Sunday, January 21, 2018

Ahnyeunghasaeyo [안녕하세요]

Alas, the revival of my blog which has seen me through my US Peace Corps service in Zambia, Africa (title: T.I.A.-This Is Africa), Steve and my backpacking adventure through Africa (title: T.I.[S].A.- This Is [Still] Africa), and now into my life and travels through Asia (title: T.I.[N].A.- This Is [Now] Asia).
I've neglected my blog for the last few years, as so seems to happen with most people who start blogs. Everyone always has the intention of keeping a blog when they travel to a new part of the world or start a new venture in life, and I definitely did not mean to abandon mine. However, life happens. There are a few reasons why I haven't kept up for the last few years, though it has been in the back of my mind weekly to "Sit down and WRITE!" First off, I never finished writing about all of our travels through Africa; I've felt like I can't move on to writing about the next chapter of my life until I have fulfilled the previous chapter. Steve takes the notes in a journal as we travel, and I turn those notes into a blog. We have these journals on our bookshelf, but I haven't held up my end of the deal. Another reason I haven't started writing again, despite always planning to, was that I decided to start graduate school, which turned out to be a lot of writing on my part. And by a lot, I mean A TON. I have never worked so hard at something or written so much in my entire life. Whenever I would have a break from my classes (never more than one week off, as I did a year-round program), I would plan to write. Yet, when a class ended and I knew I had a week where I didn't have to study, there was NO WAY I was going to pull my computer out and start writing for pleasure. So, here we are; I graduated from my master's program at the beginning of December 2017, and I'm ready to start writing again.

Following our travels through Africa, Steve and I returned to the United States in November of 2014. We spent a relaxing month at his parent's house in PA (I think I actually slept for a month straight...) and enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Just after TG, Steve and I flew to Chicago where we went and stayed for about a week at my Aunt Barbara's house, spending time with my Nana and getting to see some of my family members that I very rarely get to connect with. To conclude our adventure, we traveled across the US by Amtrak train, on the California Zephyr. This train journey took 3 days and was a unique way to finalize our trip and to see some parts of the US.

Enjoying my guilty pleasure, hot cheetos ;)
We reached San Jose around December 17th, and Steve stayed with us until just before Christmas, when he returned to Pennsylvania to spend the holidays with his family. He spent the next few months back and forth between PA and CA, while I picked up a job as a respite care worker, and later, as a behavior interventionist at a company serving people with autism. I absolutely fell in love with my job and the company that I was working for, around the time that we heard back from a teaching job that we had applied for in South Korea. Through tears, I broke the news to my boss that I would be leaving the company, just 3 short months after I had begun my work there. 

After 6 months back in the US, we were on a plane to South Korea! Steve arrived about a month before I did and got settled in our new home in the little beach-side town of Pohang. We had both been hired by a private English after-school academy, called a hagwon. We were teaching elementary and middle school students; we began work at 4pm and finished work at 10pm. This was quite an adjustment- working evenings and getting out of work so late at night. I developed some bad habits during this time, where we would get off work and then go out drinking and eating with our friends all night, and then I would sleep all day until I had to leave for work at 330 the next afternoon. I quickly became pretty depressed due to this lifestyle, as well as adjusting to Korean culture. We began taking Korean language classes in the mornings twice a week, we started running or hiking or running errands before work, and we found a group of people to play soccer with after work until midnight or 1 am. I met one of my best friends, we joined a monthly book club, and we finally figured out the bus routes and how to get down to the beach. It took me 3 months to get into my groove, and the week that I re-wallpapered our apartment and finally unpacked all my bags, our manager came to visit us to tell us that the school was getting rid of one position, meaning that both Steve and I had to go- as we were a package and the most recently arrived employees (therefore lacking seniority). 

This really upset us, and I was pretty livid. We had a few more days together, and then they moved Steve to a new apartment in Daegu, about 1 hour 45 minutes away by bus. I had to stay in our apartment and work his job in Pohang for one more month, as it was my position they sacked, and pack up everything we owned. By the end of October, they had a new teacher to take over my apartment and position, and I moved out to Daegu and in with Steve again. 

We continued to work for the same company, just at different schools. In fact, Steve worked at one of the main school branches, while I became what is called "a floater." This meant that I didn't have a school to work at, but would instead cover for the other teachers at their branches when they decided to take a vacation or if they called in sick. Every day I was working at a different school and traveling to the outskirts of Daegu, and sometimes even back to Pohang (where I would have to sleep in a love motel for a week by myself). It added hours onto my daily commute and made classroom management even more difficult. Students, across the world, do not listen to substitute teachers. Why follow my rules, answer my questions, do my assignments, when their teacher was just going to return in a few days? Every teacher had a different teaching style and classroom rules, making it pointless for me to try to establish any sort of order in my own way. 

I grew to absolutely despise my job, and even more, to hate teaching. Around this time, they also started discussing massive changes to the school and teaching schedule- something that I was not on board with. The second my contract ended in July, I quit my job and found a new one. Steve stayed on at our original company, was promoted to manager in early December, then had to fire every single employee (of which the school had over 200) when the school >surprise!< shut down a few days before Christmas. 

I've now been teaching at a private kindergarten since August of 2016. I work from 9:30am-3:30pm, and absolutely love my job and the kiddos I get to teach. Our youngest students can start at our school at 22 months old, and they graduate when they are between 6 and 7 years old. At my school, barely any of the other teachers speak English. I do have a Korean co-teacher who is essentially fluent in English; she has been the middle-woman between the owners, principal, other teachers, and me.

