Saturday, August 6, 2011

Difficult Decisions for an Expat

So I'm back in America for a few weeks and I'm really happy to be here.  Before landing in Kansas City I got the privilege of stopping in two of America's best cities, San Francisco and Denver.  South Korea's cities are decidedly ugly.  The rest of South Korea is beautiful but the cities look like someone glued Legos to a landscape painting.  It's just row after row of white 18 story apartment blocks.  I understand South Korea has a high population density and needs to build upwards, but the rectangular communist uniformity of the building architecture is unimaginative and boring.  So it was a relief to see the wonderful architecture of San Francisco and the wide open spaces with the Rocky Mountains in the background in Denver.  Furthermore, it's great to eat Western food again, understand what people are saying, think logically, and reunite with friends and family.
Hooray Gwangju!  Because it's all the same type!
Anyway, this is not a love letter to America but about the decisions to leave it.  So after a few weeks visit home, I'm moving back to South Korea to teach for another year.  The hardest part about the life of an expat is not learning a new language or realizing that the new currency isn't monopoly money, but the hardest part is saying goodbye to your homeland.  The thing is that teaching abroad is a commitment.  Most good teaching jobs require a year long contract.  So that means you'll miss weddings, reunions, connections with friends, tailgating, and anything else that happens in a year.  So after two years abroad, why am I insane enough to put myself through saying goodbye again?

1.  Escape - A friend of mine once said that most expats are running from something, looking for something, or a combination of the both.  I've made a nice little scale to help you get the idea of what I mean.
Reasons most people become an expat.

Most people are somewhere in the middle of the scale, but there are those who are at either extreme.  (You know who you are creepies.)  When I decided to move to China in 2009 I was more on the "running away" side of the scale.  After I graduated college I had a full time job with benefits, an apartment, a truck, and a girlfriend.  I suddenly realized I was in the beginning stages of settling down.  Life was becoming too routine and I was too young.  I clearly wasn't ready for it and that's when I had what many people call a quarter life crisis.  The best cure was to travel.  After a year in China I hopped over to the "looking for something" side of the scale.  I didn't feel like I got all I wanted from China because I lived in a crappy area and China had it's problems that led to stress.  (Overpopulation, pollution, low quality of life, bad internet, low pay, babies pooping on the street.)  I stilled seriously enjoyed my time there but I needed to look for something that would be an upgrade in living conditions.  Answer: South Korea.  I love living in South Korea and found all I was looking for.  So why renew for another year?

2.) Travel - So I know living abroad seems like traveling, but it's really only traveling for a little bit at the beginning.  Then you get settled, start working regularly, and it becomes a home away from home.  However, I discovered another way to travel while living abroad: backpacking.  Backpacking involves putting everything into a large backpack, traveling all over by bus and train, and staying in cheap accommodation like hostels.  In my opinion it's the cheapest and most fun way to travel.  I've done the backpacking thing over winter breaks, but only for a few weeks each time.  So while I was in Malaysia last winter I spent a night talking to some guys who were in the middle of a year long backpacking journey.  The next day I was flying back to South Korea when it hit me like a predator drone: I want to go backpacking for an extended vacation!  I don't have the money now, but this next year in South Korea all of my focus is on traveling after my contract ends in August 2012.  I'm going to try to stretch my savings for at least 300 days.  So far I'm planning on going to Nepal, India, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.  The good thing about backpacking is that I don't have to plan too far ahead!
Put it on your back!
3.) Anxiety - So I've explained how I jumped over to the "looking for something" side of the scale, but I'm still doing a little running away.  Truth is that I'm in no hurry to move back to America.  I'm afraid of looking for a job in America.  The economy and job market sucks.  I'm afraid of not finding something for a long time and I'm afraid of getting a job that I will hate.  So instead I'm going to delay my inevitable return for almost two more years.  I'm going to save money doing something I like and then use those savings to accomplish a dream.  It's a difficult decision, but I can't think of another time in my life I'll be able to do something like this.