am still excited about the path I have chosen, and not once have I asked myself if maybe this was all a mistake. And I think that will be enough to see me through.

 

Feature image from: http://trip-suggest.com/south-korea/south-gyeongsang/jinju/

On Letting Go

Moving to another country helped me come to a huge realization: my life is cluttered with things. I didn’t even realize how much I owned until I had to sit down and pick through my entire life, deciding what stays and what goes.

Earlier this year, I decided to take on living life with less. And I did cut down on my consumption. I even went through clothing and some of my belongings, but there were a lot of things I did not want to part with at the time, and even more things that I didn’t even consider to be cluttering my life, like kitchenwares and the old prom dresses shoved in the back of my closet. But when I had to really go through everything to clean out my apartment, I realized just how much I had overlooked in my quest to downsize my life.

Some items were easy to get rid of. I donated a lot of clothing and packed up boxes of possessions that I didn’t feel served me in my life. With others I had a harder time.

In moving to another country, the most difficult things I have had to part with were sentimental pieces that I had accumulated throughout the years from family, friends, and traveling. While there are a few things I have decided to hold on to, most of these possessions have found new homes. I couldn’t simply take these possessions to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Instead, I took time to think about each piece: where it came from, who gave it to me, the stories and memories associated with it, and who those stories would resonate with. When I felt particularly moved by the thought of a specific object going to a certain person, I decided that would be who I gave it to. In every encounter of passing on a possession to a new person, the person was grateful, and often moved by the sentiment behind the object. Each time, I knew I made the right choice. This passing on of my possessions made it a lot easier to let go.

With each item I purged from my life, I felt lighter. I didn’t realize how much these possessions were weighing me down until I had to consider their meaning, their use, and whether or not it would serve me as I move on from my life back home. I don’t know that I will ever accumulate so many possessions again. Now that I am living a more simple life, I feel like my life is more in line with what I really value– meaningful relationships, experiences, being an active participant in my life, rather than a passive one. So even though letting go has been difficult, the positive benefits of truly minimizing my life have been far greater than any sadness I have felt in getting rid of everything I have accumulated. Because at the end of the day, the whole of my possessions does not represent how well I lived my life. Rather my stories, experiences, memories, and the people I have shared them with are the true measure of a well-lived life.

 

Feature image from: http://borntotalkradioshow.com/2017/05/word-day-simplify/

Where It Really Started

So I’m sure it has crossed your mind at least once: what kind of person just decides to move to a country that they have never been to, and what initially sparked that sense of

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adventure? I’ve thought about that myself, because I’d never been to Korea, and didn’t really know anyone who had. But I have had other experiences abroad which stick with me even to this day, inspiring me to see as much of the world as I can in the time I have on this earth.

When considering the experience that started it all, I can handsdown say it was my experience as an exchange student in Germany. When I was seventeen, I had the opportunity to participate in the German-American Partnership Program (GAPP) through my high school, which has a sister school in Gladenbach, Germany.

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I started studying German in seventh grade as a part of the exploratory language program at my school. I was required to take an exploratory course in Spanish, German, and French. Once I went to high school, I was able to choose which language I would study, and I chose German, primarily because of my family ties to the country, as well as to Austria, another German speaking country.

I loved learning German, so when I learned about the exchange program, I immediately applied, and was fortunate enough to be chosen to participate. I had never been on a plane before, let alone left the country, and I was giddy with excitement.

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2012 GAPP

Traveling to Germany helped me realize just how big the world is, and how much you can learn just by being somewhere new. Before traveling abroad, I had a lot of misconceptions about the world, primarily life in other countries. I learned quickly that my views, which had only been informed by my hometown upbringing, were more narrowing than what this great, broad world really had to offer.

After arriving back in the States, my time in Germany was all I could think about and all I could speak about. I knew that one day I wanted to see more of the world, no matter what it took. I began researching other places to go, continued learning German, and started reading travel literature. My life really was changed by that single trip. Perhaps that’s why when I learned about teaching English in Korea, it was the only thing I thought made sense for where I am right now in my life. Without the GAPP program, I don’t know that I would have even developed such a strong sense of adventure and a deep desire to travel the world.

Beauty in the Green Mountains

Vermont is hands down one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Everything about my time in Vermont was breathtaking. The air was fresh, the hikes were incredible, and the small town of Bennington was vibrant.

I visited Vermont back in June with my friend Lindsey, another avid hiker and childhood friend. Knowing that our lives were taking us in drastically different directions, we decided we needed a weekend getaway, and both of us really wanted to visit Vermont. Both of us knew that the Green Mountains were perfect for a walk in the woods, and both of us desperately needed one. We headed out on the road for our four hour road trip, arriving in Vermont around dinnertime on a Friday. The night was spent exploring the small town of Bennington, particularly the local brewery. They had a wide variety of craft brews, my favorite of which was named the Nor’beaster. After a winter full of Nor’easters, it only felt right to try that beer.

