Author: ashleyannjones25

365 Days Later

365 days ago I was ecstatic. Preparing for the interview process with potential schools, being assigned a position in Seoul, then, because of an unfortunate school fire, being reassigned to the position I’m presently at. I remember feeling my heart race as I waited for my documents to arrive, packed, prayed, and prepared myself to ship off into an unknown but knowingly life-transforming experience. It was all very exciting.

The unknown is a great thing. There’s so much to discover, so much to learn, so much to see. This is one reason I love travel: because the world is a great unknown. Honestly, outer-space intrigues me a little more but, until the Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, or Dr Who is a real thing, exploring my own beautiful planet will have to do. But now, 365 days later, this little closed off peninsula called South Korea is no longer the unknown. Rather, it has morphed from a place of mystery and intrigue into a place of comfort and home. It’s a place I love.

Just like I love my own city, and dearly miss it, Seoul is now a city full of people, places, and experiences I will soon miss and long for. This highly caffeinated city of delicious flavors, culture, and 10 million people has warmly accepted my year long intrusion. It’s allowed me to observe, taste, and experience all it has to offer, and it has not disappointed. But just as with all good things, in 30 days, it will end for me… the food, the friendships, the job. It will become merely the past, leaving an impression of memories that I can look back on with gratitude and sincere joy. For this was the time in my life that I chose to go, not just for a week or a month, but a year.

It’s had its ups and downs, sure. But when I reflect on this year, I hardly remember the struggles… the freezing cold, the poor air quality, the mosquitos, or lack of nearby relatives.. because the great things are so much more memorable. The time I got to explore the country alone and met some wonderful people, the time we had Christmas dinner in a pub, the multitudes of hours spent in cafes (Laybricks), at the river, or playing card/board games with friends. I won’t forget the long walks, great public transportation, highly fashionable people, kind church community, smiling faces of highly energized children…how could I?

This is definitely a year to remember. Definitely the most wonderful and unique 335 consecutive days of my life to this point; a time of growth, a time of friendships gained and sometimes quickly lost, a time of certainty and uncertainty and a time to understand myself more than ever before. It was my time, and it was a good. But now it’s time to say goodbye to this and move to the next stage. Because while Korea was everything I could have hoped it to be and more, I could not live in this state forever. I’m not meant to.The next great adventure, the next great unknown, is marriage. It’s going to have its own bits of growth, struggles, and great times; but it will be done with the person I love most. My number one complaint about my year here? Doing it alone.

I wouldn’t take a moment of my time in Korea back. It was the most productive, active, laid-back, exceptional year of my life. And what I’m truly learning is that no matter where or what age I’m at, every year can be exceptional. Every year can be fantastic. Yes, there will be moments of despair, boredom, and anti-productiveness, but ultimately, the greatness and beauty of each day overcomes anything that might keep me from living and loving life at hand.

Alice

It’s no use going back…

I feel a little like Alice after a time in Wonderland when she states: “I could tell you my adventures- beginning from this morning, but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

And going home won’t be as yesterday was, it will be different, it will be a new sort of unknown.

Thank Hellen Keller for reminding us that, “life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all.” Paste this quote to your front door and don’t forget to live.

See you on the flip side, America.

사랑 해, Korea.

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America, I miss you.

Hello there WordPress, I haven’t forgotten about you. I promise.

Has it really been over four months since I’ve blogged? Here’s the thing. I have about a dozen unfinished blog posts in my iPhone notes. There are so many things to tell about Korea, culture, places, food, weather. It’s overwhelming! In my defense: I do not want to write an uninformed post. If I have something to say about Korean culture, I want to make sure my opinion is backed by my Korean friends, students, and coworkers. So I end up half writing things and it never makes it up here. One day, they will though. So I apologize for that.

So, I’m here to vent a little about how much I miss home, beginning with a vent about how much Korea is not like home.

Having considered myself extremely “adaptable” since I knew what the word ‘adaptable’ meant, I feel Korea has been no different. Actually, Korea has made it easier to live here than any other place I’ve visited. Korean’s love Americans, many many people speak English, the signs are in English, the subway app is in English, everything. Not to mention the Christian community is huge here, people never have reasons to fear for their lives (yes, even with North Korea as our next door neighbor), and financially, everyone is doing pretty well. As an English speaking expat, it is ‘easy’ to live here. And so “adapting” has not been so difficult as say- Turkey, Kenya, or Haiti would be. Having traveled to these places and more, it is always so easy to recognize the things I should be thankful for in America like, paved roads, access to education, the freedom to worship, NOT starving, a pretty fair government, a loving family, adoption… The list goes on. But Korea has all this. So how is Korea different from home, really?

