Friday, September 21, 2012

The Thirtieth Tale: Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist


Recently, my friend Kate asked me to contribute some quotes or my thoughts on traveling in order to help her give a presentation to a group of high school kids about traveling.  She informed me that most of the kids have never been outside Missouri, and she is trying to stimulate their interest in traveling. 

Originally, I was thinking of grabbing a few of my favorite quotes and jotting down some stories from my travels.  However, there's so much that encompasses all that I've been through within the past few years that I figured I'd share just a little bit of everything.  Now, I'll share it with you.  Here's my little unintended (slightly cheesy) op-ed.  Enjoy! :)



“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” 


When I went to Paris by myself for the first time, I was lost.  No, not just mentally, but physically-- I was lost at Charles DeGaulle Airport.  I was frantic, pouring sweat, carrying what seemed like 300 pounds of luggage while running like a rat through a maze of never-ending hallways.  And, I was about to cry.  

It seemed that the shuttle bus that I was told to take to my cousin’s apartment was no longer running after 10pm, and I had to take the R.E.R., or late night train.  I had never taken the subway before, and I had never been alone in a strange city at night by myself halfway across the world without an easily accessible cell phone.

Suddenly, a group of giggling girls appeared from behind the corner, and I distinctly recognized an American voice. I leapt at the opportunity to ask for help.

“Hey, so sorry, you wouldn’t happen to know where the late night train is?”, I asked.

“Oh girl, we sure do--we just came from there.  It’s just down that way, keep goin’! It’s so easy and the people are so nice.  Don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.”  The girl smiled, the brightest, most wonderful smile I had ever seen.

“Thank you so, SO much,” I said.  “Where are you from?”

“St. Louis, Missouri.”  She replied.

For me, that felt like divine intervention.  I eventually found that train, and even made it to my destination with a lot of help from others.  Since that time, I have been pick-pocketed in Italy, had bedbugs and broken my arm in Korea, almost been thrown up on in a plane by an anciently old German man on the way to Greece, gotten lost in Japan and in scary neighborhoods in England, had a roommate who snorted his boogers on my shampoo in Spain, and cried in just about every country.
Needless to say, as someone who has traveled and lived in eight different countries, there have been numerous challenges.  There have been many, many times where I felt homesick and lonely and culturally isolated and horribly miserable, but through everything, I have survived.
Not only have I survived, I  have LIVED.  I have lived through the generosity of the people I have met; through the profound kindness of strangers, and also through learning how to trust myself when things simply don’t feel right.  

        Sometimes, I am sitting around doing something (or nothing) and it just hits me: the life I have lived so far has been amazing.  Absolutely, fantastically amazing.  It may sound a little like conceit, but I am so proud of myself for getting through these challenges and learning, through them, how to be independent and truly care for myself.

When I think about my life so far, I am often reminded of a scene in one of my favorite movies, “Good Will Hunting”.  In the movie, Robin Williams plays a therapist who is upset by something that his patient, an orphan and an abuse victim named Will Hunting, says to him.  He says, “I thought about what you said to me the other night, about my painting.  I stayed up half the night thinking about it.  Then something occurred to me, and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep and I haven’t thought about you since.  You know what occurred to me? You’re just a kid...you’ve never been out of Boston...if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny on just about every art book ever written.  Michelangelo, you know a lot about him...but I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in The Sistine Chapel; you’ve never actually stood up and looked at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.  If I asked you about women, you’d probably give me a silver sea of your personal favorites...but you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy.”
Traveling and living abroad is like that.  You can look at pictures and read books about places and imagine what they might be like, but until you experience them, the amazing things along with the bad, you have no idea what they’re truly like.  

        Even I can’t tell you exactly, but this is what I can say about my own experience: I am so grateful that I have seen the sparkly sapphire blue mediterranean and felt the white stones tickle my sensitive feet in Greece.  I can’t believe that I discovered a gorgeous, yet isolated temple at the steps of a mountain which seemed to lead directly to the sky on a cold, grey day in South Korea.  I am amazed that I tasted real, greasy and wonderful Spanish tapas and wandered the crowded, drunken streets at 3 AM in Spain.  I was honored to teach students from all over the world in England and learn from them about their countries, their experiences; to hear the passion or disgust in each of their voices about things I never, ever knew or could have imagined being or happening in this world.  

         I am a traveler, not a tourist.  When living in a different country, I have the responsibility of being an ambassador for my own culture every day.  Every day, I learn something new about the culture I live in and the people whom I meet.  Yes, I may be an English teacher, but the people I meet along the way are the real teachers.

Don’t trust me?  Fair enough.  Find out for yourself.  Or, better yet, find yourself.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Twenty-Ninth Tale: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Hey all,

Welp, this blog's been a' brewin' for quite some time!  After having been so neglectful of this blog for so long, I have had a recurring theme present itself lately that I feel needs attention from the world.  Usually, if more than one person asks me about a certain subject or it's something I've been discussing a lot, I feel the need to draw attention to it.  So, here goes.

