Saturday, October 11, 2014


Hartseer. In Afrikaans it means sad or brokenhearted. Regardless of the meaning, it's one of my favorite words in the language just because of the way it's pronounced.

Ek is hartseer. I am brokenhearted, and here is why. I've been extremely blessed throughout my life that I've been able to accomplish most of my dreams. Once I decide on something then I try my best to make it happen. Ok, so maybe getting married at 24 didn't happen. Neither did moving to Ireland. And then there was that time in New Zealand where I wanted to marry a Kiwi and stay forever…
I did say most.

But it turns out that moving to South Africa isn't happening either. It's easiest to tell the reasons why in this ever so efficient timeline.

February 2014: Email the English department in Stellenbosch. Receive a response in three days from the MA coordinator saying to send them a CV and thesis proposal.

May: Receive acceptance from the department. I was then told to apply to the university which, "will just be a formality."

June: Receive an email from the Postgraduate International Office (PGIO) saying to resend the e-transcripts from my undergrad school. They had problems downloading it.
Throughout the next three months I exchanged over 15 emails with the PGIO about the transcript and sent a total of 7 transcripts, each costing $7.75.

August: Finally have a friend at the department intervene, and transcripts are in.

At this point, I've started the study visa process and it is daunting. Much more difficult than my Korean one. They need bank statements. They need proof of financial stability. How much money do you need to have? Can I work as a student? Calls and emails to the embassy were useless as no one could give me a clear answer. Many times their answer was contradictory to what the embassy website stated. When I brought that to their attention their response was usually an extremely frustrating "I'm not sure then." You're not sure if I can work as a student?! I need to know this. I don't have enough saved up for all of my tuition and living expenses for two years.
Every question I had only ended in no answers and more questions. My patience with the country and the university was wearing out. Emails went unanswered. Nobody knew who I should contact for this or that. I needed answers. Soon. I was planning on leaving in 6 months. The wait just to get the FBI fingerprints required for the visa was 8-10 weeks according to their website. The visa was another 6 weeks. Doors were starting to close. Nothing NOTHING was working out. I was wracked with anxiety and doubt. I began to doubt if this was what I was supposed to do. South Africa had been my dream for two years now, but...
I started making backup plans, and my anxiety started to leave.

September: Receive an email from the English dept saying that the PGIO wasn't accepting a degree from my undergrad university. In their eyes it was equivalent only to three years of a degree. I could go and get my Honours first and then enter their MA program. How sweet of them.
The MA coordinator and I were very perplexed by this and he made contact with them to challenge their decision. This had never happened before. My university was accredited by the same people who accredited big name schools in the south AND my undergrad and Stellenbosch have a study abroad exchange partnership. So. Much. Confusion. He was convinced they had made a mistake. One week later I get an email. They didn't make a mistake. He tried to get me to come first and do my Honours and then come to the MA after. He talked it up quite a bit. It meant three years instead of two. I sent my answer.

And I feel strangely ok. Ek is hartseer because South Africa had been on my heart for two years. I had learned Afrikaans, read SA literature, had three news apps on my phone. I knew what was going on in Parliament, I craved their food, and I cheered for the Springboks Rugby team. So when one family member asked me this summer, "Do you even know what's going on in SA right now?" Umm…yeah. I do. I wanted it to be my home for a bit. I wanted to stare at that African sunset again. To do life with my friend Amy who had already started looking at flats for us. I was planning trips to Namibia and reading my way through my thesis reading list. So much of my life was being spent towards this dream. Then, suddenly, it was gone. Doesn't hartseer encapsulate all of this so well?

But with this hartseer there is also vrede. Peace. The Lord has been faithful and made other doors open wide. A law changed in Korea, and now I can stay at my uni one more year without having a masters. I applied and have been accepted to a school in the states, so I'll take online courses until I move home in February 2016 and finish that in December inside a classroom. Now, I get to save up quite a chunk of money, graduate grad school with no debt (who does that?!) and travel some more.

