Eleven Years…

By the way, it’s been eleven years since I landed in Korea. Okay, really, I arrived on 30 December. It’s still 30 December in a lot of the world, so I’ll just ignore the fact I’m a few hours late on Korean time.

Yeah, it’s been eleven years since I flew across the Pacific Ocean for the first time, arrived in Incheon International Airport, and took a bus down to Jeonju Iksan, to be met by someone I’d never met–but whom I’d heard about through my friend Joleen.

Eleven years is a long, long time, considering that when I first came to Korea, it was supposed to be for a year or two. Hell, I just realized a few days ago that I’ve been working at the same job for seven years–somehow, it’d been six years in my head, until I stopped and thought about it. So much has happened over the last eleven years that my mind rebels, right now, at the thought of even summarizing it. That is, however, what people seem to do, even if this blog, in some sense, can serve as a summary of it. But it’s a summary you can get only by reading between the lines: where I’m bitching about something, what’s hidden is a lesson in appreciating something else about someplace else; when I’m ranting about some night gone wrong, or fighting with someone in the comments section, the real lesson is about figuring out who your friends really are. There’s a lot of those hidden lessons and insights buried throughout the archives of this site… which, by the way, are now accessible.

(They’re a mess, those archives, and were inaccessible for a long time on purpose: I felt this site was about the now, not about what I wrote five years ago… but I figured that was no reason to make things completely inaccessible…)

Anyway… back to the main point of this post:

During my time here, I accomplished a lot of things I wanted to do, learned a lot, and also accomplished things I’d not expected to do. What’s been clear to all of my friends is that I’m long past the point where it was time to leave Korea. A host of reasons kept me here until now, but a few days ago, I handed in my resignation… like, officially. My department head made a valiant effort to try to get me not to go, but when it’s time, it’s time. She had very nice things to say afterward.  And now I have some very weird paperwork to get done, and have to return all my library books (and, apparently, my little paper health care certificate card thing, which I haven’t seen in years to be honest) as soon as possible.

I expect over the next few months–both before we leave, and after–I’ll be trying to work through some of that, processing things and discussing them here. It’ll get me posting again, which is good–I’ve been pretty lax in the past year or so. I’ll probably still write about Korea from time to time, but it’s obviously going to take a back seat, even if it’s hard: my Korea-related posts get twice as much attention as anything I write about SF or Ezra Pound or the other things I’m into. In any case, for the next few months, I’ll be occasionally reminiscing, probably linking to old posts, and teasing out things I’ve come to terms with, telling backstories, and so on. It should be fun, I think; maybe even useful to some of you out there.

As for our departure: I still don’t know when exactly we’ll leave, but it looks like it’ll be sometime between mid-February and mid-March, depending on a couple of things. (How long it’ll take for various different payouts to come through, and how rapidly the cost of plane fare will dwindle down after the tourist season dies off.) We’re talking about Berlin, but that’s not totally nailed down, though Miss Jiwaku is eager to try get into the Working Holiday Visa program there.  As for me, I’ll be taking six months off from teaching at least; I may do some freelance work of some kind but intend mainly to spend my time on writing a novel, catching up on my reading, getting into better shape, and enjoying the occasional German beer. Somewhere in there, I’ll also get my UK passport, finally, which will make things easier in terms of living in the E.U., in case we decide we’d like to do so.

Before then, though, we have a million things going on: Miss Jiwaku and I are getting married in January, and we’ll be packing some of our stuff for the move, while selling/junking/donating/putting into storage the majority of it. I have a film script to write, she has two films to edit into shape… it’s going to be a busy couple of months, and I don’t even know where we’ll be staying after mid-February, when I’m pretty sure the Housing Office Fascists will be kicking us off campus.

Lots to do, and some of it before I sleep tonight, so I’d best get on with it…

15 thoughts on “Eleven Years…

  1. Congrats on getting married! I know you’ve been doing your best to live your life since your father passed away, and if I may presume to invoke him, I think he’d be proud of where you are now. Follow that bliss! Good luck with all your future endeavors.

