2018: The Year the Road Diverged

At the end of 2017, I wrote a reflection post after looking back on the whole year in an attempt to sum up the year into one neat, damaged, package. For the conclusion of 2018, I will attempt to do the same thing. 

2018 has been quite the year. I started the year in Clinton, NJ, celebrating the new year with my close friend Katie and her quirky family. We ate dinner at nearly 11 p.m. and watched the ball drop. In the morning, we ate Jersey bagels and I headed back to NEPA. That New Year’s Eve had been so different from any other I experienced, and looking back it was a sign of all the new and wonderful experiences that were to come.

The new year also meant studying hard for the GRE. I spent hours every day studying. I had a study plan that I followed diligently, using the various expensive study materials I had splurged on in order to really nail the $300 pre-graduate school test. By May, I felt ready to take the test. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I received similar scores to the first time I took the test, only showing significant improvement in the one section I did not study for. These test results were crushing. Nearly every school I was looking at to pursue my PhD had high score requirements and acceptance rates under 10%. 

It was there that the path diverged. I had a choice: I could continue to live unhappily in Northeast Pennsylvania or I could make a drastic change. I loved working as an admissions counselor. Traveling was amazing and I got travel to so many places I had never been before. I even reconnected with someone from high school when I was in Arlington. We still talk to this day. 

But as much as I loved my job, I hated my life when I left work. I was lonely. My friends had graduated and moved on. The area didn’t really have much to offer me in the way of things I find fulfilling and enjoyable. I wanted to live in a city, but I didn’t know how to make that dream a reality.

So after talking with my friend about the challenges I was facing, she encouraged me to look into teaching English abroad. I had considered teaching abroad as a back-up plan if I didn’t get into graduate school, but this was the first time I had considered it as a precursor to graduate school. Even today, I could tell you exactly which table I was sitting at in the Wilkes-Barre Starbucks when I submitted my applications to recruiters to get a job in Korea.

With taking a new job also came saying goodbye to my old job. And my old life. I spent nearly two months having one last lunch, one last drink, and one last trivia night with friends across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Most of the time, it didn’t even feel real. And when it did, it’s because the tears streaming down my face were a reminder that everything was going to change.

Between the New Year and the GRE, I also made a major change in my life. I left my job with Kay Jewelers after four years of seasonal and full-time employment. The stresses of working for a company whose values did not align with my own were too draining, and I dreaded going into work to the point that I avoided the mall even when I wasn’t working. Despite the fact that the income I earned at Kay was helpful to me, the toxicity of the job was wearing me down in detrimental ways. So I left Kay and found other ways to make ends meet.

Finally, 2018 was the year I traveled. In 2018 alone, I visited three new states: Georgia, Michigan, and Vermont. I also went back to Boston and visited Ithaca for the first time. I spent time in New York City when I was getting my Visa and saw parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I even went to Canada on a spontaneous road trip with my best friend. All of that happened before I got to Korea, where I traveled even more. And I’ll be ending my year the same way I started it: with travel. 

Overall, 2018 is the year I truly came into my own. I started to live a life that reflected the things I love and the things I value. I took a giant leap of faith, and haven’t looked back. And I’ll continue looking forward to all the amazing things to come in 2019.

As It Was

Stepping through the familiar doorway, I flick on the light. The bulb in the floor lamp flickers from months of disuse before illuminating the space, exactly how it was when I left it. Looking around, the room appears fuzzy, and my hand instinctively reaches toward my face, checking for the plastic frame of my glasses. They’re there, lenses intact. Blinking, I step inside, hesitant and full of unease.

I recognize this place, the futon littered with blankets to keep away the cold December chill, the bars stools found at a yard sale that I had every intention of repainting, but never did, and the bedroom with its bare walls except for the vibrant tapestry hung above the bed. All these things are mine, and yet nothing feels like mine. In fact, it feels as though these rooms have been abandoned for years, not just four months.

From the baseboards, the heating system rattles to life as I turn the thermostat to 55 degrees, just like I used to. My hand lingers on the dial, and I try to remember why I returned to this place, but I cannot recall.

It doesn’t seem right, that I should be back here. There was a time when this place was home, the first place I could truly call my own. But that time has come and gone, and I no longer take ownership for the things held within these four walls. The life that is represented in this space was mine, but is mine no longer.

