The start of an unexpected journey (no I’m not a hobbit)

I suppose like they sing so effervescently in the Sound of Music,”Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”

Indeed, perhaps the most appropriate way to get this series started on this first Monday of January in 2015, is by rewinding to January in 2008, when this unexpected journey began.

Before launching head first into an account of some of the interesting tidbits I have experienced since I moved here nearly 7 years ago, I think it’s important that I recall exactly how this whole thing came about in the first place.

I call this an unexpected journey because contrary to what many people may believe about my move to Korea, it was not something that was fated, it wasn’t something that I spent years planning for, there was no hardcore research, there wasn’t a moment in my life where I watched a Korean drama series and thought, A-HA! I’m moving to Korea. I didn’t have any real close Korean friends at home that turned me onto Korean culture or lifestyle. The truth is, my move to Korea came about purely by chance and through the encouragement of a friend of mine.

I see a lot of parallels to the way I moved here with a lot of other foreigners that I’ve met here. Rarely have I met a foreigner living here who says that they’ve been dying to move to Korea for a while. But this seems to be changing, as K-Pop and K-Dramas are becoming more popular, far more popular from when I first moved here, the Korean wave is starting to entice many more foreigners here. For me, I knew absolutely nothing about any of this before coming here.

You see, at the beginning of 2008, I was at a crossroads in my life. I had graduated from university a couple of years prior to that, and I was living in a very rundown flat in Greenlane with some of my besties, and to be honest I was having a right royal blast. Drinking each weekend, barely making it to work each day. Going out to A-way every Thursday night, Family bar on the weekends, I was working basically to party. At this point in time, I had given up on graduate studies. Something serious had happened to me in 2007 that I don’t know how to describe exactly.

At the conclusion of my undergraduate degree, it seemed as if the whole world and my future was laid out in front of me. I got accepted into the honours program for Political Science, won a couple of academic excellence awards, I was elected to National Boards for student representatives and I had built a rather good reputation at the University of Auckland. Despite being in this solid position academically, and future career trajectory it seemed, my personal life wasn’t exactly in the best shape. And it all began to unravel in 2006-2007.

For one thing, my vision got worse, to the point where doctors in NZ said that I was probably going to lose my vision completely at some stage. Another problem was finances, I don’t come from a family that has any form of wealth. My mum was a solo mother. Going to university for me meant the opportunity cost of a full-time wage, as well as racking up debt just to survive. And despite working the entire time while at university, I couldn’t seem to shake off any form of substantial personal debt that was being exacerbated by student loans, living costs and poor spending habits and choices. In the end the pressure got to me, and looking back now, I can say that I was mentally probably living with some form of depression at the time.

I think that I was unaware of how serious my condition really was because I was around people who always were my clutch points. They kept me going by making sure that I was ok. It’s amazing what a great support network of friends and family can do. But inside I wasn’t ok, it was obvious by the fact that I had gained somewhere in the range of 40kilos since I began university. I was always a heavy kid, but my weight had never been so bad before. And I didn’t seem to think it was such a big deal, and people around me never made it out to be a big deal.

In the end, I did what young kids who think they’ve grown up and matured do, when really they’re still living with unresolved personal issues from their past, and they don’t really know how to deal with life’s trials and tribulations constructively yet. I sought out instant gratification.

Instead of planning for a future, I took things to the extreme and lived a life that was both reckless and irresponsible, yet, it was exciting and heady all in the same breath. Basically, although I never got into drugs, alcohol and tobacco were my poisons. I was living in search of the next high. The next way to numb the feeling of impending failure, I ended up dropping out of graduate school altogether, let my health deteriorate even further, and my family were powerless to do anything because I hid most of what was going on from them. Not only did I hide it, I also refused to listen to anything anyone was saying. I don’t know how my sisters were able to deal with me at that time, or my Mum for that matter.

I flirted with going to work full time, considering the fact that I had to try and do something about my financial woes, and I think the breaking point for me was when I applied for a job that I knew that I was qualified to do, working for the Auckland City Council as a democracy assistance. It was exactly up my alley, but I knew something was not right with me, After that interview I began to realize that I wasn’t who I used to be, because I completely bombed the interview. Talking to people had always been my strong point, I’ve always been an eloquent speaker, I’ve always had the confidence in my abilities to say that I am worthy of something and actually have the integrity to mean it. This time I fell horrifically short, and I had never bombed anything like that so badly before. I began to wonder if really I was as great as I had always thought I had been. And this just continued to fuel my downward spiral, I began to look toward my future with pessimism and started to downscale my dreams and aspirations.

Which leads me to the beginning of 2008, when I was sitting on the stairs of our Greenlane flat having a cigarette. It was an ordinary summer evening in Auckland. The neighbourhood was quiet, and the familiar sounds of crickets plying their vocal prowess against the star dotted skyline rang out all around me. I remember sitting on the concrete steps, the steps that I had only a weekend before fallen down during another drunken party that we had hosted, while wearing some tired as golden glittery heels, (don’t ask) when I was suddenly made aware of a car pulling up our driveway.

I recognized the car, it was a friend of mine whom I had met at university during my first and second year when I became involved with the Pacific Island Students’ Association. This person was someone I least expected to remain friends with when we first met. We were diametric opposites in terms of disposition and interests, but life has a way of throwing people together from different walks of life for a common purpose. And so it was really fate that we would remain good friends to this very day.

My friend came bearing news that she and another one of our other friends had been offered a contract to work in Korea for a year teaching English via a recruiter friend of a friend (How Polynesian of us!). And she asked me if I was interested in doing the same thing. She described to me what the contract looked like, explained how I could save money, get away and do my OE at the same time.

If she had asked me this 2 years earlier, I would have most certainly had turned her down. 2 years earlier my world was New Zealand and Samoa, and my future was undoubtedly rooted there in my observance. But the intervening years from 2006-2008 had been somewhat of a watershed in my life. I felt stuck in New Zealand. It seemed to me that my life was now written in stone. That I would join the daily grind, work 9-5 and keep working till one day I would retire and eventually spend my final years living on a state pension and wither away toward the afterlife.

It may have been just a contract that she was offering me the chance of pursuing, but the truth was, I didn’t know it at the time, what she was throwing me was actually a lifeline, The move to Korea turned out to be the Universe’s way to tell me not to give up on my dreams and aspirations and not accept mediocrity. I had never been mediocre before in my life, so why start now?.

It was from February 2008 that I began to prepare the paperwork to move to Korea. And it wasn’t until late May that my visa came through because of a whole host of ridiculous issues with New Zealand Post that I would rather not get into. They lost my degree and said they didn’t know where it was or how to trace it. Anyway, there were times I thought that I would not actually see the path to Korea through. I nearly gave up on the process, but I persevered and finally I was able to get on a plane on the 5th of June 2008 to Seoul Korea via Singapore on Singapore Airlines.

The rest as you will see, is a wonderful history.


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