As many of you know, I've been traveling and teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) these past few years (I started my journey in 2008, with stints back and forth in the U.S.).  I have had the opportunity to talk with many people on the subject of teaching and traveling, both those who have the desire to do so, and those who are already doing it.  Something I have discussed with both of these groups of people is the length of time one "should" stay abroad.   Many of the people who teach ESL (like myself) start doing it primarily as a means to an end, simply a way to travel; most of the people I speak with express a desire to return to their home countries at some point or another.  The interesting thing is that there are many, many people who end up really enjoying some aspect of this kind of work, whether it's the kind of lifestyle it affords, the cultural experiences, or teaching itself.

Due to this unexpected phenomenon, an existential question seems to arise: even when people end up really loving this kind of work and are perfectly happy being here (or in whichever country they work),  why do many of us feel we must at some point return home in order to start our 'real' lives; and, what does a "real life" mean to us, anyway?  Is the kind of a life we have envisioned for ourselves possible without returning to our home countries? It seems that in addition to many other expectations we have set for ourselves, we often believe that we must give up the things that bring us joy in the moment in exchange for what we feel is a more 'adult' lifestyle. I tell you what, though- I am CERTAINLY not mocking this notion; I have had the same expectations for myself at one point.  The thing is, it's a persistent question that we travelers/expats face.


Okay, let me just pause here briefly to explain what I am thinking of as a 'traditional' life path; please correct me if you think I'm wrong.  It may look a little something like this:

1) Go to Kindergarten/Elementary/High School, hit puberty and deal with adolescence
2) Go to University
3) Get higher education degree (optional or can be exchanged with #4)
4) Get a steady career 
5) Meet someone, get married (can be exchanged with #s 3 and/or 4) 
6) Have babies, experience parenthood
7) Retire from working
8) Die

I can understand how people in the states or other home countries could see traveling and teaching as an impediment to a traditional lifestyle, and there is some truth to that.  After all, as I mentioned before, many of the people who leave their host countries embark on the journeys to seek challenges and adventure.  There are many challenges in living apart from one's home culture, whether it be the inability to create and/or maintain social relationships, deal with legal bureaucracy, adapt culturally, or the main one--being away from friends and the family unit back home.  I can see from an outsider's perspective that it may seem damn near impossible to follow a more 'traditional' life path here.  I'll tell you what, though; I am here to debunk the myths that the things we expect from a 'traditional' lifestyle aren't possible whilst living/working abroad; that we can still follow what we think of as a 'real' life here, if we are only willing to accept these challenges.  

Here are my thoughts on each myth:

Myth #1: Teaching English as a Second Language isn't a steady career.

The majority of those who travel would go abroad before step 3 or 4 on the life road-map above, mainly because in most countries, even having temporary work requires some kind of college degree.  This is the point before you are supposed to find a steady career, before you decide what you want to do with the rest of your life.  So, what happens if you find you love teaching ESL, and you happen to love teaching it in another country?  Many people still don't take this profession seriously.  For me, it wasn't until I accepted the fact that I loved teaching English that I realized I want to do this for a living, and that it is perfectly possible to do so.  It may not be the "steadiest" of careers in terms of the physical workplace; depending upon the type of institutions you work for you may work on contract from year-to-year.  However, in terms of a profession itself, English is still the "international language", and there is still a growing need for teachers in the world at the moment.  Also, you can do it almost anywhere in the world, and enjoy good benefits while you're at it.  I'm not sure if it will always be this way, but it's about as stable as any career out there at the moment (and more considering the amount of countries you can work in).

Myth #2: You can't have a serious relationship abroad.

I really believe this depends on your own personal attitude.  Okay, so I haven't had a serious relationship while abroad, it's true.  Still, I can't say my prospects of having one at home were much better!  All I can say is that if you're willing to accept cultural differences, it's quite possible you can meet someone from the host culture.  If not, there are still foreigners abroad.  While it is true that you would be operating within a smaller pool, that doesn't mean it can't happen for you.  I have personally known a lot of people who've hooked up over here.  It really depends on timing and meeting the right person; I have no magic formula to achieve that!

Myth #3: You can't have babies and be a parent here.

Au contraire, mon frère.  I have several friends who have had babies/are parents here.  Imagine being able to raise your kids to learn two languages, and to have an international/multi-cultural lifestyle?  Sounds like a wonderful, advantageous opportunity to me for any child.  Of course, like always, there are challenges, but it's definitely possible.


The main challenge that I have personally with the idea of staying abroad forever, and that many others have, is being away from my family and close friends.  I am not going to lie--it is very hard at times. That's the only challenge that may bring me back to my home country at some point, I believe.  Yet, no matter where you go, there is the possibility to build up a community; that's one of the beautiful things about life.  You just have to stay open.

So...for those of you dealing with the question at hand, "should I stay or should I go?", my advice is this:  ask yourself if you are happy where you are.  Are you doing something that makes you feel fulfilled?  Are you generally happy with most aspects of your life where you are?  If the answer to either of these is no, seek more truth, whether it's inside yourself or out.  

That's all for now.

Much <3,
Anna





      





  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Twenty-Eighth Tale: Sailing, Sailing...

Ahh, Korea.  Here I am, back again.  To you all, it must seem as if I have dropped off the face of the Earth!  In fact, things here have been nothing short of a whirlwind since I've returned.