Of course, as they say, there’s no place like home. Especially when that home is America. Especially especially when that home in America is Southern California. And so, here are a couple of NEW things that I’m learning not to take for granted in America as an outsider in a new, well developed, first world culture (S.Korea).

Beauty, which is really the need for acceptance.

In America, I’m not fat, I’m average. In Korea, I’m freaking obese. When I first got here I had to get a health check- I weighed in at 66KG (145 pounds). Seeing my weight I was actually like “SCORE! LOST FIVE POUNDS SINCE I LEFT HOME!” *high fives self.* …While the Korean women were whispering and laughing with each other as soon as they saw my weight. The doctor actually told me “You need to loose weight, you’re too big.” HA! Have you ever checked an American before? Our legs don’t come in bone or bone-with-a-little-bit-of-muscle sizes like yours do- we have meat. So what? The doctor didn’t know I had jogged every day for a month before coming to Korea, she didn’t know I had been eating really well. She just told me “loose weight.” And it wasn’t for health purposes really, it was for beauty. You see, everything here is driven by how well you look. ESPECIALLY where I live in Seoul. The Gangnam/Sinsa area is the plastic surgery capital of the world. People come here from all over the world to get plastic surgery- children are told they are not beautiful and their parents proudly buy them face surgeries as high school graduation gifts. Someone once told me that when finding a job here, the candidates are all so well educated and qualified for positions, it really boils down to which person looks more beautiful. So, if you get plastic surgery, take very good care of your skin, maintain a weight of 100 pounds or less, and dress like a modern Helen of Troy every single day for the rest of your life, then you will be more successful than someone who does not do these things. That’s quite a bar to live up to as a foreigner coming to work in Seoul. In America, you see like 1 in 10 people dressed really cute and you say, “wow, that person dresses really well. Go them!” In Seoul, you see like 1 in 50 people dressed poorly and you think, “oh man, they must be having a bad day.” It’s standard, look your best. Always. I just miss seeing people not caring about what other people think. I miss lazy Sundays where you go out in your slippers and sweats and nobody gives a crap. That is one thing I miss about America.

Diversity

If you’re my friend on Facebook you might have seen my little rant about how much I miss diversity in America. As you probably know, Korea is a very homogenous society and they’re dang-proud of it. If you’re not Korean, then you’re a foreigner. And the foreigner community while not small, is not large compared to the general population. But the problem is not the lack of diverse food or clothing styles (well, that’s a problem too). But everybody tries to be the same here. There is a lack of diverse opinion. It’s almost “cool” for people to all do the same things, act the same way, eat the same stuff, go on the same dates, wear the same clothes, accept the same life circumstances, put their kids in the same types of schools, get the same educations, do the same jobs, same same SAME-NESS. On top of that, if you happen to be the one in a million person (usually a young person) who is not satisfied with said “same-ness,” then you are considered an outsider. Never to be good enough, accepted, loved, or to acquire a good job because you are different. One of my very dear friends is a barista. We’ve had long conversations about how Korea has put pressure on him to mold with the society. Sometimes he is tempted, sometimes he feels he is forced, but all he wants to do is something different: art. Is that too much to ask in most societies? NO. But in Korea, yeah, kinda. The USA really encourages my generation to be independent. Now more than ever. It is possible to start your own small business, be successful, live happily. Here happiness is directly related to money, education, and status. Which really isn’t happiness at all- in fact, Korea has the highest suicide rate of any country. So if for some reason you try and can’t mold, then your option is… Yeah. No one has taught you to think any differently. And since we’re on the topic… Just the other day one of my 2nd graders told me her friend’s older sister died because she “fell out of an apartment building.” YOU SHOULD NOT BE SUBJECT TO THIS, CHILD. On what PLANET do you live on that YOUR FRIEND’S SISTER COMMITS SUICIDE?! It angers me so much. I’m thankful that I wasn’t raised in a society that pressures me to preform to complete perfection or I will fail.

