A Day in the Life

I’ve often compared living abroad to being an alcoholic: you have to take things one day at a time. There are great days. GREAT days. Days where you are just amazed at all the sights and sounds and new experiences and new friends. And there are bad days. BAD days. Days where you are lowered into the depths of despair, frustration, and loneliness.

The ups and downs of life are often difficult to deal with under “normal” circumstances, but while abroad these can be amplified by a factor of 10. Wednesday was a great day. Friday? Not so much. Here’s what I wrote following my first day of actually teaching:

September 1, 2010


While waiting for the train to arrive at Cheonho Station after work, I felt something akin to a runner’s high. I was exhausted but felt surprisingly good. Now, we’ll see how my body holds up to the grind of a 10+ hour day, every day, for a year, but for now, I feel great. When I first found out the schedule, I had a certain sense of dread stemming from my own self doubt. Could I do this for a year? Could I continue studying Korean? Could I accomplish what I came here to do, or would this just be a repeat of Japan? Could I become one of the “Midnight Runners?”*

Of course, all of these questions can be answered by none other than me. The key is to keep a positive outlook and remind myself on a daily basis that this experience is about one thing and one thing only: self improvement. Self improvement is inherently painful, but necessary. Let the little annoyances go, and get as much joy as humanly possible from the little pleasures.

So in light of these doubts, why am I so happy after completing just one day? I think more than anything it represents a change: I’m not going to be working to merely survive, but to thrive. I have my much-needed stability, something that was unimaginable prior to landing this job. I can put the past behind me, worry about today while thinking of the future, and become a creature of habit. I wake up, walk the dog, eat, go to work, come home, let the dog out, blog, study Korean, go to sleep. The simplicity is beautiful. My energy goes into my work, my self-improvement, and my dog. Right now, this is just what I need.

*A wonderful euphemism for those who break contract one night after work, and are on a plane home before the next work day.

Great, right? I had answered many of my own self-doubts; I realized this was a job I could do, despite the exhaustion. I was even surprised at how the exhaustion felt good.

So then yesterday rolls around, and it was a tough pill to swallow. I had been told I would be moving into my permanent place on Thursday, only to have the rug pulled out from under my feet due to a pesky typhoon. Or so I was led to believe. On Friday I learned that a new guy, fresh off the boat, moved into the apartment that had been set aside for me. I had been taking the apartment situation with a very easy going “Whenever it happens, it will happen” attitude, but that changed abruptly with this most recent development. I had been flat-out lied to, and now the consequences of not having a permanent place, namely limited access to Internet and the more intangible “settling in” aspect bothered me much more than it had before.

By lunchtime, my glands had swollen and I had a sore throat. Uh-oh. I tried to rationalize it, “Oh, my throat is probably sore from talking in class all week.” I was feeling OK for most of the day, and was looking forward to a staff dinner with all of my new coworkers. I couldn’t go straight from work because I had to let my dog out. Although I had no idea where this place was, a coworker said he would meet me back at the school in an hour and go to the restaurant together. “Great!” I thought. I get back to the school an hour later, the doors are locked, the lights are out, and the dude is nowhere to be found. And my throat is really starting to hurt. So I take the train back home, pissed off, take an Advil Cold and Sinus and pass out.

Today is a new day, and despite feeling like crap, I think I’ll explore the city later. While I started this blog with a Beatles reference, I’m feeling strangely compelled to leave you with a newer reference. Or a New Wave reference. The coffee shop I’m sitting at is called “Take On Me,” so without further ado…

When abroad, you have to enjoy the little things.

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