I turn to leave, walking past the mirror and catching a glimpse of the person reflected there. I see myself, only differently than how I currently am. The person in the mirror is tired, her eyes dull. Perhaps that was how I looked back then, like I had lost the part of myself that found joy in life. Perhaps I had resigned myself to the melancholy I am so prone to. But even behind the sadness, I could still see that desire to escape somewhere new. I gave her a slight smile, and walking out the door, the room and all its remnants of my past life fading behind me.

Leave the Clutter in 2018: Things to Get Rid of Before 2019 Begins

As one year turns to another, we are always seeking new ways to improve our lives in the new year. As I continue my Minimalism Challenge throughout December, I’ve been considering the things that everyone should consider cleaning out before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, indicating the start of a new year. 

Here are some of the things that I personally believe would help you to start 2019 heading in a positive direction.

Unsubscribe from e-mail lists

Every morning I wake up and I have loads of unread e-mails, the majority of which are announcing sales and coupons for stores I no longer shop at now that I am living in Korea. Even before moving, I never looked at these e-mails. Rarely was the subject line catchy enough to make me open the e-mail. In the majority of cases, I signed up for the e-mail list in order to get some sort of discount when shopping online.

If your inbox looks like mine, consider taking the time to unsubscribe from these e-mail lists. You can do this manually, or you can download an app like Unroll Me, which does all the hard work for you. While you might spend anywhere from 5-15 minutes unsubscribing from e-mails, that’s nothing compared to the time you’ll save over the course of a year when you aren’t taking the time to delete unopened e-mails every day.

Clean out your junk drawer for good

Every home has one. I grew up with a junk drawer. My grandparents had junk drawers. I had a junk drawer in my apartment in Pennsylvania. But when I moved to Korea with next to nothing, I didn’t make a junk drawer, because I had no junk. Before today, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that I have no junk drawer. But after going three months without one, I have come to one very simple realization: you don’t need a junk drawer.

Seriously.

Clean it out. Put things where they belong. Throw away those old manuals for things you know how to use, get rid of those dead batteries, and stop hoarding garbage you don’t need. Say goodbye to your junk drawer and don’t look back.

Discard old papers

Nothing builds up in our living spaces like old papers. Receipts, bills, manuals, holiday and birthday cards, old photographs. They’re everywhere. It seems every time I turn around there is another receipt laying on my table or sticking out from under my bed. Where do they all come from? When will this cycle of finding and throwing away receipts end?! 

Before the new year ends, go through all those old papers laying around your home. Get rid of them. And make it a habit to ask for no receipt. If you’re given one, put it in the recycling immediately. Stop letting them pile up and slowly take over your living spaces. 

Bad habits

Bad habits may be the trickiest thing to give up as the new year begins. We often like to think about how great and wonderful we will be in the new year, because it’s not now. It’s later. We can always be better later. We can ditch our bad habits later, but for now, we can revel in them. Ditch that way of thinking and start breaking down those bad habits now. Changing habits takes time, and creating an arbitrary start date for an arbitrary reason is not going to help you change. Instead, start now. And if you slip, keep going. Try every single day to break down those bad habits. Because if you keep trying, even after failing time and time again, one day they won’t be habits anymore. 

It’s never too late to live the life you want to live or be the person you want to be. Don’t wait until you have more time or more money or a “reason” to start. Start today, and keep restarting every single day until you are living a life you love. And then, keep going.

Life in Jinju: Two Months

Day in and day out, it’s easy to lose track of how much time has passed. As each day comes and goes in my new life, I sometimes forget that it’s already been over two months since I first arrived in Korea: excited, hopeful, and a little overwhelmed.

Now, as I sit in my 4th floor apartment, it truly feels like mine, and in turn, feels like home. As much as I would like to admit it has been smooth sailing since the day my flight touched down, that would be a lie. While the majority of my experiences in Korea have been positive, there have been moments of hardship. The most prominent was the bout of homesickness I experienced the weekend of my university’s homecoming, an event I always enjoyed attending. The first few weeks of teaching also overwhelmed me as I adjusted to working with two incredibly different age groups and skill levels doing something I had never done before.