…And that brings me to the next topic, I’m not really sure what this makes me thankful for in America but…

Drinking into oblivion

Remember how about five seconds ago I said something about Korean’s having to preform? Well how do you escape this social pressure? With another social pressure of course. Drinking. It doesn’t really get quite here at night because the businessmen and their superiors are always out- drinking. My friend told me that the business men have to do it, even if they don’t want to. They have to let loose from the strains of the work day by getting drunk on a near nightly basis. I miss living in a society where drinking is an option, not a requirement. Luckily, I don’t have to deal with it directly, because my boss understands I am a foreigner and live by different standards. She would still prefer it if I drink so she can connect with me on a deeper level though.

Dedication to work

Annd speaking of my boss. Did you know I have to work the day after Christmas? Isn’t boxing day usually a holiday? In Korea, Christmas is not really a big deal. GASP. I know. Even though there are so many Christians here- they don’t really see the value in the holiday as much as Europe and America. My kids said they get like one present from “santa” and nothing from their parents or siblings. It’s not a terrible thing, I mean, that certainly makes the “holidays” less stressful.. BUT it’s difficult for my boss to see it as important for me or the other foreign teachers. When I asked for the day after Christmas off she told me there is no possible way that could happen. I even offered to work overtime every week until Christmas to pay for taking the day off. But NOPE. Korean’s have a very strong commitment to work and following the rules. They don’t understand why anybody would ever need real time off- even if you get sick. I have heard several stories of teachers being sick in the hospital and the hagwon principle calls and says, “So can you come in for the second half of the day?” I definitely miss having real sick days and real vacations days in America. Even if I never took a day off of work for a holiday- I at least liked having the option. And not having to experience repercussions if I were to get too sick to come in that day.

Childhood/Education

I’m not going to write much about this topic. The world already knows there is a lot of pressure for young children to succeed and preform just as there is pressure for their parents. The thing that saddens me is, these children are often too young to make their own choices on the matter. The must do it. On the flip side, the kids I tutor told me that there are always extreme cases but not every single child is miserable. One thing I appreciate about America is my childhood- having the freedom to be a child. Being carefree, being happy. I would guess that many of my children come from happy homes but many of them don’t. Many of them are pushed to their limits because if they don’t start young- they won’t succeed. I often see children with cuts and bruises on their faces after exam time. I’ve cried several times in class because they’ve exclaimed “mom punched me.” And I really don’t think they’re lying. A Korean friend was telling me of the time his family lived in the country, he professes to remember a time in his youth when he had no worries. There were no private institutions where he lived so he could get out of public school and play and be a child. He remembers smelling the flowers, playing games with his friends in the streets, doing normal-kid stuff. All that changed when his family uprooted and moved to Seoul. Thank you mom for giving me the freedom to grow into exactly who I want to be and for not forcing me to turn into something that would make me miserable. Thank you America, for having laws that restrict the abuse and overworking of children. (Korea does have child abuse laws but they aren’t  enforced, if you hear your neighbor beating their children, you ignore it. They probably deserve it any.)

The cold

For some reason, not a month has gone by that I haven’t been sick. I believe I’ve had about seven colds in the last 6 months, summer, fall, and winter. My body is having a difficult time adjusting even though I maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Now that nearly every day feels like I’m surviving the next ice age with sub-zero temperatures (I’m sure it’s not as bad as some places like say… THE ARCTIC), it’s another opportunity to be sick and stuffy. I’ve actually come to terms with this: I will be sick every month until I go home and that’s that. Being from Southern California, all the Korean’s really enjoyed warning me about my impending doom this winter. They would say: “Oh you’re going to die.” Or “Is that really the only jacket you have?” or “Yeah, it’s really really bad here in the winter, you probably won’t make it.” And then all my California people would be like “Yeah, we’re really warm and toasty here. It’s 75 degrees outside! SO NICE.” ….Thank you, California. You really screwed me with your tropical desert climate. Real winter? I didn’t know it actually existed. AND IT’S ONLY DECEMBER.

In conclusion (sorry this post is much longer than I was expecting)

Now, I realize I have just typed a lot about the negative things in Korea that make me appreciate America. In fact, I will post another blog about the many positive things Korea presents. Like incredible health care!! Living here is not bad by any means, in fact, I love Korea. These are just some of the concerns that make me appreciate and love where I grew up. I am grateful that I am an outsider in this place and did not grow up with the same stresses. Sometimes it takes getting away to realize what you are truly thankful for.