South Africa is always on my heart. It has been since I first went there in 2006. While, there are fears for this next year and this major change, I have peace that God has put me upon this path, that was so different than the one I had planned, for a very good reason. And I will do what I said I would do from the very beginning: I will go where you lead. I will trust. It's all I have. It's all I need.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Corn Fields, Coke, and Summer

In childhood, summer meant long nights and tall corn fields, watching out for snakes, day trips to the beach and family vacations. When I was a teenager it meant, making summer reading lists hours lawn mowing, softball tournaments in faint worthy heat, part time jobs, getting a tan, and weekly beach sojourns. For the most of my life summers have been beaches, tans, and glass bottled Cokes. My sister, cousins, and I swim in the ocean and time the lyrics to "Part of Your World" to great big ocean swells so they could lift us up just as they do Ariel in "The Little Mermaid." So what if we did that even into adult hood? I regret nothing. I always remember summers as being relaxing. That weight of school and life was gone, melted away like nearly everything else in that southern sun. 

Living abroad for the past three summers meant that I craved that kind of summer again. I needed that idle family time where we walked on the shore after a heavy supper. I needed to ride in cars with the windows down, singing until I was hoarse, and I needed to sit on the front porch swing while summer thunderstorms rolled through. But living abroad for so long also meant that things had changed. Summers weren't so idle anymore. We couldn't pack up and drive to the beach for a day carrying only a towel, a book, and a Coke. New additions to my family and my friend's families meant that we needed an hour to get ready for the beach and 6 kinds of SPF were required. (I'm not knocking this. I wear SPF everyday now because I'm terrified of wrinkles.) Disney lyrics were replaced with "no, don't eat the sand, yes that's a bird, I don't know why fish can't swim in the sky." Walks after supper were overrun by bath time, and bed time rituals. Trips to the bar or late night alcohol runs couldn't take place because there was a small person that needed us more. 

The changes were overwhelming. I myself had changed, and, yet, so had everyone else. It was an adjustment summer, a get-reaquainted summer, an introduction into adulthood summer. And I think for any parent or single person, such as myself who has many friends with children, has this realization that summers can't be like the ones of our childhood anymore. That kind of realization can be hard to swallow sometimes, and it can be extremely difficult to adjust, but I didn't have time to bemoan my lost childlike summers. I only had a month with my family before I was gone again. So I helped pack (and use) 6 kinds of sunscreen. I stayed in on Saturday nights to help friends put their kids down, and then talk about husbands and children over glasses of wine. And soon enough I had a different kind of realization, summers will always be just what they ought to be.  I ate cold watermelon, swung on the porch swing, rode shotgun in hot trucks beside boys with sea air and cigarette smoke wafting through open windows. I shopped at farmer's markets and laughed with friends over coffee and wine. I still made a summer reading list. I still worked on my tan. I had idle family time. 
There will always be tall corn fields, glass bottled Coke, and salty sea air summers. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What to Expect When the Expat Visits

It's a strange time, when the expat visits. She looks mostly the same. She sounds a bit funny. Did she always talk like that? What do I act exactly? Don't worry. I have a list.

What happens when the person in your life who lives over seas comes home? How should you prepare? What sort of ready proofing of the mind should you undertake?
In truth you cannot actually prepare for such an oncoming storm. However, you can know what to expect.


1. Do not insist that she doesn't have to take her shoes off when she enters your home. It will only cause her intense anxiety. Allow her to take them off at the door and don't look at her strangely. Really, it'll make her feel better.

2. She most likely will start her sentences like this, "When I was in…", "In (enter country name)…". Yes, she's become that friend.

3. If you really like a piece of jewelry or clothing item she's wearing and ask where she got it, don't be upset when her answer doesn't include a store close by, as in not even the same country.

4. Be patient when she searches for the right expression or word to respond to something. She doesn't get to practice her English skills as much as you. She's forgotten words and…stuff.

5. Along those same lines, be patient when she speaks in a different language. She might not realize it. Gently remind her that you have no idea what the hell she said. Her accent might be off as well. Oh, and her speech will be slow. She teaches ESL for a living. It's her job to speak slowly.

