It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything in the Korea Kronicles. I say that while indulging in the slight vanity of thinking that someone might have noticed and, perhaps while noticing, cared, if only a little. That dearth of news specifically concerning my life and work in the Land of the Morning Calm has been primarily a result of there having been little to report. Since my last writing, my life in Korea has quickly settled into a very enjoyable if predictable routine, the heat and craziness of summer is becoming a comfortably distant memory, and, quite simply, things have stopped being new enough for me to care enough to write about them. My kids still say crazily, cutely, and outlandishly funny things from time to time and I’m still learning how to navigate this somewhat strange and definitely foreign culture; you know, same old same-old. As of this posting, I’ve been in Korea seven months and counting and now, at last, I have something new to report. Actually, quite a lot of somethings, so hold on to your butts.
Big and Rich in Woobangtown
The decision of whether or not to move into an apartment if one became available was one on which I waffled so much since arriving in Korea. It’s worth noting that my job is not in a city; not even in anything resembling a city. The English Village is located over the hill from a tiny farming community called Sindong, about half an hour away from Daegu. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether or not I’m part of some bizarre social experiment. I feel pretty ambivalent toward the author now (he mostly writes spiritual warfare porn for Charismaniacs), but I remember reading this book called Nightmare Academy by Frank Peretti that was about all these homeless kids getting abducted and taken to this camp in some remote, mountainous area in Idaho. The whole camp existed as a test to see what would happen if all truth and rules and blah-blah-blah were removed from society to see how the kids coped with the new reality. Anyway, the book is probably red meat to right-wing Christian Obama-is-an-atheist-Muslim-socialist-Antichrist dip-shits, but I’m still reminded of it from time to time. Don’t get the wrong idea though: I’m not saying my job is a nightmare. In fact, it’s quite the opposite most of the time.
But I digress. The point is that living at my job was never convenient. I liked it at first, since I had a safe place I could retreat to if the craziness of Korean city-life became too much for me. Over time, though, living so far away from anything at all became increasingly inconvenient and, after I made a pretty huge decision that I’ll discuss later on in this post, eventually realized that if living at the Village was like riding a bike with training wheels, then I had become a teenybopper still riding a tricycle. That’s why, about a week ago, I accepted the keys to my first ever apartment. If you’d told me a year ago that the first apartment I would ever live in would be in Korea, … well, you know the drill. My new address is at Woobangtown Apartments in Daegu’s Bokhyeon-dong district, where I have a nice high-rise view of the Geumho River and the eastern districts of Daegu around the airport. I would tell you more, but, instead, I’ll just show you…
So, yeah, pretty sweet digs if I say so myself. And I do. I still need to get a few furniture pieces and another rug or two to make it feel homey, but I’ve already settled in nicely.
On Uncle Sam’s Foreign Service
At the same time I was moving into my new digs, I was also preparing for what might turn out to be the most consequential test I’ve ever taken or will take in my life. That’s a slightly odd thing to say, especially considering it was so easy. But, first, a little back-story. When I first came to Korea at the end of February this year, I did so without a long-term plan. ESL teaching contracts, especially in Korea, usually only run for just twelve months and then, unless a person extends their contract or signs a new one, the job ends exactly 365 days after it begins. In a perhaps ironic coincidence, my current contract will expire on February 28, 2014, my twenty-fourth birthday. When I arrived, that seemed like such a long way away, but it now seems quite close.
Since there is so much instability inherent within the profession of teaching ESL abroad (relatively few do it as a career), that had me thinking from the beginning about what comes next. The biggest and most surprising discovery I’ve made about myself since moving to Korea is how much I like living abroad; I love the challenge and the every-day freshness of it. Not long after I got here, I started reading about the Foreign Service and was almost immediately hooked on the idea of working abroad for the State Department. When you work for the Foreign Service, you’re stationed at a diplomatic outpost (an embassy or a consulate) for a period of about two to three years and then moved to a new place for the next assignment. Sure, it’s bureaucratic work and I’d ultimately be representing and advancing the interests of the United States federal government (which change depending on who is running it), but I would still get the opportunity to see the world while doing my best to represent America well and maybe even weaken some of the negative stereotypes Americans have built up for themselves.
That’s why, on October 4, I boarded a KTX train from Dongdaegu to Seoul. The next morning, I was scheduled to take the Foreign Service Officer Test at the U.S. Embassy Annex in the Namyeong-dong district. While the trip was fraught with misfortune (in the space of 24 hours, I shorted out the electricity in my hostel room, went to the wrong embassy building twice, and lost my bank card to a demonic ATM at Dongdaegu Station), the test itself was almost unsettlingly easy for me. In fact, the hardest part was a multiple choice section. I’ll know my score in about three weeks and find out whether I’ve been invited submit a personal narrative, the next step in the application process.
Seven Months Down, Seventeen to Go
Yep, that’s right. I know I said earlier that I just couldn’t see myself staying in Korea another year, but in light of recent developments in my own career goals (namely, a concerted effort to work in the Foreign Service), it just makes sense to stay at my current job another year. For one thing, I’ll get an extra week of vacation, bringing my total up to twenty-five paid vacation days for the year. Also, I’ll get a free round-trip plane ticket that I can use to fly back to the States at any point during my second contract. Since the third step in the Foreign Service application process is to fly to Washington, D.C., for an in-person Oral Assessment at the State Department, then I might find that extra week of vacation and free plane ticket useful. The decision to stay two years is what prompted me to move into the city. Living in the country is nice, but there does come a point when having to rely on a shuttle and being stuck if I miss it starts to lose its luster.
So, that’s the news. It’s been a wild ride these past seven months and I expect the next seventeen or however many I end up staying in Daegu to be just as exciting and eventful. Until next time, 안녕히 가세요!