If you haven't been following me on Facebook, the long and short of it is that when I first came back I stayed in an apartment that had bedbugs, and I had to move to another place.  I was lucky enough to find a place literally right between my work and Ewha Woman's University Station, which is a cool little area.  Lots of shops and bubble tea places...I can also walk to work!  The place I'm in now is a 3-bedroom floor on the bottom of a "villa" as they call them here (which are basically like duplexes, except with more floors).  It was completely rehabbed, and, while still no stranger to Asia's annoying summer bugs, it is on the whole a cute and clean little place.

I do have a roommate from France who is a sweet girl, she is doing an internship with the French embassy so will only be here until the end of November.  After then, I'm seriously considering renting the entire place here for myself, even if it costs more.  I know that may seem strange given the fact that one of my goals here is to save some money, but I am at the point in my life where I really would like to have a space to call my own.

In coming to Korea, I have really felt that my life here would be different.  I have heard it said many times that if we repeat experiences too many times, we keep having the same experiences, and ultimately we learn the same lessons over and over again.  My lessons in this life seem to be about gratitude, taking care of myself, loving and trusting myself, and being patient.  Maybe others feel that they have certain lessons that always arise, too.  I'm really not sure. :)

It's funny how as you continue through life, you start recognizing archetypal characters in every situation.  Shakespeare really was so, so wise in saying, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players..."  We are all characters to each other, complementing one another's performances.  You start to know each short play like the back of your hand, and you find yourself saying, "ah! Here is that one again.  How shall I play the part this time?"  You always have the opportunity to change, to evolve; that is the true Grace and the beauty of life.

In coming back to Korea, I recognize a lot of the same situations being presented to me.  However, I've always been one that has sincerely tried to learn from every situation and change my behavior in response.  It can be difficult to change when you are so used to having the same response, but it is really a matter of choice and action.  So, the good news is that this time, I am actually feeling different.  My activities are healthier and more interesting, and I'm consciously making choices about how to deal with drama as opposed to just letting myself get caught up in it.  It's not that I'm doing everything right now, but I definitely feel a little bit more in control of my life, and at the same time, more at ease with unexpected events than before.  It's like, instead of being the passenger on a ship, this time I'm the captain.

Anyway, before I get too existential (umm, too late Anna...;) I guess I should tell you how everything else is going in my life here.  I work this time at another academy (hagwon) for kindergarten/elementary students.  My students are really sweet, and I am happy to be teaching them.  I am far calmer this time around in teaching, and perhaps more lax on discipline.  I don't really find myself getting so frustrated with the students as I used to, or having to hold the reins so tightly.  It's not that these things don't bother me anymore; in fact, they really do, but I guess I just don't have the emotional energy to deal with shouting all day long, so I just don't.

The job is all well and good, but I can definitely see myself teaching older students in the future.  I really like teaching around 13-14+ years old here and I would love to teach University students, so I am (once again, for the billionth time) considering doing a Master's degree so that that would be possible.  I have a bunch of options, but I am going to have to assess more carefully when my contract is finished.  I have decided not to be overly proactive about this because I know myself and I'll just get overwhelmed and pin my hopes on these hypothetical situations, and in turn I'll miss the things that are happening at the moment, and see them only as an escape when things here aren't going well.  I always have lots of ideas about things that I'd love to do, things that would be great in the future, but I make myself feel bad when I don't achieve everything I think I should be achieving.  I've been there, done that.  So, I'm going to wait until about December and assess things more carefully then.  :)

For better or for worse, whether I like it or not, I've continued to evolve here and life gets more and more interesting every day.  As always, I miss everyone back home and hope to get to talk to everyone a bit more...sorry if I've been on the MIA side. :)  Things should be better now in terms of time, so feel free to message me any time. :)


Much, much love and gratitude for you all!

<3, Me


 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Word of Advice: Online-Dating Don'ts for Men

Back in college, I worked at a dating service for about two years.  No, it wasn't an escort service, but a full-out matchmaking service a-la Patti Stanger's "Millionaire Matchmaker".  As such, I would check out the competition for the dating service by looking at online sites, and I got pretty comfortable with the idea of using them as a means to meet people.

Over the past few years, I have used services like Plenty of Fish, Match.com, OkCupid and eHarmony to meet and date people.  I also have plenty of girlfriends who have done/do the same.  It used to be that meeting a person online seemed weird, creepy, and a little taboo.  Nowadays, people are much more open-minded about the idea of meeting people via dating websites.  It's an attractive option compared to the idea of meeting someone drunkenly at a bar, and is more convenient as it reduces the chance of initial rejection (because you know the people are single and looking).

That being said, I want to discuss some things I have observed over the years about what separates a desirable candidate from a guy that I would never want to talk to, like, ever.  Here are some common mistakes guys often make in creating their online dating profiles.  Take it from me, guys-- if you are looking for love (or a real date, or even to get laid), ignoring any of these things will guarantee you don't even get to first base:

1) Poor spelling/grammar
    "Always looking for some new friends around <city> to chat and hangout with... or maybe someone special. If your interested in hanging out and having a conversation and spending time doing something fun... let's get together~!" Okay, I got that from an actual profile off of a dating website (I obviously omitted the city).  Notice the errors?  That immediately makes me not want to talk to a guy.  Why?  It takes two seconds to use spell-check.  I understand one small mistake, but this many says that you obviously aren't too thoughtful!  Which means you may not be thoughtful about me, and that you may not be that serious about finding someone, or be that serious in general.  Call me a snob, but trust me: while you may not think it's important, me and my girlfriends do notice and have talked about this many times.