6. Do not be surprised if she hasn't seen that movie/tv show, heard of that band or their music and no, she might not know that song.

7. She will marvel at electric ovens, dryers, the vegetable and fruit sections of the store, and other sorts of sorcery. (Long hours will be spent in the veg and fruit section at the grocers.)

8. The lack of a bell (around the :55 second mark) at the table of restaurants will frustrate her. You people actually wait for the waiter?! Nonsense. Complete nonsense.

9. She might get upset at you for not running the red light. I mean…no one is coming.

10. Do not say anything along the lines about Asian kids being well behaved, and never ever say "ching chang chong" or anything close to it. Punching is an acceptable response to such ignorant things.

11. Things such as fresh air, blue skies, larger breeds of dogs, cute little neighborhoods with grassy yards, thunderstorms, Target, clothes and shoes that she can try on, and black coffee might move her to tears of exquisite happiness. It's the simple things in life. I cannot stress this enough.

12. It will actually puzzle/relieve/upset her as to why no one is staring at her.

13. She carries toilet paper with her everywhere. She's not used to bathrooms having toilet paper stocked.

14. Before she takes a shower she'll ask if the hot water is turned on. Where she lives it's only on if you push the hot water button.

Overall, the most important thing you can do for the expat in your home and amongst your ranks, is to be patient. She's going to experience reverse culture shock. What you think is her home, hasn't been her home in 2.5 years. Rice paddies, kimchi, chopsticks, cute Korean people with their horrid coffee, buses, and hangul are her life. Expect differences. Expect confusion. Expect an excitement (read OVERJOYED feeling) to be home, yet an out of place feel that she can't explain.

Hand her a good cup of coffee or a glass of sweet iced tea, and sit down to have a chat with the expat in your home.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Take a Look. It's In a Book.

Ok, who finished that post title by singing the Reading Rainbow theme song? If you didn't, get out. Just leave.


I remember the moment it happened; that moment my life absolutely and irreversibly changed. I was sitting in my dorm room, sophomore year. I shared a room with three other girls, and it was one of those rare moments when I was alone. I was failing chemistry. I was going to be on academic probation. I hated majoring in Biology and it obviously hated me (that bitch), but now I sat in my empty room, crying, because I'd just come to the realization that I would have to change my major. I wanted to so badly, but so much of me felt weak and lost in that decision. I was a quitter with that change of major, and even worse, I had no idea what I was going to study.
I had to call my parents earlier that day to tell them that their daughter was an absolute failure, and the required chemistry class was kicking my ass. And as I sat there in my room I remembered my dad saying, "Do something you love." I hated hearing it at the time because I thought it didn't help, but a 20 year old in a dirty dorm room doesn't have many options so, she listened to her dad and gave herself a pep talk.

Ok, Jennifer. Calm the hell down. No, stop chatting on AIM. Focus. What do you love? What are you good at? Stop crying! You have to be good at something. No, reading isn't a major. WAIT. Yeah it is.

The next day, I went to the English department with my change of major form. The assistant said oh so sarcastically, "You're the third bio major we've had today." Well I'm so glad I have started a movement. Anarchy is sure to follow.

I've loved reading since always and it can get to an unhealthy level at times.
For example:

  • Book quotes don't work like movie quotes. You can't use them in conversation. I learned this the hard way.
  • Comparing men to Mr. Rochester, Henry Tilney, and Mr. Darcy is just…crazy. I don't still do that. No way. Of course not.
  • Telling your friends that Mr. Rochester is your ideal man. That dark, mysterious, byronic hero totally does it for you. The stares you get with that answer.
  • When you throw a book across a room or you sobb uncontrollably and your mom comes running in, "what's wrong?!" only for you to reply "DOBBY DIED!" Crap. Spoiler alert.
  • I refused to accept a world where people don't dress in period clothing, give sonnets to lovers, or go a wizardry school. It's just not fair.

Seriously, I let books control my emotions far too much ,and you shouldn't even look at me, much less engage with me, when a character has died or my favorite book has ended. I'm just not in a good place for social interactions.