The one downside about my job is that I'm not able to ask for any days off. I have 9 paid vacation days, plus public holidays, but I can only take my vacation days when the school closes (4 days in Winter- the week of Christmas, and 5 days in the Spring). When I have asked for a day off here or there from visitors coming out or me being invited to international Gaelic Football Tournaments, it's turned into a really big fight because "it's not their culture". Steve and I came to Korea so that we would be able to travel around Asia while having a home base and making some money. With our first job, this was possible, since they gave us 25 vacation days per year and we were able to choose when we took vacation. Due to this, we were able to visit:

Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Sapporo, Hakaido, Japan for a snowboarding trip

and Cebu, Philippines. 

I was also able to travel to Beijing, China, one weekend for the All China Gaelic Games. After the tournament (we took 2nd), I got to go out to the Great Wall of China. Another visit brought me to Shanghai, China for the All Asia Gaelic Games (we got 2nd, again).

Since starting my job at the kindergarten, we have still had quite a few visitors, but we've had to schedule them around my working schedule. My parents came out in Fall 2016 and we all went to Bali, Indonesia for a week over the Korean Thanksgiving holiday! 

So it's safe to say that, while we haven't been able to take as much vacation/ travel as much as we had planned to by moving to Korea, we have been able to do a lot of really neat stuff. And that's not even including all the exploring and activities we have done within South Korea! Living here and working as much as we have has allowed us to save up some of money. I think "working in Korea" deserves its own post and explanation, but to put it simply: our schools pay for a furnished apartment, they pay our flight to/from Korea one way, we get severance pay when we have completed a year contract, we get our pension (social security) paid back to us when we leave the country, they pay our national (and very reasonably priced) health care, and the cost of living here is fairly cheap. Some teachers are able to pocket ~ $18,000 in savings after just one year of teaching here. Mine savings definitely won't be that much, especially since I am not so frugal with my money, we have traveled quite a bit, and we are both paying student loans.... BUT, we will have a good chunk of money saved up when we leave Korea.

Which brings me to what's next: WE'RE MOVING TO AUSTRALIA!
Adelaide, to be precise. 

As mentioned above, I recently finished grad school. I got my Masters of Education in Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA for short. ABA is a field that I have been working in off and on since late 2007. ABA is used to observe and study human behavior, and then apply scientifically-supported behavior-change procedures and techniques to teach socially significant behaviors to people with Autism. Since this is the science of behavior change, and is the most effective way to help people change their behaviors, ABA is also applied for health care, weight loss, addiction recovery, to increase productivity amongst employees in the corporate world, to train animals, and so much more. It can be applied to any behavior, to help decrease unwanted behaviors, increase desirable behaviors, and teach new skills and behaviors. I've been able to work with countless individuals with disabilities over the years, applying ABA as a 'behavior interventionist.' It has been humbling and simply amazing to see people's lives improve through the application of this science. I am fascinated by human behavior, my passion is working with people who have disabilities, and my heart is all about serving others. I am so excited to have become a 'master' in something that I absolutely love, and I cannot wait to get down to OZ and start my career. I will be working as a therapist, writing intervention plans, and managing my own teams and clients. During this time, I will be in the process of completing my supervision hours required to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. It's 1500 hours of supervision, and I can only log 30 hours per week, so I imagine that I will be sitting for the licensing exam in 2020..... meaning we are planning on living in Australia for a couple of years!

We leave Korea on March 1st to start our next adventure in Australia, but we won't get to Australia until August. In the mean time, we will be backpacking through Asia!! YAY! We will start our travels in Nepal by trekking the AnnaPurna Circuit. This is something I have been wanting to do for a few years now, which is why we opted for this trek rather than Basecamp of Mt. Everest. I didn't realize Everest basecamp was a thing that ordinary people could do until I met a bunch of people who had done it. I know Mt. Everest is more widely known than the AnnaPurna, but hopefully I will be able to spread some information about this part of the Himalayas. The trek will take us between 2 and 3 weeks, depending on how much we hike each day. Throughout the trek, we will stay in tea houses in villages scattered throughout the mountains. 
Along the AnnaPurna Circuit, Himalayas, Nepal. Google image.
Seriously, I am SO EXCITED for this trip.

After Nepal, we will either head to Myanmar or Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka became a backup plan when I finally started to really learn about how the Myanmar government and armed forces are treating the Rohingya Muslims in their country, a people who they have been trying to exclude from citizenship since Burma's constitutional founding in 1947. Recent news has brought out the horrific stories of rape, murder, forced exile, and burning of the villages of the Rohingya Muslims, committed by the armed forces. In an effort to be socially conscious travelers, we have a really hard time traveling to a country and supporting (monetarily) a government that is essentially practicing ethnic cleansing and genocide of their people. However, I've had my heart set on Myanmar, going to Bagan, seeing the temples and learning more about the Burmese people and their history. This decision is still up for consideration; Sri Lanka would be a fascinating place to visit as well!! Whatever we choose, we will still be making a donation to the Rohingya refugees and reputable organizations that are working to help them.
Bagan, Myanmar. Google image.
Following the above, we will head to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. We are also trying to throw in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. We are ending in Indonesia because it is a really cheap and short flight from Bali into Adelaide, so we might not spend so much of our trip in Indonesia, as we can explore more of these islands, along with NZ and some of the other south Pacific Islands, over the next few years of living "Down Under." In all, we will be backpacking for 5 months straight, then heading into OZ, buying a car, getting an apartment, and starting the next chapter! Hopefully, I will be much better at keeping up with my blog throughout our upcoming travels :)

As the Aussies say: Cheers, Mate! 😉
Traveling by horse drawn carriage on the island, Gili T, off of Lombok, Indonesia. 

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