2) Short, nondescript profile descriptions
    "Hi" in the "Looking For" and "About Me" sections just doesn't pique my interest.  Despite what you think, your pretty face and shirtless muscle pic aren't enough to make us want you.  Sorry, guys.

3) Self-pitying
    I literally saw a headline once that said, "I'm lonely."  He might has well have written, "I'm pathetic."  Yes, you may be lonely...the truth is, most of the people on the site probably are!  However, women are not attracted to negativity in general, nor are we attracted to guys who lack confidence.  We want Christopher Robin all grown up; not Eeyore.

4) Expressing desire for a sexual partner
    Look, we know that ultimately, at some point, you want sex.  If you want a one-night stand, okay, that'll do it (though I'd be curious even to see what the response to that would be).  However, if you want something more serious, don't ask for it up front, okay?  Warning: if you're a jerk, we'll find out eventually anyway. Nothing gets past smart women.

5) Cockiness, especially in headlines
    Writing a headline such as, "Let Me Rock Your World" is SUCH a turn-off.  Immediately, I think, "tool".  If you're awesome, then you shouldn't need to prove it to anyone, it will come through in how you interact with others, and how you treat a woman.  Besides, no woman wants a guy who cares more about himself (or impressing others) more than her.  

6) Ignoring the "Looking For" section
    I have always been pretty specific about my age requirements, because a lot of older men try to contact younger women on dating sites, and I simply don't want to date a guy older than 15 years my senior.  That's a reasonable request, and one I feel should be respected.  Yet, despite this, I have gotten several older men who have sent me "interests" or messages.  I also have gotten "interests" from guys who don't read my profile to discover that I'm not interested in dating someone ultra-religious, etc. etc.  Just read, guys, and follow directions.  It's not that hard.

7) Bad Pictures, which include:
    1) The "Muscle" or "Manly" picture
         I cannot tell you what a horrible, awful, ridiculous turnoff this is.  I do not care about seeing you with your shirt off, nor do most other women.  Please tell me you have more to offer to women than just your hot bod.  Also, pics where you're flashing the "peace" sign with a smug look on your face does not turn us on, either.  Stop trying to be a bad ass, 'cause it makes you look like a dumb ass.

    2) Obscure pictures
         If we can't see your face, we can't tell if we'll be physically attracted to you or not.  Take off the stupid sunglasses so we can see your pretty eyes.  Also, please post a picture that isn't blurry, and if you're with friends, specify which one you are.  Another thing: please choose pictures where you're big enough so we can actually see you.  We don't care about seeing the Sequoia you saw in California, we care about seeing you.

    3) Smug pictures
        This kinda ties into the "manly" pic, but post pictures where you're smiling, or at least look pleasant.  Smirking makes you look like a jerk.

    4) Pictures with your car/motorcycle
        Okay, so you love your motor vehicle, that's fine, we get it.  If you want to have one of these pics, fine, but we're probably not going to be nearly as impressed by it as you are.  Just make sure you're visible, front and center, with sunglasses off next to the car if you insist on showing it.

    5) Pictures with girls
        Don't. Do. This.  Okay, if it's your sister, maybe...just specify this and don't use it as your main profile picture.

    6) The "Pouty" pic
         Again, most women aren't attracted to emo guys.  THINK positively! We don't want a guy who's in pain.  If you're the artistic, introverted type and insist on showing it, include a picture of yourself with one of your art pieces or next to a painting, full on and pleasant-looking.

8) Funny-guy profiles
    It's awesome that you can make us laugh, and that you're a bit of a clown.  Just, please add SOMETHING serious to your profile.  If there isn't one picture of you calmed down without yourself screaming or making the "who-farted-face" or planking or something, we might think you're a bit nuts.  You want something that says, "I'm funny but I'm also capable of being serious if need be".  Winner!

9) Lying about your age
    Trust me, we'll know.  You aren't foolin' anyone, buddy.

10) Being completely unrealistic in your "looking for" requests
      It's great to have an idea of what you're looking for; most women will respect that.  However, if you're only looking for "slim" or "petite" blondes with supermodel faces and you're 40 and slightly overweight, you may not be able to get exactly what you're looking for.  Moreover, you may be missing out on some pretty awesome women who could really rock your world.  So, expand your mind and enjoy the journey!

To sum up, I know that women probably make a lot of silly mistakes that deter good guys from their profiles, too, I'm not just ragging on guys...I think the most important thing in making any dating profile online is just to try to describe yourself as truthfully as possible, while playing up your good qualities in a way that does not come off as cocky, conceited, or pathetic.  It's kind of like a job interview, but a little more personal.  So: show your smiling (shirted) body and face, write a great description, and seal the deal! :)

Go get 'em, tigers!

<3, Me

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Twenty-Seventh Tale: Inspiration

Many times in my life I think about my place in this world, as I'm sure many of you also do.  I think about what my purpose is, what the point is of my being here on this planet.  Sometimes, I think about the combination of things I've done, my life up to this point, and I think, "Where has it all gotten me?", and, "Who cares what I've done?" Well, of course the answers are, "here", and "some people", but when I'm thinking existentially (as when most of us do), I don't see those simple truths.  It often seems to me like I haven't done anything noteworthy or good for others.

