2010: A Retrospective

A Primer
With the full realization that the New Year is, by in large, completely arbitrary, I believe it is nevertheless important to look back at where I was a scant one year ago. All to often we get caught up with resolutions and goals for the upcoming year without first looking back at the last.

As I eluded to in my last post, I’ve been a bit down as of late. This begs an important question–particularly in relation to where I was at this point last year–“Why?”

To paraphrase the oft-used politician’s question, “Am I better off now than I was one year ago?” The question isn’t as straight forward as it might seem, and yet, the answer is clearly a resounding “Yes.” I’m gainfully employed, living in a place I want to be (no offense, Milwaukee), and I have direction in my life. All of these are marked improvements over last year, no doubt.

Yet, I feel like my current malaise is directly related to self-improvement. When I made the decision to move back to Asia, I suddenly had somethings that I hadn’t had in a long time: hope and expectations. These are great things–don’t get me wrong–but they come with strings attached. Due, in part, to the constantly-changing work conditions that I have been subjected to, it has been difficult to find any sort of routine in my new life. And with the lack of routine, I have found it impossible to work (at least on a regular, consistent basis) toward one of my biggest goals: learning Korean. So my expectations must either be muted or deferred, and that has been difficult to deal with, especially since I was so eager just a scant few months back.

Furthermore, it seems ol’ Sydney has been a bit of a double-edged sword for me in Korea. She provides me companionship and joy on a daily basis, but she has diminished my ability to explore the country and meet new friends. Being more of a “home body” is good on many levels, but not always. My dog is great, but I hope she has not been too much of an impediment to finding human companionship.

Early 2010: Aiming High and Low
I guess I have meandered off-topic. The present has a nasty habit of rudely intruding into the past and future. At this point last year, I really had no idea what to do. I was sending out applications and resumes left and right, almost always into the abyss of the Internet, never to be seen or heard from again. I aimed high on several occasions, most notably to the State Department and Nashville Teaching Fellows. I came up short in both, how short, I’ll never know. In both, I progressed past the crucial first step; with the Teaching Fellows, I made it as far as the wait-list. To quote Top Gun, “There are no points for second place.”

I aimed low as well. The lowest point, without question, was when I applied to work at a dog-grooming/coffee shop joint called Community Bark. When the manager turned me down, he told me he was looking for someone with “More barista experience.” To his credit, at no point did the University of Tennessee teach me how to make a latte.

During the early part of 2010, a thought did flutter across my mind. What if I go back to Asia? I could at the very least get my feet back on the ground, and I knew they were always hiring. However, the thought seemed impractical, particularly with my dog. I quickly dropped the idea when I landed a job with the Census.

Mid 2010: Counting the People and the Days
Thankfully, this lengthy stint as one of the unemployed masses happened in a year ending in “0.” From what I could tell, the U.S. Census Bureau was willing to hire just about anyone with a pulse. Sometimes, I even wondered about the pulse requirement. Regardless, it began just as my unemployment benefits were running out. The timing couldn’t have been better. I was hired as an “Enumerator” (AKA “The guy knocking on your door and asking you all of those annoying questions”). I actually really enjoyed the work, despite my occasional run-in with paranoid psychopaths. I was quickly promoted to “Crew Leader Assistant” and then “Crew Leader” shortly thereafter.

Among those I managed, the widespread ineptitude was truly baffling. This was oddly comforting, as I knew that these were the same folk I would soon be competing with for other jobs. I would say the strangest aspect of working for the Census was the knowledge that every survey we completed was one survey closer to being unemployed again. To put it bluntly, it was a little hard to stay motivated.

With the Census winding down, I was once again at a loss of what to do next. I had been continuing to search for jobs and send out resumes throughout my tenure with the Census that summer, but I only heard crickets in response. One day, during another frustrating job search, I checked Dave’s ESL Cafe on a whim. I had decided if I were ever teach abroad again, I would do so in Korea, so I looked at few posts.

Late 2010: The Unlikely Return to Asia
To my amazement, all of the schools were including flights to Korea in their contracts. All of them. And not just “we’ll reimburse you at some point in the distant future” like many ESL jobs, they were offering to pay up-front. This point alone nearly had me packing my bags. I quickly did an Internet search and discovered that I could, in fact, bring my dog to Korea. Without hesitation, I sent an application to a company about a job.

In mere moments, I received a phone call from a Korean woman. After all of these months of fruitless searches, I could land a job in Korea in a matter of minutes. With this, I actually did some research and came across Korea Poly Schools, my current employer. The recruiter enthusiastically informed me that I could bring my dog, and within a week, I had a job.

The next month and a half went by in a blur. It was stressful, and exciting, and sad. I managed to get back on unemployment before I left, hopefully for the last time, ever. I sold my car, packed my things, stressed about Sydney and how she would handle the flights (or, whether she would even be allowed on at all). I said good-bye to friends and family, and I was on my way.

Coming Full Circle
Maybe I should have titled this section “The Yin and Yang of Japan and Korea.” When I left my mom in Atlanta to go to Japan four years ago, it was a bright, sunny, and typically hot Southern day in July. My largest possession was an overstuffed duffel bag, and I wore a suit. We hugged, and mom cried, and when she was gone, I fought to hold back a tear as well. I had just graduated, and I was leaving behind a girlfriend, and two intact families. At that very moment I thought, “What the fuck am I doing?”

When my dad dropped me off in Chicago, it was a dark, cool, predawn morning in the Midwest. My largest possession was a 45-pound pooch, and I only packed the clothes I could fit in my hiking backpack. I had the same large duffel bag as well, but it was mostly filled with dog food and treats. I wore khakis and a polo shirt. We hugged, and both of us, I think, were holding back a tear. I had just spent the two most difficult years of my life, wondering when, and then if, it would ever end. Both of my families were now shattered. But life goes on, and at no point since my departure have I asked myself what I was doing.

And therein lies the biggest difference: now, I know.

3 comments for “2010: A Retrospective

  1. NavyVolDoctorPerson
    January 11, 2011 at 10:58

    Very well written, Zach. I miss our conversations that always seemed to begin with heady political banter of the day and always seemed to end with a discussion of all things orange. I hate that you have struggled to find routine or companionship over there, and had I the means I would be making regular visits. Best of luck with all things in the future (both near and distant), and keep these posts coming!

    -Rhett (aka Rufflepuff)

  2. King Zach I
    January 13, 2011 at 01:42


    Thanks, buddy. I too miss our banter, but I know we're both busy working toward better futures. I take great solace in that, and the knowledge that we will be in better places when we finally get to sit down for a cold beer one day.

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