But for each moment I felt overwhelmed, I’ve experienced abundant happiness. In my two months in Korea, I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world and have spent my free time exploring and making memories with them. My best friend took the long journey to spend a week with me, allowing me to show this amazing place to someone else. I’ve even found a great church community after spending time church hopping, hoping to find somewhere I would want to go every Sunday. Teaching has become easier, although it will never be easy, and I feel overjoyed when I see my kids understand something they didn’t before. My desire to see the world and learn more about this vast, dynamic planet I live on, grows each day, and in my free time, I travel around my city, this country, and soon, I will venture outside of Korea.

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be right now, I’d have told you I would be completing applications for PhD programs back in the States. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine becoming an expat, but now that I am here, I couldn’t see my life going any other way. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2018 has in store for me.

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Life in Jinju will be a series of posts about living in Jinju, South Korea. Posts from my travels within South Korea and other Asian countries will not be apart of the Life in Jinju collection. 

The Most Valuable Thing You Own

Last year for Christmas, my friend Hannah got me one of those prompted journals where you answer one question every day, for five years. The idea is that you write every day, and see how you grow and change over time. One question for the month of October that really made me stop and think asked What is the most valuable thing you own. This question stopped me in my tracks because I have been thinking about the value of material objects ever since I watched the documentary from the Minimalists back in February.

As I sat looking around my apartment, I thought about all the things I rid my life of before moving to Korea. I tried to put a value on the things I brought with me, but I just kept thinking about what it took to get to where I was. The weeks I spent cleaning out my apartment were agonizing, not because letting go of things is hard, but because realizing just how much I let things pile up in my life was a hard pill to swallow. Letting go of so many of my material possessions was freeing. I imagine that many people feel that freedom when they stop putting stock in the things they own and start measuring their life by how much they’ve lived.

So I sat on the question. I thought about what mattered in my life, and about the concept of ownership. Yes, I own things, but my things are not a reflection of the life I have lived. I thought about my experiences, my memories, and my own personal journey toward fulfillment. In many ways, I believe I own those things more than anything in my apartment, because those things can never truly belong to someone else. I can share my experiences and tell my stories, but they will never truly belong to anyone other than me.

 

Adventures in Teaching: My first two weeks as an educator

After two weeks of teaching, all I have to say is that teaching is hard. Quite possibly, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done. I tried not to kid myself going into it; I knew that my babysitting experience and time as a tutor for other college students would pale in comparison to what it was like to stand in front of a classroom full of children who have a limited working knowledge of the English language. While I knew what my experience wouldn’t be, I didn’t really have expectations for what it would be.

So far, teaching has been a learning experience, probably more for me than for the kids. Every day, I’m challenging myself in new ways to get into a different headspace. My first task as a teacher was making lesson plans for the first week of class. My perception of time has never been great, but the entire first week, I found myself with extra time at the end of lessons, at a loss for what to do next, which usually just resulted in rushed games of hangman and pictionary. I like to think that over the last two weeks I have gotten better at predicting how long activities and lessons will take, but it isn’t an exact science.

Another area I’ve been struggling with as an educator is determining what it appropriate for each age group. At my academy, I teach elementary and middle school students. What works well with one group obviously doesn’t work well with the other, so getting in the right mindset to make lessons for each one is difficult. It seems like finding the right balance between instructional time, learning reinforcement, and fun activities to really help the concepts stick is another area where there isn’t an exact science. While one grammar lesson may take 15 minutes to present, another may take 25 minutes.

One moment that sticks out in my memory from my first week as a teacher is the day I realized that some of the words I use regularly are not words my kids are familiar with. I was teaching a grammar lesson and as a part of a comprehension check, I asked “does everyone understand or is this confusing?” I got a lot of blank stares and eventually one kid asked “what is confusing?” My response was, “I don’t know, I need you to tell me what’s confusing.” That went on for a while before my co-teacher told me that the kids were asking what the word “confusing” means, not that they were confused with the lesson. Talk about an embarrassing but enlightening moment.

While teaching hasn’t been easy, I like to think I have gotten better with each lesson. My understanding of what my kids know and how to present new information to them has improved. It’s so rewarding when a concept clicks for the kids or when they come into class with smiles on their faces ready for a new lesson. As a teacher, I’ve seen each day as a new opportunity to stretch myself and grow in my new role, and as a chance to make a lasting impact on the kids I work with. Each one of them is so dynamic and eager; I am so grateful for the opportunity to educate them, and I am excited to see how far we all come by the end of this semester.