America, I miss you.

I miss you, California, you’re the greatest state of all
I miss you in the winter, summer, spring, and in the fall.
I miss your fertile valleys; your dear mountains I adore,
I miss your grand old ocean and I miss her rugged shore.

Summer Vacation

A few weeks ago our school enjoyed a week of summer vacation. I, being determined to see the world, was bent on going somewhere… ANYWHERE outside of Seoul. After doing some research, my coworkers and I realized that leaving the country this time of year is much too overpriced for our humble means. Even a trip to Japan costs twice as much as normal because everyone is on summer vacation. Annnd we didn’t book a flight months in advance. So my dream trip to Vietnam, Taiwan, or Bali was out.

After doing some research, I saw that foreigners can get a special Korean Rail pass for very cheap. AND perfect timing, the “Youth” discount cut off age is 25! So I purchased a 5 day train pass that would get me on any train to any place at any time (within 5 days) for about $100 USD. Sadly, my coworkers who had intended to join me on this adventure opted out the night before we were supposed to leave. 

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to tackle this strange new place on my own and ALMOST decided not to go because first of all, I can’t speak Korean. So that’s a downer. Second, I couldn’t read it. But I had already decided on my various destinations and knew it would be worth the risk. So after some kind kind friends helped me book some hostels the night before I left AND helped me set up my cell phone service (thank you, June), I was ready to travel Korea.

You know me, I’m independent… Or just introverted. You pick. 

Day il 일

My first stop: Busan. The second largest city in Korea, known for its beaches and seafood. They also have great hiking, a Buddhist temple on the cliffs, and the place where the East and the West sea meet.

After checking into my hostel, I went directly to Igidae park, where you can hike along the sea. Because June had so kindly set up my cell phone service the night before it wasn’t difficult using UNLIMITED DATA (thank you, Korea) to figure out how to get there. I don’t think I would have made it 24 hours on this trip without 3G. The hike was beautiful. Korea’s really good at maintaining a sense of nature in such a condensed country. You can always find a good hike or outdoor activity within minutes of a city center.  

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After Igidae, I decided to go to Taejongdae Park to see the lighthouse and Eastern/Western sea view. 

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One thing about being a foreigner, traveling alone in Korea, is that people seem to take pity on you. Like, “Poor white girl, are you traveling alone? Want to be friends?” And I made some REALLY great friends because of it! At this point in Taejongdae, I met Justin. He ate dinner with me that night and went with me to the Haedong Yonggungsa Temple the next day. Making friends is wonderful. I highly recommend it. Especially Korean friends. I can’t get over how kind, accommodating, and intentional these guys are. Language barriers don’t seem to matter at a certain point- it’s just relationships.

Day ee 이

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That fried pancake looking thing is actually a Chinese snack called “hotteok.” It’s got brown sugar in the middle.. Delicious. Oh and that’s Justin. That night, he introduced me to his friend from New York: Janice! A Korean-American (AMERICAN) who speaks perfect English and perfect Korean. I love her. The entire time we were talking at dinner that night Justin kept saying, “I can’t believe you guys are getting along. People I introduce never get along this well.” 

In the two days and nights I spent in Busan, I walked away with some great memories and life-long friends.

Day sam 삼

Next, I took the train to a random city south of Busan (Jinju). From there I had to somehow find the bus to Tongyeong and then find my way to the Ferry Terminal to get on a boat to Bijindo Island. It was stressful, to say the least. I didn’t know what bus to get on, where it was, or what time I had to go. But somehow I knew it would work out. Plus, if it didn’t, it’s not like Korea is a dull ugly place with nothing to do. There’s always something to do, see, or eat. So when I got off the train thank the Lord there was a kind Korean man who spoke English (one of the TWO people on the bus including the driver haha). He told me to get off at the next stop and kindly drew me a map to show me how to get to the bus ticket window. He said the bus will say “Tongyeong” on it.

Yeah, of course it said Tongyeong, but of course it was written in KOREAN. But thankfully the internet taught me how to read Hangul on my train ride to Busan two days prior. And, it all worked out. I arrived in Tongyeong rather quickly, the “tourist information” lady who spoke almost no english told me I had to rush in order to make the 11AM ferry to the island. Sheepishly, I showed a cab drive the area on the map she told me to go and made it to the Ferry Terminal 10 minutes before the ferry took off! Luckily, there were still ferry tickets available and I boarded just on time. 