What do we all do when we start feeling this way?  We tend to compare ourselves to others, seeing what we lack and using it to feel more negatively about ourselves.  The fact is, for me, there are many people in this world who I am inspired by, who have qualities I would love to emulate.  Some of them are famous, but most of them are people who are near and dear to me.  I think the fact that I am so impacted and inspired by these people gives me hope that I may, one day, have the potential to inspire others, too.  

So, here's what I'm gonna do:  Instead of comparing myself to someone in a negative light, I'm going to put the spotlight on one of the people that inspires me as often as possible.  I would say that I will make it a regular thing, but it IS me so predictability when it comes to blogging is not my thing.  Let's just say, once in a while, someone will get the pleasure of hearing about how awesome I think they are, and that's that.  Then, I'm going to extract what it is I can truly learn from that person, after I've sung their praises... :) Welp, here I go!   

Today's inspiring friend is: 

Kyle Garrett Griffiths

Kyle and I met in Seoul, South Korea, through our mutual friend Mary Harvey.  Kyle came to replace me at the end of my contract, so he was training to take over my kindergarten class.  My first impression of Kyle was that he was a little shy, but his eyes were warm and kind.  I could tell there was something deep and genuine behind his smile.  Boy, was I right.

The more I got to know Kyle, I found out that he cares so deeply about learning, about self-improvement and just interacting with the world.  I have never met someone who is so INVOLVED in life, all the time, and is such an explorer in so many ways...and I so appreciate that about Kyle.  That is what inspires me most about him.  He's a traveler, an adventurer: one minute he's in Korea, the next in Las Vegas.  He's totally open to new experiences (or at least that's what it looks like to me). :)  

Kyle is creative, and he's seriously awesome at everything he does.  I'm constantly amazed at his beautiful and interesting photographs he puts online through Instagram, and his snippets of videos of him playing guitar and singing songs he's written.  He cares about health and fitness and is happy to share running tips with anyone who will ask; he even braved the Korean flooding last monsoon season ;).  Oh, AND he started a blog about mustard...how cool is that?!

More than anything, Kyle is just such a good person.  He has the best heart, and it's his heart that you can see in everything he does.  Maybe that's why he's so good at everything.  

I love that there are people in my life who are examples, just by being themselves.  I truly feel blessed just knowing a person like Kyle. 
________________________________________________________________________________

So, what kind of inspiration can I take from Kyle?

*Explore my creativity more
*Overcome any fear of sharing that creativity with others
*Don't be afraid to go after any vision I have, as long as my heart is in it
*Think with my heart, first and foremost

Lots of great lessons to be learned today.  I thank the Universe that Kyle is in my life, and send him Light and blessings!!!!! :)

Much Love,
Me <3






  


Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Twenty-Sixth Tale: Restless in St. Louis

Tonight, after a very lovely day celebrating my awesome mother, I had an interview with a school in South Korea via Skype.  I've done a few of these interviews before, obviously, the last time I went, and I also had one last week whom I have yet to hear back from.

I now find myself feeling frustrated and restless after the interview.  This is what happened: 

I was interviewing with one of the largest ESL academy franchises in South Korea.  The first part of the interview went fine, pretty standard, normal Q & A.  Nothing really new.  Then came the issue of salary.  In my experience, when Korean employers know you have experience teaching (and especially if they know you've taught in Korea before), they will ask you how much you expect/want to be paid.

Before I tell you what happened next, let me tell you a little bit about how the pay scale works for ESL teachers working at private language academies in South Korea (also known as hagwons or hakwons).  If you are a teacher with absolutely no experience teaching and no certifications, but you have a B.A. or B.S. degree (you need one in order to teach English in Korea), you can usually expect to make anywhere from 1.9 million Korean Won(1,900,000KRW--$1,652.29 at the current exchange rate) to 2.2 KRW ($1,913.18) per month. I am not saying you can't make any more at certain institutions, but that falls within the normal range.  With a TEFL certificate + 1-2 years of experience, you can expect to make at the very least 2.2 KRW but up to 2.5 KRW ($2,174.06) at certain institutions.  If you have a Master's Degree in general (TESOL, Education or Early Childhood Ed are preferred), you can make anywhere from 2.5 KRW - 2.9 ($2,521.91) KRW to start.  

When I started teaching English in Korea, I had taken a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certification course in Greece and taught during the course, and then I taught for another month in Italy.  So, I had already had a little bit of experience + TEFL Certificate, and I started out making 2.2 KRW per month at the private language institution I worked for.

So, back to the interview.  They asked me how much I wanted to be paid, and I stated that I had had over two years' worth of experience teaching ESL, one year spent in South Korea, and I have a TEFL Certificate, so I would like to make at least 2.4 KRW but ideally would like to make 2.5 KRW per month.  This is not an unreasonable request, considering my qualifications and the duties of the job. 