From words and punctuation come worlds and people, friends and lovers, and it's all mine to discover. Their dialogue bounces around in my head in the voices I've imagined for them. A complete escape into something that's deeply personal for both the author and the reader. My books are a comfort to me. I find peace and adventure and a much needed break from mundane existence within them. Sadly, they're all boxed up in America right now. But I want to pull out T.S. Eliot and read "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and remember reading under trees at UNCG or Brontë and Austen when I'm feeling lonely and romantic. I remember the covers and dog-eared pages of Yeats, Harper Lee, Silas House, Rowling, Funke, my university copies of Shakespeare and Dickinson covered in notes.

So it's pretty much a damn dream come true to get a Master's in English Lit. Words are magic. Words have power. Words carry culture and show depth of society. I'm beyond excited to go to Stellenbosch, South Africa and study the words of Africans living in a turbulent, thriving, mega-diverse world. What's even more exciting is that I get to look at the writings of my own people (people from the southern US) and compare it to those of South Africans. But, I need to stop. That's for another post, because if you're anything like my family then you're absolutely wondering why in hell is an American going to South Africa to study English Literature. Oh friend. I have an answer for you.
But for now I'll just leave you with images (not my own) of my future home.

The blog will need a rename come February. Boerwors and cereal? 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Hidden Truth About New Zealand

"Well. This is disappointing."

Something I'd never thought I'd say during my trip to New Zealand and I said it on the first day. AM (my travel partner) and I were walking through the streets of Auckland after checking into our hostel. It was loud and touristy, we could hear Korean being spoken on the streets and read it on the store fronts, our hostel was above a bar and smelled like wet commune feet. Wifi wasn't free and bottles of water were $4. AM and I were a little depressed. Where were the green hills of the Shire, the snow-capped mountains? Not in Auckland.
So we left Auckland, and I never again said "disappointing" in New Zealand.

My trip lasted almost the entire month of February and to try and write a post about it would
1. reveal that I am an incompetent writer and
2. it would take hours for you to read the babbling and long winded sentences that I would write trying to convey what an amazing place it is and the journey I undertook while there.
Also, you guys know how much I love lists.