Bijindo Island was featured on CNN last year and I felt the need to visit. It was like paradise. Fairly empty beach, really cool sandy bridge between two islands, sun, fine sand, clear-blue water and a really terrifying hike (but we’ll talk about that later). 

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Do you see that photo of the spider? Well if you know me you know I have an intense fear of spiders. My photos of Bijindo Island COULD have been much more spectacular except I couldn’t finish the hike to the peek because… spiders. 

There was a point that I had accidentally turned on the video on my camera and you can literally hear me talking to myself saying “OK, you can do this. It’s ok …” amongst continuous heavy breathing. I felt that with every step forward, I was facing my deepest most irrational fear. And to no avail. Half way up the mountain I turned to see a brown spider chilling in his web… Get this… The body of this little demon was BIGGER than my hand. I remember thinking, “how does the web even hold that thing? He’s the size of a brick!” I’m sure he was just waiting for me to walk by. As soon as I saw him, I turned around and screamed “Oh HAIL ANIYO.” And ran with all my might back to sandy beach and into the sea, where I was safe. 

So, on the ferry ride back to Tongyeong I met this wonderful girl (DalLae) who told me she climbed to the top of the mountain. She showed me pictures and they were incredible. I felt sight remorse for not facing my fears and getting to the top. But at the same time I might have died of a heart attack before dying of an actual spider bite. Perhaps next time, Bijindo, I will tackle your spidery vault. DalLae ended up showing me all around Tongyeong. She took me to dinner in a market (food that the city is known for). And then led the way to the Dongpirang Wall Painting Village. This place not only resonated with my artsy side, it also boasted beautiful views of the city. I was awestruck and quickly fell in love with the harbor town. 

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After Tongyeong, DalLae and her friend kindly drove me to the bus station and helped me buy the right ticket back to my hotel near the train station in Jinju. It was a perfect day. The next morning I jumped on the train to Boesong! 

Day Sa 사

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GREEN TEA FIELDS! Of course I couldn’t leave without trying a green tea latte (the best I’ve had),

AND green tea ice cream (to die for).

Day oh 오

My next and final stop was to visit with my dear dear friends Justin and Alicia Woodside in Gwangju. Alicia was a roommate of mine at Biola. She’s fantastic. Actually, they both are. They’re the ones that introduced me to the idea of Korea and clearly, I’m glad they did. I walked away feeling so blessed and encouraged by them. They fed me delicious Korean food (their province is known for having the best food in Korea), taught me how to maintain a good balance in work and personal life, and brought me to DR FISH. Where these tiny flesh eating fish ate all the dead skin cells from our feet. It felt so strange and wonderful all at the same time.

I adored my time with the Woodsides and hope to see them again before they head back to America next month! 

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After that, I took the train back to Seoul. It was a jammed packed, glorious, five day summer vacation. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. God always has his way of making things work out. Just gotta go with the flow. 

Love to you all, 

Ashley

An update from the Airplane (written 2 weeks ago and still worth the read)

I know I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while but everything was going so slowly it didn’t seem important and then suddenly everything was a whirlwind and I never had a second to tell you what’s happening!! Right now, I’m sitting on a plane on my way to Seoul. Final destination: Seocho. If google maps isn’t lying to me, that’s in southern Seoul, still in the city but on the outskirts.

Let me start from

The Beginning

Things were going smoothly with getting my documents in order so my recruiter began searching for schools for me to interview with. She set up one interview a number of months ago now and I was offered a contract for that school the next day. SLP Nam-Bundang. A private elementary school in a fairly affluent neighborhood about 30 minutes outside of Seoul. At first, they asked me to sign an 18 month contract and wanted me to leave JUNE 7th! Well, that was just absurd because almost 2 years away seems like a lot to commit to right away and being ready to leave so soon seemed crazy. I wanted at least June to get all my ducks in a row, say goodbyes, etc. So I prayed about it, felt unsure about it, read the contract, had bad feelings, and just asked the Lord to move me in the way he wanted me to go. Honestly, I had a ton of reservations. Some things just seemed sketch. But my recruiter assured me it was the best option and told me I wouldn’t find a better opportunity. (That was sort of an exaggerated statement in my opinion, but what did I know? This was all very new to me.) So anyway after I told them I felt hesitant about singing an 18 month contract they decided to offer me a 12 month contract from July 1st, ’14-July 1st, ’15! Such great news! I thanked the Lord for answering prayers but still never felt excited about the school. Call it a gut feeling.