The interviewer (who is the vice-principal of the school) said to me, "Oh, well, we don't usually pay that much...in Korea, we don't really care much about the experience you had outside of Korea...and the time you were in Korea wasn't very long, so...the most we could offer is 2.2."  I politely declined the offer and told her that it's really too low for me.  She said she would "check with the corporate office," but that she was "90% sure they wouldn't pay above 2.2".

It didn't bother me SO much that they were low-balling me.  I get it; they're a big corporation and they want to keep costs low by hiring teachers at the lowest cost possible.  What really pissed me off, goat my goat, boiled my potatoes, though, was that they basically tried to make it seem like I wasn't qualified enough to earn more than 2.2, when I know that's an outright LIE.  A) I'm not an idiot.  B) I've lived in the country before and I know how the system works...I'm REALLY not an idiot.  C) I already made 2.2 starting salary, and I know that almost all language institutions in Korea give at least .1 million won raise every year if not every six months to employees, and D) I know that these guys are a huge corporation that can afford to pay teachers good salaries...in conclusion: I'm really, Really, REALLY not an idiot.  In a perfect world, they would have just said, "I'm sorry, but our salary for teachers new to the company is 2.2 KRW/month".  But they didn't.  Instead, they tried to make ME seem like an idiot, and I'm not sure you understand this yet, but I clearly am NOT.  Even recruitment website Gone2Korea.com says, "Completing an ESL certification course is an easy way to prepare for teaching in Korea. Certifications and secondary diplomas are not mandatory requirements but certified candidates often have a slight edge over other candidates with zero credentials or certifications - 100hr programs may even increase your monthly salary!"

So don' be tryin' to play me like dat, foo. ;) 

Anyway, I was a tad miffed about that whole deal (other than the idiot suggestion thing) because I really just want to get set with a contract ASAP.  Then, shortly after that, I was looking at the website for another recruiter in Korea, thinking maybe I should send out more resumes so I can get some more interviews, when I came upon their list of requirements for gaining the E-2 Visa (the Visa required to teach English in Korea).  

They said that Korean immigration is now really strict about getting transcripts with seals or stamps on the back.  Earlier this month, I already sent out a transcript request form in order to get 4 transcripts, two in each envelope, sent to me.  This was evidently confusing for the secretary, who is probably used to getting single orders, and she emailed me for verification.  I felt like an ass asking for that many transcripts, but I explained what it was for and she sent them over.  Well, now I found this whole deal out with the seals/stamps, and I had to send another email asking for the same thing again, only this time I sent a picture to show her what I meant.  So, now I feel like an ass again, and they'll probably have some sick person sneeze on all four transcripts before they send them to me.  In any case, I'm at least glad to have found this out before I tried to send all my docs out.

One recruiter actually told me that he doesn't want to contact any of the schools who are interested in interviewing me until I have all of my documents ready...I'm considering this as an option.  Maybe it's just smarter not to plan on anything until all of my documents are back...I dunno.  I am just feeling worried and stressed and in limbo.  It seems like the process wasn't this bad the last time, but when I really think back on it, it was pretty frustrating and nerve-wracking at times.  I remember having to drive to Jefferson City at the last minute to have my CRC apostilled, and having to fly to Chicago, also at the last minute, to get my Visa docs together and do an interview with the Korean consulate.  I knew it would work out, though...I just hope it does this time, too.  I'd hate to wait around for three months just to find out that I didn't do something right, and then have to wait another 2-3 months to get it right.  Oooh, don't even want to think about it. :(  Positivity, positivity!  Stop the spiral!

What's more is that I really need to make some $$ before I go, but I can't get a short term/temporary job really because I am not sure when I'll be leaving.  I can't even really make definite plans with people past mid-June.

OK, back on the positive side...I must keep reminding myself that this is my choice, and that things will get moving again soon.  Also, there are things I can do in the meantime to keep myself busy, like focusing on my health, resuming my volunteer work at the International Institute of St. Louis, experimenting with vegan baking, working on my project for when I get to Korea, and, well...blogging :).  As Daniel Cleaver would say in Bridget Jones' Diary, "My, what a gripping life you do lead..."

On the job front, I know that there is one there for me, and I don't want to work for people who are going to take advantage of me, so it's really best if I know that up front.  I want to work for a company that treats it's employees fairly, respectfully, and who provides adequate compensation for the hard work that their teachers do.  

Ahh, I feel a bit better now that I've vented.  Come on 2.5 KRW/month!!!!     


More coming soon...
<3, Anna





   

A Short Tale of Summer: Fun in the Sun + Fashion

With summer just around the corner, I feel the need to express myself: I love summer here in the U.S. (where there is air conditioning...not so much in South Korea, where I had a stand alone fan, sweated like a frog peeing through its skin and a broken radial head on my right arm, but I digress...).  

There is so much to love about summer here.  Let's take activities, for instance.  My personal favorite activity in the summer is sitting outside at a bar/beer garden like Cicero's or McGurk's in Soulard and enjoying a nice lager or hefeweizen with a good friend whilst having good conversation. 

Then there's going to the pool, which, hopefully you have a friend who has one that you can mooch off of in order to do this (if you are that friend, suck it up and enjoy the socialization that comes along with your awesome pool, and deal with the fact that other people hate you because you have one.  You are "cool" and get "friends" by default.  All you have to do is provide the PBR, so deal. Yup, I said it).  I myself spent many years sneaking into the Wildhorse subdivision pool here in Chesterfield and not signing in, or signing in as my then-friend Lisa Becker who used to live there.  I'm fairly certain they didn't do background checks.  Either way, I was able to get my tan on (or get my skin-cancer and early wrinkle development on, guess the joke was really on me).