    1. Ha, thanks Kevin. I can imagine my father scolding me for walking away from a decent job, actually… unless I compared it to how things got in Malawi. Because, one thing I haven’t said is that Miss Jiwaku especially (but also I) don’t really want to live in a Korea run by a dictator’s daughter… much less one who apparently to want to extend her rule to two terms… Mix that with the nastiness we have gotten on trains and so on, and maybe it’d be shades enough of Malawi for him to understand.

      I do wish he could be here to see us marry. But I am grateful my mother can come, and that I have so many good friends who will be coming too…

  2. As someone who’s about to clock up a decade of living in Japan (with no exit point in clear sight) I’ll be watching your story as it continues. To be honest, every time I sit down to seriously contemplate the notion of leaving I always end up with two questions: (1) What exactly would I do if I left? and (2) Does that mean I’m actually stuck here, as in, I don’t really have a choice? Then I either smile or scream, depending on the prevailing mood of the moment.

    Will be interested to see the effect this has on your writing, too.

    1. Jon,

      Ha, yes, that uncertainty has long been a part of what kept me here too. In the end, though, I decided to take a lesson from my own lessons.

      Two in particular:

      1. When I teach public speaking–er, rather, when I taught public speaking, I suppose I should say, in the past tense–I often found my students’ biggest problem was fear. Which is funny, because a lot of public speaking manuals and textbooks don’t address that issue very well. They give a few tips, without acknowledging the source or the emotional logic of fear. Ask someone who is about to do some public speaking whether they feel nervous or afraid, and usually they’ll say yes. Ask them what it is they’re afraid of, what it is that they think will happen that’s worth getting so nervous about, and they usually can’t answer.

      Then ask them to realistically talk about what the repercussions will be for a big mistake in their speech. They will almost always laugh and agree their nervousness is disproportionate to the real stakes of making a speech. The reason we get so nervous, I would point out, was because of our fear of the unknown. Then I would have them write up a worst case scenario for the absolute worst way things could play out. Like, a video of their terrible speech would end up on Youtube, they would get internet-famous in a bad way, and end up jobless, homeless, loveless, dying alone on a sidewalk in Seoul. Or, like, they would get kicked out of the country for shaming Korea publicly. Or they would get hunted in the streets by people horrified by their terrible speech, and die when the mob finally discovered them huddled and shivering in a cardboard box in some alley. Ha! The more ridiculous, the better.

      My worst case scenario isn’t so bad, really. But what was hard was getting over the inertia that was generated by a fear of uncertainty. Then again, I have a fair degree of certainty that TEFL as an industry is not in for a good couple of decades, so… there is that, too.

      And (2) I was talking to my students about how, in everything they do, they shouldn’t try to just strive for good enough, because they will be mediocre. They should try to change the world. They should try to make the world a different, and a better place, and realize that change is possible. This is of course because, unlike the idealism I remember from at least some of my peers back in college, Korean students are often so utterly pragmatic that the idea of making a change, even to their own benefit, seems to be perceived as nonsense. Finally, one student asked me, “Are you trying to change the world? What changes are you trying to make?”

      I had to laugh from the irony… and noted (among otherthings) that I was trying to change the world by reminding my students that they can change the world, something nobody else seems to be telling them. But when push comes to shove, every time I see something like this video:

      … I feel like I could be doing more to change the world in a positive way, even if it’s just helping make like unarguably better for a group of people, in a way that they actually want and appreciate, without simultaneously propping up something I see as horrible. (And I do see the TEFL industry in Korea as kind of horrible.)

      Anyway, I definitely can relate to your situation, and hell, were I in Japan, I might feel less determined to leave and move on. (I’ve always found Japan more my style than Korea, to be frank, but of course I’ve never been there more than a month at a time, and I’m sure some things would grate eventually.) But you definitely aren’t stuck, unless you see yourself as being stuck. (That’s also true for most of the people you and I would count as friends, I’m guessing: I know plenty of Koreans and North Americans in North America who see themselves as stuck in ways that, realistically, they actually aren’t.)

      But it may be that, like me, you can’t see your way forward until you get out and have a kind of decompression period. I certainly don’t have a clear picture of what comes after my self-funded sabbatical, except that it almost certainly won’t involve returning to Korea.

