I can’t believe it is actually here but I am off volunteering and teaching kids in Kilimanjaro-Tanzania for the month! Don’t fret! I haven’t forgotten about you, readers! I have a lineup of some very talented and wonderful bloggers who will guest post for me while I am gone. The guest post series topic is on travel experiences OR adventures in volunteering locally or abroad to go with the theme of my volunteering & traveling adventures in Africa. I’ll be back before you know it with plenty of stories of my own, I’m sure! Enjoy!
My first guest post is from a fellow blogger whom I am lucky enough to have met IRL while she was in Chicago for the 20sb Summit last year. Abby Stewart is currently teaching in South Korea, just self-published her novela Menthol Kisses (which I am dying to read on my long flight!), and blogs at A Geek Tragedy. I LOVE this post about following travel dreams and learning about yourself. Easy for me to say, I am doing just that right now as I am in Tanzania volunteering!
I think junior high was the first time I ‘officially’ announced my desire to live in Asia. At the time my preferred destination was Japan. When my grandparents asked what they should tell my extended family to get me for Christmas, I replied: “Oh, anything to do with Japan.”
I received a VHS travel documentary about Hawaii. I’ve considered the obvious explanation, they are both islands. And the more nuanced one, perhaps the older generation, filled with World War II memories, was providing me with a subtle hint.
At any rate, I was not dissuaded. In high school I didn’t move toward this goal in any real way. I spent much of my time on Internet forums and pinning up anime pictures next to the dragon figurines around my desk (whatever — I was super cool). However, in college I took the first step toward making my dream a tangible reality.
Walking across the university courtyard I noticed a single booth set up with a banner that read JET. I knew immediately what that banner was for, The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. I walked past the booth twice, maybe three times, before finally approaching the booth’s solitary inhabitant and requesting an information packet. The guy seemed almost elated to speak with me, and I got the sense that he hadn’t spoken to many people that day. I, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved in my questioning. I didn’t want to seem over eager, after all.
I kept the JET packet sitting above my computer until I graduated. When I graduated, I moved the packet with me to my new apartment and my new job. It became a dusty, manila receptacle for my hopes and dreams.
Eventually, I figured I would never act on the packet — and it had to be out of date by that point anyway — so I tossed it. I felt nothing more than a soft flicker of guilt as I trashed the college artifact. But I had a lot going for me then — I had a job, a car, health insurance, a seemingly stable relationship, all the trappings of a successful “adult” life.
And then suddenly, I didn’t have any of that anymore.
After I lost my job, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt purposeless. Then, I realized what I should have been doing all along. I started doing Internet research and decided that I was finally going to move to Asia for a year to teach ESL. At first, I began researching jobs in China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand — I don’t quite remember how I settled on South Korea, but I’m glad I did. Then Jared (my boyfriend) told me he wanted to go with me, and so here we are!
We recently passed our six month mark in South Korea, and I’ve learned so much about myself. I am definitely not the same unemployed sad sack that I was last year. I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China, learned phrases in a previously incomprehensible language, successfully navigated public transportation (which doesn’t exist in Texas), and immersed myself in a culture I knew little to nothing about. Every day I teach (mostly) enthusiastic students how to read, write, and speak in English. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time here! And I am so thankful that I finally gave my dreams a chance.
My advice? If you’re thinking about traveling, teaching, volunteering, do it now. Do it while you’re young and impulsive and willing to take more risk. There’s nothing to regret, except never trying.
Bio: Abby is an indie author, blogger at a geek tragedy, and ESL teacher, living with her boyfriend, in Seoul, South Korea.