1. Blue skies
Living in Korea, which is constantly under a haze of pollution or yellow dust, means seeing a true true blue sky is rare, and this Carolina girl misses her Carolina blue sky.
2. Fresh air
God, everywhere I went I breathed in so deep because even the freaking air was delicious. New Zealand is super SUPER environmental and Kiwis (New Zealanders) are very conscious of their impact on the land. The air was remarkably clean. My lungs nearly burst with happiness.
3. The people
Kiwis are beautiful, inside and out. Need a ride? Stick out your thumb. They will gladly pick up hitchhikers (I did.) They are kind and helpful. There weren't many times I grew frustrated at a Kiwi. Nearly everybody helped us out and were very kind to us tourists.
4. Scenery
Peter Jackson needed zero filters or touch ups when he shot the LOTR and The Hobbit. New Zealand is gorgeous. Enough said.
5. Hobbiton
I got my geekery on, and drank a pint at the Green Dragon. Every fan needs a trip to this extremely detailed and intact filming location. Plus, you get to hear secrets from behind the scenes.
6. Kinloch
Out of the way from Queenstown, this little hamlet is nice, secluded and perfect.
7. Paradise
We crossed the River Jordan (literally) and arrived in this township that mainly consisted of unpaved roads, horse farms, and mountain ranges. My retirement plan is to move to Paradise. It's called Paradise for crying out loud.
8. Lake Wanaka
This mammoth of a lake and little town it resides next to our perfection. I could have sipped a glass of New Zealand wine on it's shores, watching the sun go down, all evening. People are lovely and welcoming.
9. The Escape
We rented a 2001 silver Ford Escape. It was like one of the family when we parted ways. This gem of a vehicle cared for me as I learned to drive on the opposite side of the road and car. It took care of us like no local could. Half of our trip was spent within the doors of this grand beauty. It was our hotel room, changing room, kitchen, but I can say no more. What happens in the Escape, stays in the Escape.
10. Becky
Seeing one of the most wonderful people God has put in my path, made this trip all the better. She exudes the true Kiwi Way, "love others, love yourself, and for God's sake, relax! No worries, darl." She opened her home to us and loved us by showing us her amazing city. *See #13.
11. Flat White
My favorite coffee drink. Think latte without foam. I miss proper coffee.
12. Funky Restaurants 
This was mainly in Wellington, but cool restaurants abounded boasting their own strange and tasty menus. Salted Caramel milkshakes at one place, Tandoori Greek Chicken Salad at another, outdoor seating and fireplaces here. Diversity!
13. Wellington
Windy, clean, fresh, hipster, ocean-view Wellington, you made me smile all over. Never change. Used book shops, cheap clothing, delicious food, free museums, water front dining, and cafes conveniently close to surfing areas. Amazing I tell you.
14. Ginger Beer
Ginger ale has nothing on this. Never again will I be satisfied with Canada Dry. The tang. The bite. The goodness. It's everywhere and made by several companies in both Australia and New Zealand, so there are many varieties. It was my go to drink.
15. Pak n' Save
Kiwi grocery store. I think this is on the list because I miss grocery stores stocked with a variety of everything: fruits, nuts, veggies. Sigh. Korea is killing me.
16. Whittaker's Chocolate
Hands down best chocolate in the world, and they don't mess around with these kid sized bars. It's massive. It's delicious.
17. Air New Zealand
An airline that has this Lord of the Rings themed safety video makes it the best airline ever. Super polite staff as well. We got lollies as we prepared for landing. Yay!
18. Simplicity
Kiwis are chill people. They like simplicity. They love being helpful, laughing, anything that brings joy to the group, and relaxing. New Zealand was a chill country, and after living in Korea where everything moves so quickly and nobody really smiles at strangers, this country rocked my world. Easy going. Simple. New Zealand is the dream.
19. Rugby
I mean come on. I really like rugby. Unfortunately, for me, I'm a South African Springboks fan and the New Zealand All Blacks are their biggest rival. But Lord help me if I didn't enjoy watching the All Blacks play. They are beautiful, strong, ripped…er excuse me. They are handsome gentlemen to watch interacting together on the field of sport. Rugby is the national sport that nearly everybody watches and they all support their national team. It was fantastic to see people so unified and supporting the same thing. People had pick up games of rugby like we do basketball.
20. United New Zealand**
Like most of the modern world, New Zealand was settled by white colonists. There were struggles with the mixing of the indigenous tribe, the Maori, and the settlers, but New Zealand today has incorporated so much of the Maori language and culture. It was so beautiful to see! Maori is a language that is taught in schools. It is present in the names of towns, cities, street names, even the national rugby team does a Maori warrior dance before each match called the haka. See link under "Rugby". And praise God for the Maori. Without them there would be no haka. So many countries struggle to balance cultures, and New Zealand is not perfect about it, but they do really really well.

because even Paradise has a few flaws
1. Sandflies
I still carry the scars from these little bastards. They look like wee little gnats. But they're not. Oh no. These bite and sting. They are EVERYWHERE. They sent us running from beaches. We doused ourselves in bug spray. We drove with windows down in the rain to get them out of the car. These…these…minions of hell are not deterred by rain or wind. They rise out of Mordor and spread terror across the land.
2. Expensive
Good heavens everything was expensive. A bottle of water was $3. Good grief. Thank goodness you can drink out of the tap in this country.
3. Rain
Rain on any vacation sucks, but New Zealand is an island. It rained. Many times. The worst was when it rained camping before we got the Escape, and we were truly screwed then. Our wee tent wasn't ready for the lashing it got. sigh.
4. Everything closes at 4pm
Outside of the big cities, most restaurants and cafes closed around 4-6pm. Most inconvenient. Why New Zealand? Why? Korea's coffee shops open at 10am when most people don't need coffee anymore and close at 11pm, while in NZ cafes opened early in the morning and closed super early. I was all mixed up.
5. Summer doesn't always feel like summer
New Zealand is close to Antarctica. Let me emphasize that. ANTARCTICA. It was cold sometimes. It was terrible at night when you're all bundled up and then you have a sandfly colony attack. Wellington was particularly windy and cold.