      As for my writing? I know one thing: I’ll have more time for it… loads more time! That, at least, is a sure positive.

  3. Eleven years is a long time. I remember how hard it was for me to leave Korea after eight (which I’m coming up on the two year anniversary of this week, making it ten years since I moved to Korea in the first place). All I can say is, you’ll never regret making the move. You may even find yourself wondering what took you so long.

    1. Ha, sadly, I have few illusions about why it took so long. I just need to find a way not to kick myself for having let it do so.

      I’d heard you’d left, Joe, though I wasn’t sure it was temporary or what. Last time we spoke, you seemed set on staying here for life, and that you’d signed your golden ticket for the company you were working for… you even tried to convince me to go out of education and into the business world, if I remember right. Unless you were just messing with me?

      1. If that’s what I was saying then that would mean we spoke probably in the year leading up to my final six months in Korea, when I realized that the job I had in Korea was not preparing me to do anything but stay in Korea forever. I ended up transferring to the American branch of the company I was working for in Korea. I can’t fault them there, it was just that they weren’t in a position to offer me a very promising long-term path to advancement. I’m in Dallas now and I’m happy. I get just enough Korea to tide me over. I had 순대국 for lunch yesterday and watched Korean soaps with my wife and daughter last night. I know when I go back to Korea for vacation next year I will be able to laugh off all of the things about the place that were killing my soul when I lived there. It’s a good distance to be at.

        1. Yeah, I think this was a couple of years before you left, maybe in 2008?

          I’m hoping I’ll reach a good equilibrium as well, and I’m sure once I’ve moved on somewhere else, the little annoyances of that place will help put the ones that have bothered me here so much in perspective. (Though I am eager not to live in a place with annoyances of the kind I’ve experienced here.)

          And it’s interesting, the comment about a job preparing you for nothing but staying in Korea forever. I’d argue most jobs that expats have here, unless they leave that job in a year or two or make an effort to retool while they’re here, do precisely that…

    1. Hi Wongoon,

      Sorry, I think your first comment ended up in spam. I’ve got a new spam filter which is taking some time to learn what is and isn’t spam… Anyway, thanks very much! You’re very kind.

      The novel I have planned to write (this one anyway) probably won’t be in the style of “The Bernoulli War,” though I do have one planned for next, if things go the way I plan, which is a little closer to “The Bernoulli War” though with a twist… In any case, the encouragement is heartening, so once more thank you!

  4. Congratulations on your marriage. I am not sure if I should congratulate you on leaving the job (since I am still going to stay here…) :) but I wish you the best. I wish we had more time to talk while you were here, but it’s still been fun having you around. I also think that the university not publicizing you when you were a nominee for the Campbell Award was a big mistake and a missed opportunity on the University’s part, but then it’s not the University’s first missed opportunity by a long shot.

    Anyhow, congratulations, and I’ll be looking for your bylines in the newstands and Amazon.

    Junsok Yang

    1. Junsok!

      Thanks for the congrats, expressible and otherwise. Hopefully you will see my name more often from now on…

      Are you going to be around this winter? If so, we ought to meet up for a coffee or something… I’m still here for about six weeks, assuming the Facilities & Housing admins don’t go nuts and try kick me out early.

      I hear you about missed opportunities. They did publish an article on their website about it, but nobody would bend about considering my publications as “publications”… But I would have been leaving eventually anyway, so I suppose it all comes out to about the same.

      If you’re not going to be around, no worries, but I do hope we can stay in touch…

      1. Sorry for the late reply. I got a really bad case of stomach flu yesterday night, and I’ve been out of it for the most of today. I am going to the university about once a week during the break, but I haven’t really decided on which days I will show up. (Besides, my computer at school has problems so I can work better at home – perfect excuse). If you can tell me when it’s convenient for you, I can probably make it on that day.


        1. Ugh, I’m sorry you got ill, and I hope you’re feeling better!

          As for meeting up, great, that should work then… January’s a bit insane for me, but probably any day of the week in February would work for me! (I’m 90% certain we’ll be booted from the campus housing in mid-February, so we should try meet up in the first half of the month.)

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