Friday, January 14, 2011

Year in review

After an unacceptably long absence from the blog, naturally I'm going to do a year in review post rather than an actual update.

It does, however, seem a fitting topic for my 100th post on this blog.

Sidebar: 100 posts? About basically nothing? I'm awesome!

Anyway, it's New Year's Eve here in South Korea already. Here's the thing about New Year's Eve/Day: it's not my favorite holiday in the world. While I do love the excuse on New Year's Day to sit on my couch, eating Ro-Tel and velveeta and watching a marathon of USA teevee shows, the whole "reflection on the past and looking forward to the future" is something that produces more anxiety than excitement in me. In addition, there's so much pressure to do something HUGE - to End the Year with a Bang! - it all gets to be just a bit much.

Last year, though, was a particular low point on my part. I spent the evening (having turned down invitations to parties) sitting on my couch eating Cheez-its and drinking Diet Coke. I completely missed the countdown because I was watching some random mediocre movie, probably on Lifetime. It was possibly the saddest, most depressing sight ever.

Oh did I mention I had moved back home with my parents, having left a great life in DC?

It was not a pleasant way to end 2009.

I should note here, how grateful I am to my parents for letting me move back in with them. They were fantastically accommodating to me and never once did anything on their part to make me feel like I was a teenager again. But as anyone who has moved back home while in their 20s can attest, that's just how you feel, no matter how nice your parents are.

But that was last year. This year was...different. Lots of changes. It started out with a slightly panicky roller coaster ride as first one, then two more teaching positions in Korea fell through until finally, approximately one and one half weeks before I was supposed to be in the country, I was offered a position teaching at an elementary school in Osan. Thanks to another series of exciting mis-communications regarding the day I was supposed to fly out (and an accidental purchase for a ticket in the wrong year), I ended up arriving a week later than I'd meant to, which I'm pretty sure put me on a great start with my school.

Not that I had any idea about that at the time. Not that I had any idea about, well, anything at the time. I stepped off the plane and into a world where I was a) a complete stranger and b) completely alone. The first week was, well, terrifying. I had no idea if there even were any other foreigners like myself in my down, let alone if I would have any actual friends. I was the only foreigner in my school, and the first foreign teacher to boot. It was pretty scary. But I made it through, and at the orientation for new GEPIK arrivals, I met the first part of what would become my Korea Pamily.

I think, really, that's what it's all about. No matter where we live, having that close-knit bond with a few people, finding that all-important support group, that's kind of what living is about. I think, anyway. Maybe just sharing our lives with others. I don't think we are meant to be solitary people, living alone on our islands. There's a reason humans came together to form communities, and then larger communities, and then societies. We need it.

Or maybe we don't, who even knows. Ask Sarah Palin's blood libel or whatever.

So the year wore on, and I grew more comfortable, and then more uncomfortable in my teaching position. Not that I felt that I got better, and then worse, as a teacher; rather, that as I grew more comfortable in my role as an educator, I became more uncomfortable with my role in the education system here that really seems to harm students more than anything. Cue the eyerolls, obvious first year teacher who thinks he knows better than a system that's been around for decades. Well let me tell you, Mr. Smarty-Pants! I do not think an education system that prizes the ability to memorize and actively rejects critical thinking is at all effective!

Anyway, that, plus conflict with the school administration about...everything, and my coteacher's complete lack of assistance on...anything, has made the last few months of 2010 pretty sucky, job-wise. But the last few months have also been pretty good, starting with the new job offer to teach for a year in Shanghai. Add to that the planning for my winter vacation (happening at the end of January), and some quality time with the Pamily, it rounded out quite nicely.

So with 2010 behind me, I can say without hesitation that it represented a marked improvement over 2009. I have met some wonderful people and had some great experiences. What's more, I Learned About Myself and Grew As A Person, so that's a win for the year, right?

And let me make one last thing clear: I do not hate Korea. Not at all. There are plenty of things that annoy me here, the vast majority of them job-related, but I am 100% certain that at a better school, I would have had a better year, and might even be staying an additional year. I liked Korea, and I like being here (generally). I will miss Korea, and my Pamily, as we start to break up late in February, but jeez-oh-man (to quote a friend from Pittsburgh) am I ready to get back to the States. That's the curious thing about living abroad: it really drives home just how much you are a product of your native land.

So here comes 2011: Leaving Korea, visiting America, moving to China. And along the way...who knows? Stay tuned!

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