2011 could not have gone any better. It was my fifth and final year in Korea and had so many highlights that I cannot possibly do proper justice in one entry. I’ll still try.
To start, I must say the greatest reason I enjoyed life in Korea so much was because of the work I did in the classroom. I have seen thousands of tired, excited, eager, scared, optimistic, spiteful, indifferent, appreciative and unique faces in the past five years and they have taught me far more than I taught them. They served as a great self-assessment tool calling me out on things when needed, demanding patience, sharing opinions without reservation and giving all they could to grow and learn. Without my job at Chung Dahm, I'd not have Korea and without Korea, I'd not be the person I am today.
I cannot capture my classes in words but hopefully my pictures will do some justice to the lives to which I’ve been exposed and of which I’ve been apart. Here are the faces (from 2006-2011)…
In the spring of the year, my good friend and I used our vacations at the same time and left
Korea for a taste of Indonesian island life. This was more therapeutic than I expected and it was great to slow down the pace of life for a change. We settled mostly on a small island called Gigi Meno (near Bali). There were no cars, great food choices, comfy two story beach bungalows complete with hammocks and good diving options. Lots of smoothies and good foods were consumed and I enjoyed not looking at a computer screen, cell phone or watch for a change. Having a very intelligent and perfect travel partner was also instrumental in its success. We visited the islands of Gili Air, Lombok and Bali as well but Gili Meno took first place in my book and I'm glad we spent the majority of the two week vacation there. On the way back to Korea, I spent a day outside of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at an elephant sanctuary. I can’t begin how poor my planning was for Malaysia but I don’t regret going for the day though and I’ll not mention the blunders I made on my day trip there as they were quite embarrassing for me as a somewhat seasoned traveler.
was having my mom and grandma travel half way around the world to spend time with me when the weather was ideal. I am blessed that I have healthy family members and I feel confident in them coming to Korea to meet me. At times, it might have been hard for them to sync with the clashes of Asian culture (nude spas, chopsticks, city life, lack of space, inability to communicate) but overall, I loved sharing my life with them and they loved just about anything they did. It especially made it nice to have a mom and grandma who were easily pleased by a walk around the block or a tourist site equally.
Fortunately, with a heavy work load and a lot of motivation, I was able to make a financial plan in 2011 that really fit with my lifestyle. I still spent my share of money this year but I feel I matured and better controlled my money a bit more than in the past. This was helpful because I now have freedom in the years ahead to do more as a result of being in control of my finances. Ultimately, I think my biggest financial lesson
of 2011 was to narrow down my values and then restrict my expenses in such a way that my values are reflected in my financial expenses and decisions. I did a lot of reflecting and planning and feel really comfortable in the direction my life is going.
It’s been a month since I left Korea and for my final six months, I chose not to work as the Head Instructor and enjoy time and life in Korea a bit more, a decision for which I was continually thankful. I focused time, money and energy on things that were important to me by spending time with friends and my dogs whenever I could. I balanced my personal time more by spending less time at work. My dogs flew home to stay with some amazing foster families a few weeks before I left Korea as I needed to tie things up in Korea after five years. I surprised myself with a smooth exit and left Korea with half as much stuff as I originally brought to Korea in 2006.
A question that people have asked me a lot is what I miss most about the United States while I live
overseas. Truthfully, there are no huge absences in my expat life that eat away at me (this cannot be said for all people though and I may be more of an exception than a rule.) but there are so many little things that I can say I don't always realize I miss since I adjust to life abroad so well. Foods like cottage cheese and grain breads, English nutrition labels, green spaces and parks, Western sized clothing, large parking spaces and the fact that I don't have to honk my horn to get into traffic. Personal space is different in Korea than the US and naturally I miss family and friends from time to time and also knowing details from back home. I'm generally not well informed with life back home and rather out of the loop most of the time when it comes to simple things of rural American life.
Despite the aforementioned absences in my expat life, I choose to focus on the perks of which there are many. Incredibly interesting people, places and things are abundant or so it always seems to me. Opportunities for personal growth, diversity, being a minority and getting preferential treatment, higher
pay, no taxes and lower cost of living, new adventures that are readily accessible, and a very high quality of life are some of the reasons that I couldn't easily give this life up. I feel that each year I live, work and travel overseas, I grow and develop as an individual about five times more than I would in a mid-western rural life. I am so proud to be an American it's because of that privilege that I believe I've been spoiled with the good life abroad.
Looking back over the year, I am reminded of an evening of drinking wine at a friend's rooftop fireworks festival party. I recall taking my dogs with me to meet friends for drinks after work at outdoor marts or to the beach, camping and even to a 10K race where we cheered on runners and friends. It was always too easy and cheap to get dinner and drinks with close friends after work. I was able to take day trips with the truck a few times and get out of the city with my truck if I chose to do so. I had so many wonderful meet ups with friends at
different points throughout the year and am sure I poured a lot of energy into my last year. It was comforting to leave Korea with such positive thoughts about the future even though it was much harder leaving Korea than leaving the US. (Still haven't fully understood why this was but I do know I prefer expat life to settled life as a US citizen.) With so many things to do in 2011, it was by far the fastest year I have lived in my life thus far. Let's hope the pace slows down in the years ahead. I'll post more about the next step(s) a separate entry. Until then, this is Jareb Steines (재혁) signing off.
Korea was an independent kingdom under Chinese suzerainty for most of the past millennium. Following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, Japan occupied Korea; five years later it formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, a...more info