Life After Korea: What’s next?

This is going to get honest and personal. You ready?

I have always had drive; simultaneously I have always lacked any clear direction. I have struggled with finding something that I feel truly passionate about, and therefore finding somewhere to channel my focus, my energies, and my talents.

In college, this uncertainty manifested in choosing a major. I toyed with the idea of majoring in Journalism, Education, or Family and Human Services, ultimately deciding that a Business degree was the most practical for someone like me—someone intelligent and hardworking, but with little clue what I wanted to do beyond the comfortable Eugene bubble. I did not let the uncertainty worry me too much, nor did I let it deter me from working my hardest. Ultimately, I graduated in four years earning concurrent degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. That sounds pretty good on a resume, right? But, alas, as June 2017 approached I was faced with the question: where do I want to go from here?

So, instead of making the big this is what I want to do with my life decision, I decided to bide my time doing something nerve racking and exciting, something I did not have the opportunity to do in college: I chose to travel. Meandering through countries with no timeline or agenda not being conducive to my type-A-leaning personality, I chose to apply for programs teaching English in Thailand.

Fearing idle hands, I simultaneously applied for jobs to fund my travels and to keep busy in Portland between my graduation in the spring and my fall departure date. A series of good timing and good people landed me a job at 10 Barrel Brewing, having never worked in a service or sales position before. Opportunities like this one are what encourage me not to stress too hard about the future; in this instance, things truly and unexpectedly fell into place. I ended up working in an energetic, usually fun and sometimes chaotic environment with people I truly enjoyed and whom I would never have met otherwise. Working at 10 Barrel influenced my development as a person, a patron, and a teammate. This story would be incomplete without mentioning that 10 Barrel is also where I met Joey, the man who would become my partner in all future adventures.

10 Barrel Days. | Portland, OR
10 Barrel Days. | Portland, OR 

In many ways, I am a perfectionist. Things that other people deem unimportant do not warrant less effort put in to them. I remember loving when we got a new order of retail at 10 Barrel. I liked the satisfaction that came from working in the back, folding and organizing shirts in the tiny retail room—a thankless job that no one ever really sees. I took pride in knowing, when I was out in the pub, whether or not we had something in stock, and, if we did, where it was. This job was unimportant to many; most people were perfectly fine throwing the boxes in the back and digging through them when the time came to find something. I love efficiency and this was not good enough for me!

And then I moved to Thailand. In Thailand I was forced to adapt, to relax, to loosen the reigns on my need for efficiency—to just be. The lifestyle of teaching there facilitated immense personal growth in a very short period of time. My experience sparked an interest in traveling to new places and experiencing new cultures (and foods!), an interest I hope to continue cultivating in the future. I learned how to be self-sufficient, to communicate with others in ways that transcend spoken language, and, in everything I do, to remember to smile and be kind. Thailand taught me the value of stepping out of my comfort zone.

Just be. | Thailand (2019)

I came back to Portland with no more clarity about a future career path than before I left. I wanted to travel more, to live abroad somewhere new. So again: I worked at 10 Barrel, I saved money, I enjoyed a lifestyle where the delineation between work and leisure blurred. I was still not ready to face the big question, the what do I want to do with my life? decision. So, I avoided it again. I moved to South Korea.

Korea has been the most challenging year of my life. The magic I felt in Thailand has been sacrificed to a much more rigid social and educational system: I am a number that must be accounted for. Here, I have experienced for the first time what it feels like to work towards the weekend. The most rewarding part of my week happens on Mondays: 30 minutes with the excitable, curious kindergarten students. The rest of the week I struggle to feel endeared by disinterested teenagers and their misbehaving juniors.

That being said, it is not so much that I dislike teaching as it is I hate the time in between. After the initial time it took to get the hang of managing multiple grade levels and lesson planning, my job requires a lot of desk-warming, sitting, staring at a computer screen; ultimately, I spend most days watching the clock.  I have realized how dissatisfied I am with the feeling of being idle. I value my time, and I want others to value it, too. In addition, I miss having a supportive community of coworkers. Working as a “traveling teacher” at three schools a week, I am very obviously the outsider everywhere, and my foreignness only underscores that fact.

A recent episode of Hidden Brain got me thinking deeply about my circumstances. I am getting paid to sit around and do nothing most days. My culture tells me that is a good deal, a win: something for nothing! And while this is true—and likely an enviable position to someone juggling multiple jobs and a full course load right now—my experience has taught me something valuable about myself: I thrive when I am busy. I am more productive, and in turn I really value my down time when it is limited. Binge-watching a Netflix season is actually not that fun when you have the time to do it. Korea has shown me a lifestyle that I do not want; it has been perspective-shaping.

Kindergartners: the highlight of my week. | Jeoksang, South Korea
Kindergartners: the highlight of my week. | Jeoksang, South Korea

This past year I have focused my energies on personal growth. I set goals, and I have accomplished (or partially accomplished) many of them. I have had the time to explore new areas of interest to me, reading books, listening to podcasts, and traveling a bit. One specific interest has been focusing on living a more sustainable life, and making choices that positively impact the environment; I hope to pursue this more in Portland. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to travel to and fall in love with a new country: Japan. I have learned that part of experiencing new places and cultures is that you connect with some much more than with others.

As another year passes, I have realized that the “a-ha” moment I was waiting for in college will likely never come. It will continue to be a process of trial and error to figure out exactly what it is I want to channel my energy into. I know these things to be true: I want to make a difference; I want to feel fulfilled; I want to make a lasting impact on others; I want to be able to support myself financially; I want to enjoy work, not run from it.

I have accepted that I might not find the perfect fit immediately. However, I am ready and excited to be back in Portland, and with that I am ready to face the question: What do I want to do now? Maybe not forever, but in this next chapter of my life.

So, to those of you who have read all the way to the end I ask: now what do I do? Any ideas, support, opportunities or connections would be greatly appreciated. I am choosing to embrace this next chapter as an adventure, putting myself out into the world and seeing what the world returns.

Also, I will be back in Portland May 2020: hit me up, friends.

Looking hard into the future. | Bali, Indonesia (2018)

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