There are many other activities to enjoy, such as BBQs, picnics, hanging out in the park, outdoor concerts, the list goes on.

But that's not why I'm writing this, or why I love summer in the U.S.

I love summer in the U.S. because of the FASHION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Are you really that surprised?  It IS me.

Summer means bright colors, beachy accessories such as sunglasses and nautical jewelry, swimsuits, shorts, dresses, mini-skirts, open-toed shoes, rompers, and my ABSOLUTE favorite, lots and lots and lots of DENIM! :D  Wow I'm capitalizing a lot of things in this post.  I just get really excited when it comes to fashion--and apparently, acronyms like BBQ, PBR and U.S. 

As I'm better at showing than telling when it comes to clothing, I'm going to show you some awesome items I'm diggin' on here for summer...tell me what you think, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! :D

Happy ALMOST summer! <3 
Anna

BDJ Neon Grazer Mid-Rise Jean in Pink available from Urban Outfitters
Denim Schoolbag in Light Vintage Denim/Natural also from Urban Outfitters
Stay on trend with this ASOS Cute Peplum Mini Skirt in black at ASOS.com
(in fact, I love this whole outfit...it just WORKS!)

Starfish Necklace by Lucky Brand--also has a cute bracelet that matches!
Linen Pinstripe Women's Wedges by TOMS
Mara Hoffman's King Tut Tank Maillot at Bonadrag.com
J.Crew Collection Silk Crepe Top Printed Popover

Freepeople.com Key Biscayne Blouse (FP Exclusive)


That's it for now, ladies and gents!! Just thought I'd share...:)



  

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Twenty-Fifth Tale: When Relationships Never Happen...

Hi all,

I was reading my sister Solange's blog this morning about how she was inspired by an article on Jezebel.com entitled "When Motherhood Never Happens".  I, of course, was curious and read the article (that was linked on her blog).  Interestingly enough, I had been pondering this topic recently myself, as well as the issue of relationships.  Read on for more thoughts.

Practically the entire time I was in Europe, I really wanted to find a man to be in a romantic relationship with.  I remember one particular day when I went with my host family to the nearby town of Rimini to hang out by the seaside.  I don't know if  I was dehydrated or what, but there was a particular moment where my iPod started playing the song, "It Might be You", the song written by Stephen Bishop as the theme for the well-loved 80's movie "Tootsie" with Dustin Hoffman.  It suddenly seemed as if time slowed down: I saw moms with their babies in their adorable little sun-hats, couples looking lovingly at each other, friends connecting, children playing...it was like a scene from a Seurat painting, only better; more vivid, more real, and much more beautiful.  In that moment, I got that life is all about the connections we make with other people, and in that moment and for quite a while after, I craved those deep and lasting connections.  

There will always be a part of me that wants those connections.  I am a loving person who needs love in her life to feel fulfilled.  What's different now as opposed to when I was in Europe, though, is that I value the connections I have already much more, and I see that they do exist in the form of friends and family.  Even when I doubt it, I know I have people that love me, whom I love back.  I don't think that I really saw that before-I have always been the kind of person that has looked outside herself to try to find the answers to the emotional questions within.  Now I've realized that, in addition to having other people who love me, I also love myself, and I will always be there for me.  I think it took losing one of my best friends in the world for me to see that, but I get it now.

When it came to the issue of having a relationship, once I came back home and got the love and stability "fix" I needed from family and the environment, I realized, hey, guess what?! I feel like me again-and that need for a romantic relationship has since subsided.  I guess I was just lonely, vulnerable, and craving stability.  

Well, okay.  I'm not closed to the possibility that it could one day happen for me; that I could find someone I want to share my time and experiences with-- I just really don't feel that I want that at the moment.   I used to almost crave a relationship, marriage, kids, the whole deal.  Now I'm doubting whether or not I even want to have kids.  I think they're adorable, I don't have the saliva/vomit/baby poop phobia like my sister does, but I am feeling downright selfish.  I still have so much to do that doesn't involve settling down and/or raising children.  I guess I could always just strap on a Babybjorn and take the kid with me around the world as I go, but it seems a little unfair to them.  I dunno, it's like in that Jezebel article, I'm undecided and therefore decided thus far.  Oh, and my ovaries are shriveling. Tick, tock.   

Anyway, back to relationships.  I always have said, "well, if I met a great guy"....yadda yadda yadda, but the fact is, I've met great guys.  I've met TONS of great guys, and I've dated great guys.  I just never feel fully connected, and I'm at the point where I'm tired of trying to force it if it doesn't feel natural to me. 

Speaking of which, I have begun to doubt the idea that "the one" is a real concept.  I had always believed this, but am really reconsidering.  It's not being cynical, seriously-it just seems to make more sense to me now.  I think that for a woman, the formation of a stable, great relationship can come down to four key factors, with a "wild card" factor thrown in: compatibility, attraction, stability, choice, and the wild card: a situational bonding experience. 

