Good-bye, farewell, or whatever you call it

The packing was the hardest part, and that’s what started to scare her.

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She made the packing list weeks ago — a color-coded excel spreadsheet listing every single item she could possibly need in her move abroad. Separated by category, and with columns to certify bought and packed statuses, her list was, to say the least, comprehensive. The five days leading up to departure were filled with last-minute trips to buy extra toothpaste, tampons, and deodorant, and the nights were filled with Tetris-style packing as she tried her hardest to fit her life into three (too-small) suitcases whilst blasting K-pop in a last-ditch attempt to “condition” her brain for the Korean language (she can now proudly say she can understand ~7% of songs, although the words “time”, “love”, “now”, and “little” don’t add up to much of a story-line). She got to bed at a (semi) reasonable hour last night, amazing considering the amount of times she un-packed and re-packed her bags to eliminate extraneous items and arrange the contents in a semi-organized manner. The ride to the airport was mostly filled with anxiety about her bags being over the weight limit, and once that worry was lifted (one bag missed the 50 lb. mark by one pound — nice!), she felt instantly lighter. Hugging her mother good-bye at security was difficult, of course. She felt herself beginning to cry and so clung harder to her mom, not letting the embrace end until she felt her tears dry and her quivering lip be still. Although she would’ve loved his company, she was glad her father hadn’t been able to come to the airport as well, for sure knew that the two of them bidding her for well would have surely sent her over the edge into a catastrophe of tears and snot bubbles. No, separate good-byes were best. The good-bye to her beloved friend Lauren (who you might remember from a past blog post), a quick hug and the passing of some inside joke. The good-bye to her oldest brother, a phone call and quick “I love you”. The good-bye to her middle brother, another brief hug and a smirk. The good-bye to her father, multiple hugs throughout the morning and one final one before getting into the car, with a casual wave whilst backing out the driveway, the last she would see of him for a while. And of course, the good-bye with her mother, a too-short embrace (which, in reality, was at least 45 seconds long, but which felt a quarter of the length), a reminder about being safe, and a teary last wave as she made her way through the maze of security. Just imagining have to say good-bye to all of her closest people at once created a lump in her throat and brought tears to her eyes (in fact, she keeps taking breaks from writing this post to collect her emotions). She had no regrets about who she had parted with. She felt content with where she had left her relationships and how she was going to keep in touch. She felt objectively prepared for the emotional hardship that was to come.

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travel shirt, ’cause I always be stylin

After getting through security, however, (another obstacle inflating her anxiety — she was worried her carry-on would be too big or her camera equipment would be confiscated, two fears she noted as irrational as she was an experienced traveler and had never had issues in the past) she realized how stunningly easy all of her good-byes had been. An easy crier, she almost always had trouble holding back tears once she felt they were ready to flow. She had embarrassed herself countless times when she was younger, crying to teachers and supervisors and friends by accident out of pure frustration or confusion. She had learned to remove herself from emotional situations before the got the best of her (she even refused to watch certain movies or listen to certain music with friends, as she knew they would cause the floodgates to open). So she was surprised she didn’t spill a single tear during her goodbyes, emotional situations which she could simply not avoid. She wasn’t hungry, but grabbed a small sandwich anyway because she knew she needed to fill her empty stomach before the first leg of her journey. As she took bite after tiny bite of her chicken-and-cheese flatbread, the anxiety of packing and paying extra baggage fees out of the way, she started to miss her family and friends more and more. She began to wonder if, perhaps, her goodbyes had been so easy initially because they were going to become more difficult later on. She wondered if, once settled into her new home in Daejeon, a wave of homesickness, bigger than she had ever experienced whilst away at school or studying in Spain, would hit her and throw her into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety.

But, taking the last sip of water from her over-priced Cyrstal Geyser, she decided she wasn’t going to worry about that right now. She was, of course, dreading the 26-hour trip ahead of her (2.5 hour flight to Chicago, 1.5 hour layover, 13.5 hour flight to Beijing, 6 hour layover, 2.5 hour flight to Busan), but she was excited for orientation and for meeting new people and for tasting new food and for experiencing new culture and for, of course, simply being in the country that she had been interested in for so long. So, she threw her bottle away (why aren’t here more recycling bins around here?, she wondered), started one of the 15 new podcasts on her phone, looked out the window at the taxiing planes, and smiled into her new life for the next 365 days.

 

How much does it cost to apply to EPIK? (first person)

For those that are thinking about applying, are in the application process, or for those who are simply curious, the following is a list of what I’ve spent in order to move to South Korea to teach for the EPIK program:

Online TEFL course: $360 (I used this course)

CRC (federal-level background check): $18 (information can be found here)

CRC apostille: $8 (information can be found here)

Diploma notarization: $5/each; $15 total (I got two — one for EPIK, one for the private school jobs I was applying for, and one extra; my bank was a pain, so I went to UPS and my main man hooked me up)

Diploma apostilles: $15 (I got two as I was in the process of applying for private school jobs as well; information for Virginia residents can be found here)

Passport photos: $20 (I printed quite a few at Wal-mart — for applications, visa, ARC card, and potential uses in Korea)

Documents over-nighted to Korea round 1: $98

Documents over-nighted to Korea round 2: $50

E-2 visa: $45

Flight (Washington DC to Busan, one-way): $549.70

TOTAL: $1,178.70

I feel very, VERY lucky that my parents have paid for pretty much all of my expenses regarding South Korea so far, and I’m well aware that many people don’t have that luxury. Also be aware that this list does not include all the toiletries, clothes, shoes, and luggage that I’ve purchased in preparation for my year (or more) abroad. All that included, and the total would be pushing $2,000. PLUS, EPIK recommends that you bring at least $1,000 (USD) for your first couple of months in Korea before receiving your first paycheck. Whoo! That’s a lot of green. I’m sure those of you who have been working for several years prior to applying will have an easier time (as compared to the recent college grad writing this that was a bit frivolous in spending her money during undergrad), but three grand is a lot of money for anyone.