Southern Vermont in early June is perfect for hiking. The temperatures are mild and the mud season is mostly over, making for optimal hiking conditions. Saturday we spent the day in the mountains. The Bald Mountain trail was near our hotel, and had promising online reviews. So we ascended, tackling the different challenges that came about on the trail, which would suddenly turn from a gradual incline to a steep mountainside. Once we found an acceptable overlook, we slung up our hammocks and enjoyed the view.

When we came back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day exploring other sights nearby, including the gift shops in town, the covered bridges hidden in the back roads of Bennington, and North Bennington, a town nearby. Sunday would also encompass exploring, this time in the form of another hike from Lake Paran to the home of American poet Robert Frost. This hike was much simpler than the one Saturday, and we enjoyed views of the lake, wildflower fields, and and lush green forests Robert Frost once enjoyed. We wrapped up our trip by visiting the Bennington BattleMonument, which offered stunning views of Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York.

Life in Vermont seemed simple and quiet, which is the kind of life I enjoy for a few days, but never longterm. My retreat to the woods was refreshing, and needed after a few high stress weeks. What made the trip even better was the friend I got to share the journey with.

 

 

Why Korea? And Other Questions

Since making the decision to move to Korea I have gotten a lot of questions. Some of these questions come from friends and family, while others are from complete strangers who overhear a conversation I am having. I decided that answering these questions all in one place would be helpful for those who may be curious, but nervous to ask about why I chose to move to Korea and what I will be doing there. So here we go!

Question 1: Why South Korea?

I decided to move to South Korea for a few reasons. One of the biggest reasons was that I felt like I was in a rut. While I loved my job, it wasn’t enough to cover the expenses of living on my own with student debt. Not to mention I felt trapped living in NEPA and needed a way out. After taking my GRE again, my hopes of grad school were slashed. While I was a great student and had a laundry list of extracurriculars and conferences I had attended, I knew that test scores and the school you went to for undergrad played a huge role in an admissions decision into a good program. Even the schools where I qualified only had acceptance rates between 8-9% each year, and I didn’t feel comfortable wagering everything on such a slim chance.

So after talking with a close friend, I decided to look more into teaching English in Korea. One thing led to another, and now I am leaving in exactly two weeks!

Question 2: What will you be doing there and how did you learn about it?

I will be teaching English as a foreign language at a language learning academy. The school works with different age groups, like pre-school, elementary school, and middle schoolers. I found this position by applying to recruiting agencies in Korea. The agency I worked with, Korvia, is one I found after reading an extensive blog post by Drew Binsky, who has since become one of my travel idols. My recruiter at Korvia is amazing, and she has helped make this process smooth and stress-free.

When I applied to Korvia, I didn’t really know what to expect, but within 24 hours I received an email requesting an interview with the company. I passed the first interview, and a week later I had an interview with my school. Three days after that, I was offered the job.

One thing to note about working with a recruiter–Korvia is free. People often ask if I had to pay the recruiter to find me a job. I did not. I did, however, incur other expenses, such as getting an FBI criminal background check done, and getting certain documents apostiled, which is just a fancy way of saying I got an official stamp from the US government that allows the Korean government to accept my documents as authentic.

Question 3: Do you speak Korean?

안녕하세요!

I do not speak Korean, other than a few phrases. As I get closer to my departure, I have gotten a lot more serious about learning Korean. I have been teaching myself Hangul, the Korean alphabet, as well as learning important phrases, like hello, my name is Christine, nice to meet you, thank you, you’re welcome, yes, no, and excuse me. I really enjoy learning languages, and Korean has certainly been a challenge. Some of the resources I have been using to learn Korean are: Duolingo, Drops, Talk To Me in Korean, Korean Class 101, and learn-hangul.com. I also low-key love k-pop, which is a great way to just expose myself to the language as I’m driving or cleaning out my apartment.

Question 4: Have you been to Korea before? Have you traveled outside of the US?

No, I have not been to Korea, or any Asian country for that matter. But I have traveled abroad. When I was 17, I was an exchange student in Germany, and I went to Ireland after my junior year of college, just for fun. On those trips, I also got to visit Austria and Northern Ireland. Both of these experiences abroad were formative for me, and I do not feel apprehensive about moving to Korea.

Question 5: Are you going with anyone?

If I waited for my friends to travel with me, I’d never go anywhere.