Why You Should Major in the Humanities

Every morning I wake up and the thrilling thought goes through my mind: I am living in South Korea. While it was a long and winding road that brought me here, I know that the underlying factor that ultimately landed me in Jinju is the fact that I chose to major in something I loved, despite the constant questioning and criticism of pursuing a discipline in the humanities.

After working in admissions for the past year before moving to South Korea, I can state with confidence that there is little regard for following one’s passion, and high regard for only pursuing money. Yet to only study something because you know it will result in a high paycheck, even if it comes at the expense of your happiness will have lasting consequences. In my four years as a student and my year as an admissions counselor I met so many people who would have been better off studying something within the humanities, but chose to pursue a career in the medical field or a STEM profession because they were led to believe there were no job prospects within the arts and humanities. Even in reading news articles about higher education I find this attitude littering the comment section. But I am here to say with confidence, if you love the arts and you love humanities, don’t let that go, pursue that.

The world needs people in the humanities, because these people, by nature of their studies, understand what it means to be human. Without the understanding that at our core we are all human and all one, my journey to South Korea would look drastically different. In fact, it may not have happened at all. Even in my brief interactions with the students in level testing I could feel the desire to understand–to understand me, and for me to understand them. That desire is present in all of us–but it is in pursuing the arts and humanities that allows us to nurture that desire and satisfy the longing to connect with the world around us.

So if you are someone who, like me, cannot quiet that voice inside of you that longs to understand the people around you, to understand what it is that makes us all human, study the humanities. Despite the well-bolstered narrative that you will not find a job or you will be working for a fast food chain, there are endless possibilities out there for someone like you. You may just have to search a little harder than others, because a job post isn’t just going to jump out at you and say “ENGLISH MAJORS WANTED.” Instead, you will find your place as a content writer, editor, social services provider, media coordinator, admissions counselor, resident director, engagement analyst, event planner, year of service volunteer, public service representative, or maybe even as an English as a foreign language teacher halfway around the world.

A life that looks like mine, thoroughly.

A few weeks back I was reading Eat, Pray, Love for the first time after my best friend and I bought the book to read together. Spoiler: she read it a few months before I got around to it and just kept telling me how much I needed to read it. So when I finally had time to sit down with it, I quickly understood her hype.

Early on in the book, Elizabeth Gilbert references the Bhagavad Gita, explaining that it is better to live life following your own path imperfectly than it is to perfectly imitate someone else’s life. This part of the book stuck with me, as I’ve always felt a lot of external pressure to live a traditional life, one that included marriage in my early-to-mid twenties, having children, owning a home, and working in a mind-numbing job.

And the more I reflected on that path in life, the more anxiety I felt, because deep down I knew that I would never be satisfied living that life. My goals, dreams, and aspirations could not fit within the confines of a traditional life. Instead I wanted to travel, test out different careers until I found one where I felt I was making an impact and growing, pursue a masters and potentially even a doctorate degree, and wait well into my thirties to get married. I don’t foresee home ownership in my future, because I see myself always on the move, not settling anywhere long enough to justify such a large investment. I know that this feeling could change, but like marriage, I don’t expect it to come until much later in life, if at all.

Prior to reading this book, I hadn’t considered that maybe it would really be okay to follow my own path, even if it meant making a lot of sacrifices and taking risks. In the back of my mind I would still try to factor in when I’d get married and how to explain over and over again that I don’t want children and that I don’t really think I will change my mind. Trying to explain that the life most people live is not the life I want for myself is difficult, and I often feel unheard. When people ask me invasive questions about dating and about whether or not I think I should hurry up so I can get married and have a family, I know that they are asking from a place of concern, but it often feels as though they are minimizing my own personal goals in life and tying my purpose more closely to a domestic life than the purpose I feel called to.

So while I could have tried to perfectly play the part in a life that wasn’t mine, I took off down another road. One that looks dangerous and full of uncertainty to many, but to me is full of endless excitement and adventure. While I may mistep and while my journey may not be perfect, I know that I am living a life that looks like mine, thoroughly.