The Fire

So I’m ready to leave for my new teaching job in Bundang, South Korea when I got a phone call from my recruiter:

“So, this never happens but.. Your school caught on fire and had significant damage last night.

They can’t afford to hire you anymore.” Wait. Back up.. Um. Excuse me, WHAT? I’m supposed to leave for Korea next week, I mean I’M PACKED; and you’re telling me my school burt down? Clearly, this is a joke. “No,” she says, “Not a joke.” “Oooohkay. So what’s next?” Yes. Take a guess. This actually was not earth shattering news for me. In fact, I smiled when I found out. There were not doubts in my head like, ‘maybe you’re not supposed to go to Korea Ashley, or maybe you should actually just go work a 9-5 in LA somewhere because obviously that’s what God wants for your life.’ No. I did not feel any crippling epiphanies about what direction my life was supposed to go from here. I knew. I knew the Lord had his own perfect plan and this fire was complete assurance that all my negative feelings about this school were something to be considered.

Well.. Back to square 2

The only bad part about not having a secure job was that I had to go through the interview process again. Who really likes to interview though? Really?  My recruiter told me of a couple new schools hiring for ASAP positions. One of them really stood out to me. Brown International School, Seocho. It seemed perfect. Best location, values, staff, website, reviews. Everything. So I enthusiastically submitted an application video (i.e. “Hi my name is ashley.. this is who I am.”) and guess what? They told me they didn’t even want to interview me because they wanted a Science major to teach Science classes (as well as English). Wait, what? I don’t expect that much in life but I did expect at least an interview. I mean that’s rude. I am so excited about this school, ready to move to Seocho, Seoul and they don’t even want to interview me? Fine. Whatever.

The Struggle

After that letdown, I started preparing myself for the worst case scenario: coming to terms with the fact that God may just not want me in a foreign place right now. That was hard. Like, I actually had to say, “OK God, I really think Korea is great and I really thought you wanted me there but after this fire and after not getting an interview with a school that seemed so perfect for me, I guess maybe I just need to give up the chase. I do want to follow your will and not my own after all.”

And then, the very next day… I get a text. My recruiter essentially says, “PSYCH! BIS changed their mind, they actually do want to interview you.” And I’m standing there in line for Medieval Times saying, “OK God, what the heck are you doing?” Seriously, I’m too old for roller coasters. So that night I interviewed with them. The Director and nicest lady I’ve ever spoken to said, “We really wanted a Science major because we want a Science teacher. But it is elementary school and you seem pretty smart so I think you’ll be ok teaching it.” And the next day, I was offered a contract. The best part was that the school never hid anything from me. They straight up told me that it’s a lot of work but satisfying. They sent me their blog, they gave me an e-mail for an American that works there who really had only great things to say about the school and his life in Korea. I felt none of the hesitations I had with the first school. For the first time, I felt utter excitement. Like bouncing off the walls excited. Praise the Lord! God amazes me.

So let me pause and just thank all of you out there who were praying for me at this point. Many of you knew what was happening when it was happening and I could feel the prayers flooding into my life. What an incredible community I have!

Preparing to go

Like I said- the last couple weeks have been a real whirlwind. Actually, the last couple months. When you realize you’re going out of the country and probably won’t see your friends and family for a year, you start trying to cram. I had every second of every day planned out with various lists. Activity lists, people to see lists, food lists, buy lists, do lists, and pack lists. I think “write a blog post” is literally the last thing on my “before I get to Korea list.” High five!! Gettin’ it done. The blessing and curse of all this “cramming” is that I didn’t really think about the emotional aspect of leaving. Like it didn’t really actually hit me until last night. As I was digging my toes into the oh so familiar powder-like Newport Beach sand for the last time in who knows how long, boyfriend in hand, I started sobbing. No more holding hands with my boyfriend, no more sunny California beach days with my mom, no more spur of the moment coffee dates with Kate and Chel. Well, not for a year at least. Oh gosh, I’m typing on my iPad right now.. Apple’s going to have to charge me for water damage pretty soon… What did you drop this thing in the ocean? No. It’s just my salty tears.