But in all seriousness, no. My friends and I are all on different paths in life. Some are getting married, some are starting graduate school, and some are still finishing undergrad. A lot of my friends are in medical or STEM professions, which means teaching English isn’t really on their radar.

I would never expect anyone in my life to abandon their dreams or career to uproot their life and move to another country with me. That is both selfish and unrealistic. While I am not going with anyone I know, I have started getting to know the other girls who will be arriving with me who have also never taught English abroad before. This experience is new to all of us, and I think that’ll allow us to bond, and of course we will be there to look out for each other.

Question 6: Are you nervous? Scared? Excited?

I honestly don’t know the last time I was so excited for something happening in my life. I don’t feel nervous or scared, primarily thanks to the world of youtube. I have spent hours watching youtube videos from other Americans who have moved to Korea to teach English. So while I can’t predict exactly what my experiences will be, I feel prepared to head to Korea and educated on what to expect when I get there. And once again, my recruiter, Jina, has been amazing and helpful every step of the way.

Question 7: Do you have a teaching certificate?

Yes, I am certified to teach English as a foreign language, which means I am certified to teach English abroad, but not here in the US. I did not major in education or receive an education certificate from MU. I completed my TEFL certification online back in June. Again, I used Drew Binsky’s recommendation (and coupon code) regarding where to get certified.

Question 8: Where will you live?

My school is providing me with a furnished apartment. I’ll be able to walk to work each day or take a bus on those rainy and chilly days. Oh, and I’ll finally have my own washer!

Question 9: What are you doing with all your stuff?

I sold it, donated it, and only kept what I needed.

Question 10: Will MU hold your job for when you come back?

If and when I move back to the US, I will not be coming back to NEPA, at least not for anything more than a visit. So no, they are not holding my job, and I wouldn’t let them even if they offered. My time has come to leave NEPA and not look back. My job was a great starter position and it allowed me time to figure out my next move, but I think my time working in admissions has come to an end.

Question 11: What is the weather like there?

Well, Korea, like NEPA, has four seasons. The caveat here is that I will be further south, so winters won’t be nearly as cold as these mountain winters, but the summers will be hotter. And humid. So when I packed my bags, I had to pack for four seasons: shorts, sweaters, coats, tank tops, jeans, hats, gloves, scarves, flannels, etc. Packing a year’s worth of stuff has been somewhat stressful, but now that I have packed everything I need into two checked bags and one carry-on, I don’t know what I’ll ever own anything more than that.

Feature image from: http://freeassembly.net/news/kiai-to-visit-republic-of-korea/korean-flags-2-500/

 

A Day on the Farm

Back in July, I had the opportunity to visit my friend Blyss in Ithaca, New York where she is doing summer research with the Boyce Thompson Institute and Cornell University. Knowing I didn’t have much time left to spend with her, I took the short road trip for the weekend and had an amazing time.

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Blyss is one of my absolute best friends. She’s is cool, compassionate, and has a deep concern for the environment and living things, which is the thing that really forged out best friend bond. So when I visited her, it was only natural that we would journey to the local farm animal sanctuary a few towns over. Originally, we had planned to go hiking and swimming at Watkins Glen, but a few quick Google searches told us that there was also a sanctuary in that area, which is something we had wanted to do together for quite some time.

Farm Sanctuary encompasses 271 acres and is home to over 500 farm animals, all rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Most days, you can take a tour of the farm, led by one of their guides. The tour includes seeing cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and goats, all of which have their own unique personalities.

 

Even though it was a scorching hot day, Blyss and I loved every moment we spent on the farm. The animals brightened my day, and reminded me of all the reasons I decided to stop consuming meat and animal products. Even on the days it seems hard, the days I am craving cheese like you would not believe, and on the days I go to a restaurant and the only thing I can eat are french fries, it is worth it. Like people, animals can experience a wide range of emotions– but when they are living in the conditions prevalent in agribusiness, these beautiful creatures feel limited emotions– fear, anxiety, apprehension, and pain. By spending an afternoon with these animals, I was reassured that all the challenges of eating vegan are beyond worth it.

Goodbye to you, MU

Perhaps one of the hardest parts of leaving my job as an admissions counselor at my alma mater was the realization that I was not just leaving a job, but a place I cared about and felt deeply attached to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely felt out of place living in Northeast Pennsylvania, but MU was my home for nearly five years. Those five years were filled with laughter, love, tears, friendship, heartbreak, stress, and accomplishments that formed me into the young woman that I am. So when it came time to finally say goodbye in order to move on to a new job in South Korea, I was full of conflicting emotions– excitement for the future, and sadness for what I would be leaving behind.IMG_6052

I spent days writing goodbye cards to everyone at the university who had a positive impact on me. Some were easier to write than others. Some resulted in me sobbing in my office. But I knew that the hardest goodbyes were not really goodbye, but see you later. Cliche, I know, but cliches serve their purpose, and in this case their purpose is to make a transition easier.

