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.

Life in Jinju: Three Months an Expat

Every time I think about how much time has passed since I moved to Korea, I am taken aback. While I don’t feel that my time here has been dragging by, it also doesn’t seem to be racing by as quickly as it has been.

This week marks three months since I first arrived in Jinju.

Three months since I started one of the most formative journeys of my young life.

Jirisan

Before coming to Korea, I heard over and over again that this experience would change me, but no one could ever really elaborate on how I would change. Likely because everyone’s experience is unique and results in personal changes that cannot translate to another person. Even so, I am only just scratching the surface of the changes I am undergoing.

Be Gentle With Yourself. After All, You are All You Have.

The most crucial change I am undergoing is undoing years of damage I have done to myself with my thoughts and words against myself. Until moving to another country, I didn’t realize just how critical I was of myself, just how often I put myself down and put harmful thoughts on repeat.

While I spent a decent amount of time alone back in the States, it wasn’t until I only had myself that I realized just how much I had mistreated myself. There is no distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, because the majority of the time I am awake, my friends are asleep. That makes me the only person I have the majority of the time. At least in the sense of having someone who really knows me and my life before Korea.

Travel More

Jirisan

My time in Korea has also brought me plenty of travel opportunities. I’ve done a few day trips as well as extended weekend trips since arriving in Korea. I’ve gotten to experience festivals, beautiful hikes, and plenty of public transportation.

I also have more travel planned. In December, I will leave Korea for the first time since arriving. I spent weeks trying to figure out where to go, knowing that one of my top priorities was to finally go to a Disney theme park. So after researching the parks, travel expenses, and visa requirements, I settled on Hong Kong, where I will spend five days. I can’t wait to share all of my experiences from my trip.

Homesick, but Found

Snowfall in NEPA, 2016

Finally, my first three months in Korea brought with it the expected bouts of homesickness. Each time I felt a longing to be back in Pennsylvania, I could directly pin down the culprit that brought about this nostalgic melancholy. First was homecoming, which happened the weekend after Hannah left Korea, making it a double whammy. This homesickness only lasted for one day.

The next came when Pennsylvania experienced the first big snowfall of the year. As much as I hated driving in snow, I cannot deny its beauty. Sitting inside watching the snow come down while reading a book and drinking tea never fails to warm me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will experience snow in Jinju like I did back home.

But other than those two major experiences of homesickness, I have not felt any overwhelming sadness to be in Pennsylvania. Life in Korea has been good to me. I’ve made many friends, traveled, and even started learning the language. All in all, I’d say that these three months have treated me well, and I can’t wait to share what month number four will bring.

************************************************************************************

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. 

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/

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/

 

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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: 2017

I began 2017 with high hopes that it would finally be my year. I was going to graduate college, hopefully find a job I love, reclaim my personal fitness, and cultivate loving and nurturing relationships. After the whirlwind year I had in 2016, I truly believed the only way to go was up.

2016 had not been good to me. Between health problems and eight months of intense fighting before ending a long-term relationship over infidelity, it had been a rough year. Top it off with an overload of upper-level classes and increased responsibilities as a resident assistant, all while battling the demons that come along with declining mental health, and you have the recipe for a complete dumpster fire year. I really have no other way to describe it.

So when 2017 started off with my car breaking down, I felt incredibly resentful. How much more could I handle? Next came the ending of my first “serious” relationship since my break-up: one that I rushed into too quickly, developed feelings too strongly, and projected my subconscious desire to be the other half of someone else because it was all I had known for the past three years.

But then it all began an upward swing. I spent an incredible amount of time with friends (hello, Snowpocolypse), dove into my work, and vowed to enjoy my last semester of college. When I finally walked across the stage at graduation decked out in all of my regalia, Summa Cum Laude, I finally realized the culmunation of all I had achieved. I had been an active participant in my education. It was also this moment when I finally realized where my path in life was taking me: Academia. Sure, I wasn’t going to graduate school immediately in the fall, but I would get there, one way or another. It was my passion, my joy, and the thing I always took the most pride in. So when I got hired in higher education three months later, I was overjoyed. Better yet, my job allowed me to travel. I was able to visit cities I had never been to, like Baltimore and Wilmington. I also walked on the beach in early November, feeling completely at peace with where I was.

I also made other huge steps this year. I moved into my own apartment. I switched to my own cell phone plan. I began adopting a vegan diet.

So while 2017 may have been a rough start for me, I believe this year took me exactly where I needed to be. My personal growth has been astounding. The people who have lifted me up over and over again I’m sure have not failed to feel their worth to me. And maybe I can’t talk about a significant other when I attend holiday gatherings, which seems to always be a hot topic at the dinner table, but I can talk about where I see my life going, not just in the next year, but in the next five years. And I couldn’t be more excited to keep traveling down that path.