But honestly there isn't much to complain about.
At all.

Cathedral Cove




South Island

Lake Wanaka

Lake Wanaka

**I would like to add that I was simply a tourist in New Zealand. I hate being a tourist. It leaves no time or space to get to know the culture or the people. As a tourist I get to taste the food, snap some pictures,  and leave. Therefore, it needs to be said, I do not know the intricacies of the social construct of New Zealand. I do not know what the blend of the Maori and European cultures looks like beyond surface level. So please, take note that what I list here are simply my opinions from glances of a twenty-four day trip to this beautiful country. I claim no expertise or true knowledge of any country, outside of my own, that I have traveled to.
With that being said, I urge anyone who has wanderlust, longs to travel, or simply goes abroad for a trip, please, do your research. Look at the country's history, it's social etiquette, it's phrases, local dishes, involvement in past wars, etc. Get an introduction of the country, and then, even if you're there for a brief time, you exist not only as a tourist, but someone who experiences. You become a traveler. BE a traveler. Don't just take pretty pictures. Stop in shops and talk to people. While you order your flat white, chat with the barista. (I did, and found out that her sister moved to the States and works down the street from my Dad.) Pick up the hitchhikers and ask questions. That is true experience. That is true travel.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I've started training for a 5k approximately 394 times since I was in university. Running a 5k has been on my to do list forever, but didn't tell anyone for fear of accountability. It wasn't that running ever really appealed to me. Oh no. It did not. Volleyball is my favorite sport because you don't run after that white striped ball. Nope, you just launch yourself across the floor. I'd rather sacrifice my body screeching across a wooden gym floor than run. See these long legs? Volleyball legs. Meant to be used as a springboard for my arms to block and spike. Running is not my thing. Never. It's not going to happen. And that's what I told myself every time I would fail at the running thing. It was always my excuse for not losing weight too. "If I started running, I'd probably lose so much weight. She started running and now look at her. That could be me." And then I'd sit down and eat chips or chocolate or cookie dough.

But then I came to Korea. Land of lifestyle change. I don't know why, but I tried again for the 395th time to train for a 5k. I downloaded the Couch to 5k running app and started training without telling anybody. Didn't want to fail and have people know! The horror. Then a friend and coworker told me she was running too. We are strictly non-runners. Yet, here we were. Running. Alone.
So we started running together. That was the beginning of September.
We ran our first 5k yesterday.

Night before race meal. Huge bowls of pasta. Mama, please don't judge the  tupperware bowl. I know you raised me better. After eating this, I read online that you're not supposed to have a huge bowl of pasta the night before. And I regret doing it. It sat in my stomach like lead the whole next day. 

Got up at 5:45 am to get the busses to the race location. Next race has GOT  to be closer. 


Pre-race Korean style picture

Finish line

It was extremely cold, and the wind was terrible.

Pre-race everyone stretches together here in Korea. 

No gun was used to signal the start of the race. Just this massive drum.

This was not "I'm in pain face",  just a "victory" face.

After race triumph picture.

We had support! 
And everyone gets a smedal.

Three weeks before the race, my friend and I joked about getting a cold before the race and how much that would suck. The next week we were both in the doctor's office. She had an ear infection and I had a sinus and ear infection. Breathing through my nose was all but impossible and our training halted.

The night before held no sleep for me as it was filled with nightmares of me missing the race. One was so real that I actually got up and sprinted, covers and all, across the room to change only to realize it was 3:30am.

There were only 3 foreigners running the 5k, so we were easily spotted, but people were so encouraging! A group of people were near the halfway point beating drums, waving flags, and cheering complete strangers onwards. It was beautiful. I loved the atmosphere surrounding the stadium  and felt like a minor celebrity because of all the "whoas" we got from Koreans. That's right. I'm running. I'm running past the guys in their Army running uniform, those guys who protect this country. Whoa indeed. 