Working as an admissions counselor, representing a place I loved so much, was a wonderful experience. The people I worked with helped me to grow as a professional and as a person. I am so grateful that I had to opportunity to give back to a place I love, and I put my heart into every interaction I had with a prospective student. I hope that the students I helped bring into the university love it as much as I do, and I hope that they are able to build the same impactful relationships I have.

It feels strange to be moving on to my second career at the age of 23, but it also feels incredibly right. My life in NEPA felt too small, too restrictive, like a pair of jeans that no longer fit. When you no longer fit in a place, trust your gut, and take a leap. Saying goodbye is never easy, but if you wait until you are ready, you’ll never go.

The Great Discontent & A Leap of Faith

I knew I needed to get out of Northeast Pennsylvania. I’ve known for years, persistent feelings of overwhelming isolation and sadness being a pretty clear indication that something just wasn’t right. But after graduating college, my first job offer was from the university where I had just completed my education, and while I love my alma mater, I knew I could not stay long-term. Well, unless I wanted to fall into a never ending pit of despair. I know, it sounds incredibly dramatic, but I think I spent more time laying on my futon staring at the wall than doing anything productive in the time I’ve been living in my own apartment.

So once I took the GRE and realized my score wouldn’t get me into any of the schools on my list, I panicked. I could not, would not, get stuck in NEPA. I did what any rational person would do and I decided to apply to teach English in South Korea. It seemed like a crazy whim to ride everything on, but within two weeks I had a job offer from a language learning academy in Jinju, South Korea, and without hesitation I accepted the job offer. It seemed right. My heart was content.

As I went through the process of applying for a visa, gathering my documents, and completing my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, I noticed that the discontent that had been lingering in my heart for so long had settled. I started reading again. I felt a sense of relief as I parted with material items that were cluttering my life. The Great Discontent had passed. And in its place I found that a desire to dive deeper into my spiritual life had taken over. This dramatic change in my life was not entirely a result of my own making, but a divine intervention, taking me down the path where I was needed most. While to some, the belief in a higher power orienting me in another direction might seem crazy, it is the most sane explanation I can come up with. Sure, I have never been afraid of taking chances and going abroad is something I think about with childlike excitement. But rather than seek a higher paying job within my current industry, within my own country, I took a leap of faith and completely changed directions, put aside all of my fear about living somewhere new where I don’t even speak the language, and dove in head-first. The burden I felt was lifted, and I just knew.

Ringing in the New Year

January 1, 2018

A new month, a new day, a new year. With the passing of each 365 days, we are reminded that once a year, we are given a symbolic new beginning, and that while every day is the chance to start anew, this one day in particular is special, being celebrated across the globe, and is a visible reminder that we can always do better and be better.

I spent New Years Eve with one of my close friends, her parents, brothers, aunts, and uncles. We ate a large and late dinner, chatted about travel, books, movies, and shared stories from our lives. It was relaxing, peaceful, and full of love. We toasted the new year with champagne, and I quickly went off to sleep on a pull-out couch, reminiscing back to my childhood in the late 90’s. This upcoming year would be a good one, because I vowed to make it so.

Each year I set not one, but many resolutions and goals for myself. It’s something I have always done. At least if I fail at one, I have others I can fall back on. Each year I set a goal for how many books I would like to read. This number changes every year and if often based on how many I read the year before. In 2017, I read all of nine books, probably the lowest number of books I’ve read in a year since before I learned how to read. So, naturally, I set the bar low for this upcoming year, and I have already finished a book of essays I began back in July about life after college. It felt great to have already accomplished something so early in the new year.

I’ve also set other resolutions: go 100% vegan, beginning today, visit at least two new states, pay off at least one credit card, journal every day, and stop scrolling through Twitter before I even get out of bed in the morning. I’d also like to prioritize my days better, create new habits and routines, volunteer more, and try new things. I know this is a lot to take on, particularly all at once, but even small changes can lead to big results. One of my best friends bought me a daily journal that has a question and a few lines to write a short response each day over the course of five years. Guided journaling makes the resolution to journal every day seem a lot more attainable. Creating routines, like reading each day before bed kills two birds with one stone. And prioritizing getting a shower over scrolling through Twitter will help me be a lot more productive in the morning. So while I have a lot of resolutions, many of them are intertwined.

So while I am optimistic that this may be the year I accomplish much of what I have set out to do, only time will tell, and I am incredibly excited to see what 2018 has to offer.