I’ve never been such a fatalist in my life!! Not once in my life have I ever cried before leaving for a trip. I cried today. I cried so much. Saying goodbye to Eric and my mom and dad was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Maybe that’s because the longest I’ve ever been away was 4 months. Or maybe it’s because I’m going into the unknown for an entire year. Honestly, I think being in a three year relationship and then leaving the most important person in the world to me has made it most difficult. But! Every time I think about Korea.. Every time I think about the kids and the new experiences and all the adventures and the food and people and learning and living on my own in a foreign place- I get so giddy. Like ‘yes, this is right.’ But as soon as I think about Eric or my family I start to have doubts. And that’s where…

THE REAL STRUGGLE

sets in. In fact, last night.. this morning.. probably about 5 times since I’ve been on this airplane I have asked myself the question, “is this really what I should be doing? Is it selfish of me to move? Don’t I have enough to live for back in comfortable California? Why do I have such a huge desire to live abroad anyway? Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe that’s the old Ashley but maybe I’ve changed. And it’s like a war within myself. GET BEHIND ME SATAN. I have to remember all the incredible things God has done throughout this entire process! Oh, so many things.

Story time

Ok so just today and yesterday for instance! Yesterday I reserved my seat at noon for the flight to Korea. I wanted a window seat so badly but at first glance the only available seats were middle seats. So I scrolled to the top of seating chart and guess what? There was exactly one window seat available on the entire flight. Which seat? 12K. Meaning it’s in the front of the plane, meaning I got to board first. Then get this, before I checked my two bags I was like “Lord, if it be your will please allow these bags to fit weight restrictions.” And they were both EXACTLY 50lbs! And then- I knew there was a Klatch Coffee in the airport and with Klatch being my absolute favorite coffee in all of California (but since the closest one is an hour away, I hardly get to go) I wanted so badly to get a beverage. But I wasn’t at the airport early enough to explore so as I was walking to my gate (sobbing like a lost child mind you) I prayed “Lord, you know how much I love Klatch. I would just love for it to be on my way to my gate so I can pick it up real quick.” And GUESS WHAT? I kid you not it was literally directly adjacent my gate. Excuse me what? And then, I boarded my flight to Korea from SF and since I’m carrying on so much stuff was feeling a little cramped and got upset I couldn’t fit my huge camera case/backpack under the seat. I didn’t pray about this one but it turned out that the seat next to mine is empty (but when I booked my ticket that seat had been booked too) and there is enough space to make everything work out perfect. YES. Thank you Lord. Yeah yeah, all these stories COULD just be coincidence, but I personally feel God’s hand in all of it. Like, he’s saying, “even though child you are leaving your family, you are doing this for me.” And he’s totally showing me in tiny little ways (well huge ways to me) that he’s not going to let things like overweight luggage, airplane seats and missing coffee get in my way of going to Korea with ease. Seriously! This has been the easiest move of my life- and it’s to KOREA.

Conclusion

So every time those little doubts sneak into my brain I just remember all the things God has done up to this point. And just think of the incredible things he’s going to do after this. I can’t even imagine. So yeah, am I sad to leave the people I love? OF COURSE. But I’m even more excited to go on this journey, hand in hand with my Lord. We’ll see what He does. I’ll keep you posted for sure.

Until next time my dudes,

Ashley

Day One: a new opportunity

I am excited to announce that Adventure Teaching accepted me to their program. That means they will be helping me find a teaching position in South Korea, communicating with me constantly about the visa process, and making sure that all the steps for getting to and living in Korea go smoothly.

Adventure Teaching is essentially (from what I can tell) an overly involved recruitment agency. I had a phone interview with Sarah (a Biola Alumni! how fabulous), who told me that Adventure Teaching would love to work with me. Now, I am waiting for an e-mail from my placement coordinator. That should happen in the next day or two. As for right now, I am following the necessary steps to complete a Criminal Record Check. Gotta get my finger prints taken and send in a request to the FBI. Do you think my driving record’s going to show up on there? Yikes. I hope not.

I’ve started this blog with the intent of keeping myself organized, keeping you up to date, and to detail out information for future applicants. For instance, I’ll record the time it takes to get things done, the problems that may arise, and etc. Some of it may be boring, so feel free to stop reading at any time.