The day of the race it was the coldest it had been all fall. The wind was brutal and against us in the beginning AND at the half way point it started to rain. I loved it. My first race included storms, wind, a mother of a hill at the end, and I still did it. Ran the whole thing. I didn't meet my original time goal because of the lack of training in the past two weeks. But it doesn't bother me so much because, like I said, I still did it. 
And I got a smedal.

Thank you to my friends who came to the race and supported me, and thanks to all the texts, kakaos, and Facebook love I received. Thank you for recognizing the effort it took to train for months, work really hard, and fight mental battles. It means more than I can say. I am beyond blessed with good friends and family.
I learned so much about myself during my training. I prayed before every run, knowing that I couldn't do it on my own and whatever glory comes has to be returned to the one who gave the strength and courage to do it. I can do nothing without the help of Christ. Every time I go for a run I am reminded of that. I am strongest when I am weak. May I always be weak so the Strongest of all can carry me. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go hang my smedal in my room. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Quitter

I used to teach high school. I used to make lesson plans that met state and county curriculum and criteria. I used to stay up late grading papers and projects. I used to make phone calls home when a student was being less than helpful. I used to worry about my students; if they were being abused at home, if they were eating, if they would lose it at school the next day. I used to wake up and wonder if I'd have to break up a fight at school that day.

That's what I used to do. Then I moved to Korea.
Now, I teach university students. I make lesson plans that meet only my criteria. I never stay up late grading papers. I answer kakaos and text messages from worried students. I only worry about my students passing the class. I have never thought about breaking up a fight or wondering if a student is going to harm themselves, others, or me in class.

And you know what?
I feel guilty. Like I gave up. I feel like I cheated somehow.
I know all of these absolutely phenomenal men and women in my home state who And while things only get worse for them (politics in education, pay, student behavior, testing standards, etc.) they still come in everyday ready for battle. They don't slack off. It's balls to the wall with them. They go home and worry about their students. They stay up late worrying about things they can't change. They face some dangerous kids everyday. The same kids who would scream "Don't touch me!" when I would touch their arm to wake them up, or the kid who shoved me out of the way to beat some kid's ass. (Don't worry. I grabbed that kid and had him pinned him to the wall before he could beat up anyone.)

And it wasn't always fight and defeat. There were wins. Big wins. Bigger than anything I've ever experienced in Korea or probably ever will again. Days when girls would come into my room at lunch to talk about boys (they never change), when the kid's grandma sent an email to me and my principals on Teacher Appreciation Day saying nothing but praise about me, and the day I got to tell kids who had never passed a state exam that they had passed, and not barely. Big wins people. Makes me want to run back to the classroom and join the ranks again.

But I know I won't. And I feel like a quitter. I know there are a few expats in Korea who were teachers before, and I wonder if they understand. Do they miss the classroom and those kids who you'd fight for? Do they wonder what happened to their old students; if they are even still in school? Do they walk home from their jobs, which is 5x easier than the one they left, and feel like they could be doing more? Do they think of their old co-workers or mentors and say prayers for them? Do they feel like they gave up?

But all of that everyday stuff that got in the way of teaching, of doing the thing we are so good at, and love to do, I hated it. I wanted to teach without politics. I wanted to travel and experience life outside of the usual. And truthfully, I didn't want to wake up dreading my drive to work everyday. I knew I had to make a change. The job was making me depressed and I absolutely hated teaching by the end of every week. And that wasn't me. I love teaching. I love it. I had to leave and take my skills somewhere else. Does that make me, and others like me, brave? Knowing that we wanted something different, and out of such a flawed system. Or did we quit?

Maybe the only way we could actually be quitters is if we came here to teach and stopped caring. Maybe if we were really quitters we wouldn't really be able to call ourselves teachers. But I'm still pretty proud to call that my profession. It's not what I'm doing for a couple of years abroad to pay off debt. It's what I do and I can't really quit.