I’m still very excited for my big move and I’m very appreciative of the EPIK program. I know I’ll make all  the money back (and more) after several months of teaching (with some left over to pay off my school loans!), but shelling out all this money (er…I mean, my parents shelling out all this money) up front makes my little heart hurt.

 

Longing to be alone

“Hey! So I know I said that we would hang out this weekend but I actually picked up a couple of extra shifts so I don’t think I’m gonna be able to… ah god I know, I suck, I really want to see you! But I really need to work and if we hang out after I get off then I’m just gonna be so tired and I won’t be able to drink, so… but I definitely want to see you before I go!”

As Carly sent the message, she wondered if she made a mistake. It took her five minutes to draft up the two-sentence statement, and another thirty minutes to actually send it after a pacing session in her room. The days before Korea were slowly decreasing (24, but who’s counting?), and the chores to be done and items to be bought and paperwork to be filled out before leaving were piling up by the hour. Making time to spend quality time with friends before leaving felt like a hassle — a distraction from the truly pressing matters that needed to be taken care of. Friends could wait — a visa application could not.

 Of course her friends were important to her — and to be honest, she knew she’d be regretting avoiding them in a few months after settling into life in Korea and the homesickness began to set in — but secretly she was relieved every time an excuse like work or paperwork came up so that she could dodge their invitations and requests guilt-free. She’d always been an introvert, and the summer lifestyle  was a certain type of  bliss for her — no lectures in which to make small talk with classmates, no socially-mandated events at which to make half-hearted appearances, and, best of all, a room to herself — which she tried each year to cherish before the Autumn, and all it’s people-schmoozing glory, returned.

She threw her phone to the end of her bed and lay down on her back, staring at the ceiling fan with a missing bulb and the dangling basketball pull-chain leftover from her “I want to be a basketball player!” days. As she closed her eyes to escape the dizzying flicker of light from the blades of the fan, a giant brown mass appeared in her mind’s eye. It swirled and swayed, amoeba-like in its movements, and as it moved faster and faster, fragments began to break off. These fragments also swirled and swayed and spun, and after each fragment had made itself into a seemingly-infinite spiral, the colors grew brighter, and each fragment transformed itself into a face of one of her closest friends. She opened her eyes so she could roll them — could her brain be any more dramatic? She cared about her friends, and she knew that they cared about her, but the love that she felt for friends and loved ones was not a love that needed to be nourished by constant face-to-face contact. Of course she understood the importance of this type of contact, but she was perfectly capable of having very little contact with a friend for months – years, even – and still feel the same love she had always felt for them. She didn’t know if this ability was matched by her friends, however, and so, for not the first time that night, had second thoughts about blowing off her plans.

She wasn’t a hermit. She did enjoy spending time with her friends. A lot of times it was the preparation that was the hardest part — the getting dressed, the putting on makeup, the doing of the hair. More so, the commute to the meeting spot and the money she knew she’d have to spend on food and drinks and other miscellaneous 22-year-old goodies. Usually once she arrived and saw the familiar faces, she felt at (relatively) at ease and happy to be around those she cared about. There were times, however, that did not flow so easily and that served as examples (and excuses) for her “I don’t want to hang out with anyone” attitude.

You see her head was a very busy place. Impossible to turn off, impossible to escape. She had too much floating around in the ol’ noggin, and found it incredibly difficult to collect her thoughts and project them into one clear stream of consciousness. She’d learned to deal with this difficulty by having conversations and playing out realities in her head — her mind had become a television, broadcasting interviews, soap operas, talks shows, and sitcoms, all made of up characters from her everyday life and fake situations she pretended to control. But when she was around someone else, this person interrupted her mind shows and scrambled her thoughts again. The conversation didn’t flow like the ones in her head. She didn’t have as much time to think about her responses and the other person didn’t always respond the way she imagined they would. She being around people became anxiety-inducing and embarrassing. She criticized every moment of the interaction, even those interactions with her closest friends. She second-guessed every word and cringed at every reaction. The self-scrutiny became too exhausting for her, and she yearned to be alone again.

But she knew she would miss the company once she moved abroad. The hands she could hold, the laughs she could hear, the advice she could receive, the music she could share. She would miss the familiarity — the names she knew and the faces she loved. She had never lived alone (at least, not TRULY alone — she didn’t count her single dorm room during freshman year as she was surrounded by 30 other 18-year-olds within 50 yards) and she had never been abroad alone. She’d never been on vacation alone. She was known to see a movie alone and dine at a restaurant without company from time to time, but just hours later she would arrive home, to a house full of family or a college residence hall full of classmates. Throughout her senior year of college, the year leading up to the big move, she longed for the single studio apartment waiting for her in South Korea — the apartment without roommates or guests where she could spend hours alone doing whatever she pleased without being judged as a social pariah or accused of being minorly agoraphobic. She had, after too many parties and too many awkward interactions, convinced herself she was ready to be alone, but as each day passed she felt more afraid that she wouldn’t like it.

CYLMAC