Let me explain: If you get along well with the person, are attracted to them (physically and/or mentally), are truly receptive to the idea of a relationship and in a stable place mentally and physically, you may choose that person, feeling that you were meant for each other--when really, maybe you were, maybe you weren't.  Anybody's guess.  The "wild card" I mentioned is valid when the stability factor isn't present, which can create more intense feelings of attraction and compatibility.  I am thinking specifically of a friend of mine who met her current fiancee abroad while they were taking a TEFL course together, and she had a very intense medical situation happen there that needed emergency attention.  The guy was by her side through it all, and they bonded.  Obviously, when one person helps another through a traumatic emotional situation, there is the potential for an instant bond to be created.

Anyway, all I'm sayin' is, I've never had the magic recipe for creating a stable relationship, and I don't know if I ever will.  And, though I don't like to start a sentence with "and", that's okay.  :)

I've said it about relationships, Dodai Stewart (Jezebel.com article author) and my sister can say the rest about what happens next...(first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes...um, now what?)

Much love,

Me :) <3








Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Twenty-Fourth Tale: Almost the Quarter of a Century...Makes a Girl Think...

Oh my! 


I have this lovely blank screen in front of me, waiting for me to make it come to life with my scribbles and thoughts. Isn't that nice? 


It's been a long time, and a lot has happened in the space between the last post and now. This blank screen and my attitude toward it are a metaphor for my future, though I will admit I have some preliminary sketches laid out...;). 


So. I came back to the U.S. over Christmastime and made a very difficult decision not to return to Spain; to plant my feet on what felt like solid ground for a while. I needed something to do in the meantime here, something that would make me feel valuable, and with my mom's support I was able to explore something I always thought would be fun: starting a personal shopping business. To make a really long story short, I threw myself into this pursuit for a few months and had some fun. I helped out three really wonderful ladies and made some fashion connections here in St. Louis. 


In general, I have had a really pleasant time in St. Louis. I have been able to reconnect and feel at peace for a while, to listen to myself without the constant stress of external unfamiliar or un-stimulating stimuli. I have met some great new friends and strengthened some acquaintance connections into real friendships. I have been able to focus on my health and dedicate myself to an exercise regimen. I have everything to be thankful for, and I guess sometimes it just takes slowing down a little for me to realize that. 


It is in these moments of peace that I am, again, inexplicably drawn to the excitement of traveling. Some people create drama in their personal lives for excitement or listen to celebrity drama stories; I travel. You are probably saying, "Seriously, Anna? After all THAT, you're going to travel again?!" Trust me, I've heard it more than once from outsiders peering into my (at times, crazy) life. Although, I have to say that good friends didn't seem at all surprised when I told them that I have decided to go back to Korea for a second round. It seems that those people know me better than I thought. In fact, they seemed much more surprised when I said I was starting a business here in St. Louis! Go figure ;). So yes, I am returning to Seoul, South Korea in order to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) at an elementary/middle school, and am truly looking forward to it!!!!!!! 


The European experience I had was amazing but a bit overwhelming...I think that while I love to travel, I have learned that too many changes in such a short amount of time is really too stressful for me to deal with. The great thing about Korea is that this time I'll know a little bit more what to expect as far as the culture and language are concerned, and I'll also have the continuity of being in the same place for a year (which is just long enough, I think). I also have a great support network of friends still over there, so I won't feel as lonely as I have felt traveling the last couple of times. So see, there is still some stability within my instability. ;) 


Anyway, part of the reason I made this decision was a life changing event that occurred here which threw things off kilter a bit. I got rejected from UMASS-Amherst's Social Justice Education (SJE) program, the one program I applied to for graduate school and the only one I was interested in pursuing. Although at that time I was waffling a little bit about whether or not I would go anyway because I had just started the personal shopping business, I still wanted to have that option. When that option was taken away, I was surprised at just how disappointed I really was. So, I tried to pursue the shopping business, and convinced myself that SJE just wasn't for me. 


About a month later, I began feeling lost and slightly useless, and my passion for the shopping business started to dwindle.  That's when I realized I wanted to go back to Korea.  Talking to my mom about it made me remember how much I missed certain things about it, and the thought of being gainfully employed and making money and being independent all came into play.  


Still, that's not all.  About a week after I made that decision, I began wistfully looking at SIT's graduate program in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management. Then all of a sudden, it hit me, out of the blue. I had an idea for what I think will be an amazing program that I can begin to implement in Korea, and it combines a little bit of everything that I love (okay, except fashion...but I'm sure there's a way to integrate that, too). It combines cultural diversity awareness with customer service, travel, writing, socializing, organizing, selling, marketing, promoting...everything! 


The program is still new and in the works, so I'm not going to give details yet. Plus, I don't want anyone to steal my idea ;). But, once it's up and running, I'll let everyone know what's up. As of now, I'm waiting for my Criminal Record Check to come back from the FBI and for my passport to come back from the renewal center, and once I have them back it will probably take another couple of weeks for me to get everything processed. That being said, I'll probably be ready to go by late June at the earliest and late July at the latest. 


I'll keep everyone posted, and I'll definitely be blogging pre and post Korea trip pt. 2. 


 Much love and hope everyone is well! 


 <3, Me