“I kind of feel like this is Year One and last year was Year Zero. It was such a unique situation that we walked into last season, it didn’t feel like your first year. I feel like right now, this is Year One.” -Derek Dooley, Head Coach, University of Tennessee.
Last November I started a little side-project, Dooleyisms, to chronicle and archive the often humorous, and always insightful, quotes of Coach Derek Dooley. I feel a strange sort of connection with this man I’ve never met, and not just because he’s the head coach of my favorite football team. No, I see my own struggles and that of my beloved football team as running nearly parallel lines. And I see Dooley’s methodical approach to righting the ship as inspirational, and as an approach I would like to emulate as closely as possible.
Last July, when I was seriously considering a move to Korea, I felt like I needed to hit the “reset” button on my life. I’m not going to beat this dead horse again about my decisions that brought me here less than one year ago, but now that I’m about to leave this job for seemingly greener pastures, I feel like Korea Poly School was perfect for Year Zero.
Sometimes, before we seek to improve ourselves, it is necessary to stop the bleeding. I had debt and bills to pay off, I had no long-term career goals, and I had not worked a 40-hour week in a professional environment in quite some time. I found my first few months in Korea therapeutic, and it helped me get to the right point in my life to be mentally prepared for the next steps forward.
So if my year(ish) at KPS was “Year Zero,” what have I learned and what should I expect of myself going forward?
- Problems do not disappear, they evolve: I noted early on that by coming here I had merely traded my professional struggles (i.e. unemployment) for personal ones (e.g. loneliness). It would be nice if life were that cut and dry, but it’s not. While I had a much better support network of friends in Milwaukee, I would be looking back on it with rose-tinted glasses to say that I was completely happy and satisfied. The lack of any meaningful relationships–both with friends and lovers–has moved to the forefront of my mind, but I have been failing in the latter department for quite some time (like since puberty). And on the professional side of the coin, merely being employed does not grant instant satisfaction. Certainly it was a nice change of pace at first, but gradually the euphoria of a new job wore off and I was left with some very serious questions and some regrets about taking this job in the first place. Which leads me to…
- Do your homework: I’ll be the first to admit that I never learned this lesson during grade school. While I did research this job, I should have dug deeper. Now, I’m not sure I would have ended up at a better situation, considering how I was flat-out lied to about the hours, but if I had started the job search earlier I could have given myself more options. This was a mistake I tried to not repeat when searching for my new job.
- Keep digging: I started looking for a new job in November, when news of the impending move came out. I had some close calls, including a particularly devastating one in December. I knew there were better jobs out there, and I was not going to settle for anything less. Ultimately, I was required to break my contract to do so, but I don’t believe anyone has ever put a price tag on happiness. I never gave up the search, and in the end that persistence paid off.
- Keep saving: I came to Korea with almost nothing other than my dog. Since then, I have put away close to $10,000 dollars. It’s still not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s better than being deep in the red. I need to continue living the way I have been, and continue to grow my bank account. I expect I will try to travel more than I have this first year, but I need to keep working toward my goals, and that includes saving much more.
- Expand my social network: Living abroad can be difficult, and I think having a dog has ended up being a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, she has been great during lonely nights and has always given me someone wonderful and happy to come home to. But on the other, I’ve had to be a bit of a homebody and forego many a night out with friends. My social circle in Korea has mostly consisted of friends living in different parts of the country; all Seoulite friends I’ve made have either left or gone M.I.A. Obviously moving to a new school with nearly 100 foreign teachers should help, but I’ll also need to make more of an effort to go out–even when I’m not in the mood.
- Redouble my efforts in Korean: This is still a top priority, although I was sidetracked from my efforts during this first year. I have no regrets about the lack of time or energy devoted to studying in this first year due to the time and energy constraints placed on me by KPS. Conversely, this is not a trend I can afford to continue. I think I will start with the reasonable goal of studying Korean three hours a week. With my new schedule (and non-existent commute), I will only have myself to blame if I fall short of my goals.
- Write, write, write: I’m proud of the job I have done with this website and the aforementioned Dooleyisms. It hasn’t been easy to force myself to write, especially in the last couple of months. However, it is therapeutic and it provides the side benefits of giving me experience and a nice little résumé builder. I will continue to produce material for my websites–and expand them where I see fit. I’ve also been in contact with 10 Magazine and Groove Korea, two English magazines, about contributing. Writing for either–or both!–would be a great development professionally, and hopefully open doors doors down the road.
Tomorrow, my “year” at KPS will come to a close, and Year One at Gyeonggi English Village will begin. I am as excited as I am nervous. Will I thrive in this environment, or be plagued by many of the same problems in the past? How will my problems evolve, and how will I deal with them? What will my new social circle look like, and how will I fit into the work dynamic?
None of these questions, fears, anxieties, or hopes will be answered tomorrow, but they will be soon enough. Coach Dooley likes to talk a lot about “The Process” of improvement: that is waking up each day to try to improve a little bit, and after the course of a year, there will be marked improvement overall. I can definitely say that I see improvement from my situation last year, and I hope I will be able to say the same thing at the dawn of Year Two.