First weeks in Korea in 2016 versus first weeks at new job in 2019
After a full day of snow and another of freezing rain, I got to work from home one day earlier this week. What a nice and calming atmosphere I painted for myself: working on photoshop and publishing ads on one computer, watching Terrace House, The Great British Baking Show, and Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix on the other computer, sitting on the floor, iced coffee on the table, all while it absolutely pours down freezing rain outside. It’s a day that I wouldn’t have been able to have about a year ago. I’ve been away from Korea almost a solid year after this month, but it still feels quite near in memory.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my first weeks in Korea, comparing it at all turns to my first weeks at this job.
Suffering through the million steps in the visa application process alone seemed almost impossible. I could probably manage it now, knowing what I know, but at the time my 22-year-old self could not imagine going through it alone. Having a recruiter or a company to work with for the first time really helps you manage all of the steps and smooth the way with schools and embassies alike. I navigated all that, working during the day and interviewing at night, mailing off my documents as quickly as I could manage.
Once all my documents were submitted, all that remained was packing and waiting for my visa to arrive back from the New York City Korean embassy. Except that … it didn’t arrive. I waited weeks, wondering what the holdup was. My school was relying on me to get my visa to purchase the flight out and start my training. Finally, I talked to my school director and she advocated for me to the embassy, even though she had to stay up until probably midnight to do it. The holdup was I’d included the wrong sort of envelope to ship my passport back, and for whatever reason, they had none of my contact information to tell me about this. I and the school reached some kind of absolutely insane arrangement. I would go pick up my visa by hand from the embassy, get back to my hometown, and ship out of the country the next day. NYC is about 4 hours by train from my hometown, so I did a daytrip to pick up my passport, visit the Met (on account of how much time I had before the embassy opened), grab dumplings with my friend, and then peace out that evening. I arrived home from the train station at 2am. We had to leave for the Philadelphia airport at 5am. It was an incredibly emotionally brutal stretch of my life.
I arrived to Korea on the last snow of the winter (in 2016). I remember looking at all the neon lights whizzing by the freeway and thinking, what kind of trouble have I gotten myself into now? My school didn’t have my apartment ready yet, so they had me set up at the love motel next to what would become my apartment building (a common practice among most hagwons). After they dropped me off at my room, I turned on some cartoons, ate some of my mom’s biscotti, and just flat-out sobbed. I’d never felt so alone in my life. I only say this to illustrate how much I miss it now, how far I’ve come since then.
Since I arrived so late, I got one whole day of training before I had to start teaching for real. Most of the other teachers had several days to learn, observe, and organize all of their supplies. As it was, it was quite the trial by fire, and every sound of high heels in the hall outside got my hackles up as if it were the vice-director coming to deliver notice of my firing and imminent deportation herself.
One of my coworkers told me to give myself about two weeks to flounder around and get things figured out. In reality it took closer to a month, until we had a full cycle of tests and exams to proctor and grade, before I was more comfortable with what I was doing. I never actually succeeded in logging into the school management software with my own login, I always used somebody else’s. It always felt a bit temporary to me, college-like, even though there are many who stay at the same school for 2 years or longer, if they find they like it.
The contrast between then and now is stark. I’m starting out in a new industry, one that I’ve given lots of thought to, but had little practice in, for 4 years since I graduated. In that time, doubts have been nonstop swimming through my head as to whether I was actually qualified to be in the marketing industry at all. That being said, I never had a teaching degree. (i do have a marketing degree) I don’t read teaching publications and critique lesson plans in my free time. (i do read marketing publications in my free time.. haha, nerd!!) Digital marketing is my favorite facet of the field, and I’m beyond excited to get to learn the most difficult social media marketing platform to stretch my mind and my abilities as much as possible. I’m actually being given plenty of time to learn and observe, which is great, because there’s so much to learn. My coworkers are patient and understanding, and I don’t have a boss who is looking for faults to try to pit one set of employees against the other.
Whether I actually have any talent for marketing, of course, remains to be seen, and I miss Korea every day, but I’m getting by. I’ve learned so much since my arrival three years ago in Korea, so I obviously wouldn’t trade that experience for the world, but I’m hoping I can use that time as a stepping-stone rather than a stumbling block, moving forward.