Right now, I haven’t received my diplomas from Biola (even though I graduated nearly 2 years ago) because I finished with outstanding units. Biola told me they don’t just confer diplomas all willy-nilly (awesome.) So, even though I am nearly done with my final units (taking ASL online) and can get my transcripts to Biola in the next few weeks, I won’t be able to get my diplomas until May, with the other graduates. Hopefully that doesn’t put too much of a damper on the situation at hand.

Currently, I’m about to head over to the Orange County Sherriff’s office get my prints taken. I already have a filled out application form from the FBI’s website, a credit card sheet (I’m requesting 2 copies of my CRC so they are going to charge me $18×2, $36), and a word document with my contact information and a request to have the CRC’s authenticated by Kimberly Del Greco (apparently this is an important step). Adventure Teaching recommends you get 2 copies of your Diploma and two copies of your CRC because sometimes the school requests a second copy of each of those things.  So I’m going to try and be on top of that even if it costs a little more. I don’t want to run into problems right before I’m supposed to leave or anything. Also, the FBI can take up to 3 months to complete the CRC. That’s forever! That’s why it’s important to get this done immediately. I was accepted into Adventure Teaching yesterday and sent a step-by-step guide to the visa process last night. So I’m literally starting as soon as possible.

To update you on a few things happening in my life… I quit my job in October knowing I wanted to apply to Adventure Teaching. However, I didn’t want to apply with those final units hanging over my head, especially since a diploma is required in order to get a job teaching English. So I spent the last few months taking ASL 3 and developing my personal photography business and website. Also, I’ve been tying up a lot of loose ends, getting things done that I’ve intended to do since graduating, but never had time for.

The reason I’ve made the decision to go to South Korea is not because I can’t find a job elsewhere, or because I’m not ambitious in the business world, or because I want to run away from my life (all reasons people assume when I tell them about this). The reason I’m going to teach English in Korea is because I’ve always wanted to live and work abroad, because I love kids, and because the decisions I’ve made in life (like going to Biola and majoring in Intercultural Studies) were centered on my desire to live and work in a foreign country and (try to) make a positive impact on people’s lives outside of the US.

If you know me, you know that traveling and living abroad have always been exceedingly important to me. But why wouldn’t you go to Paris, or Germany, or Africa you ask me? Korea specifically is a great opportunity because getting a job teaching English is easier than getting a paid position somewhere in Europe, because they pay for my rent and airfare, and because I’ll have a chance to save a lot of money. That means, when I complete my 1 year contract, I’ll have an opportunity to travel/backpack through Europe with my saved funds, if I so desire. I’ve researched positions in Africa and other third world countries- often, these are missionary or volunteer jobs that would require me to ask for support from people like you. I don’t want to ask for financial support (though I wouldn’t put up a fuss if you offered). Even though people say “It’s an opportunity for others to bless you” “It’s a time you can really rely on God to provide” etc. I believe people can bless me with prayers and communication, I believe I can really rely on God through the other challenges that come with living abroad. Finances (or lack thereof) do not have to define whether or not I’m trusting God or being blessed by my friends and family.

And now for that last little thing, my boyfriend. OK, that’s a HUGE thing. I’m deserting him. I’m the WORST PERSON IN EXISTENCE, I know. But to be fair, he knew what he was getting himself into from day one when I specifically told him, “You know, I want to travel the world, live abroad for a short time, and have those awesome experiences I’m so passionate about after I graduate.” He said “ok” and signed on to my pretty inconsistent lifestyle. God bless him. He’s the most enduring person I know and I couldn’t imagine loosing him. Unfortunately for me, he does not feel the same passions for a life abroad, and that’s awesome because he knows what he wants. I wouldn’t want to be with a pushover who just does whatever I want him to do, because that would be pretty unhealthy. So he’s going to continue developing a name for himself as a bomb diggity graphic designer in California (or wherever God opens doors for him) and I’m going to be in Korea, for a year. Thank the Lord for Skype. The last time I was away from him for more than a week was when I went to the Dominican Republic. This happened to be at the very beginning of our relationship- which made it really really hard to be away from each other. Now that we’ve been together for nearly three years (it’s hard to believe I haven’t traveled in three whole years), we think we’re ready to be separated for this time. We are committed enough to know everything is going to be ok and we trust each other like bread trusts butter to make it taste better.

WOW. This post is getting long and I still need to go down to the station. Ha! I’ve always wanted to say that.

 

Check back soon for more updates on this visa process.

Peace and blessings,

 

Ashley