change · gratitude · TEACHING · travel

Gung Hay Fat Chance

(*have no idea if this will go there, but I had to use that
phrase!)
I didn’t graduate college “on time.” All my roommates and
classmates were getting their tassels aligned and family convened, and I was
lining up for Seroquel, my family convening in a sterile hospital cafeteria.
So, when that episode was over, I got a rinky-dink job at a
local drug store, and when that was enough of that (and my hair had grown back
somewhat), I got a job as an admin in an insurance claims company, finished my
degree with night classes, and graduated in May of ’04, instead of ’03.
That summer, I applied for the Birthright program—a program
which sends Jewish teens and 20s to Israel for 10 days for free if they’ve never
been. I applied and was accepted to the “graduate” program, the older group of
folks, between 22 and 26. I spent 10 days in a dusty bus gaining some of the
most incredible experiences, and information—nearly all of the people on the
bus were “doing something” with their lives. One worked at a magazine in New
York City; several were in law school; one taught high school English in a
Catholic school. I… was a claims adjustor.
When I got back to my cubicle, under the fluorescent lights,
I decided it was time to call this episode over, too. Incredibly, my dad had met a
woman on his commuter bus who was an editor at a New York magazine, and through
a short interview process, I was hired as their Editorial Intern.
It was amazing. It was probably the job I’ve enjoyed most of
any I had. The differences were drastic: although I was working longer hours with a much longer commute, I was coming home more “happily tired” than simply
exhausted, as from the claims job. I loved
the work. Writing copy, coordinating with off-site editors, proofreading &
editing. I even wrote my own article about Bill Nye The Science Guy’s endorsement of a new
brand of contact lenses.
I loved the pace, the investment I had in the work, the
creative input I was able to have. The respect I had of my superiors for my
intelligence and ideas. I loved working at 6th and Canal, walking the street
vendors at lunch, earning real dough, even for an intern.
But, summer ended. It was a post-9/11 market still, and small
optical trade magazines didn’t have much of a budget for an editorial
assistant. So I went back on the market.
The market was bare.
My aunt suggested I go teach English abroad. She’d done it
in Taiwan, and there were plenty of recruitment companies to choose from. I
found one, and in conversation with them, found out that although there were
plenty of South East Asian jobs, the most money was to be made in South Korea.
So, after a 9 pm phone interview with a school director
outside of Seoul, two days later, I’m buying my first real luggage at Target. Two days from then, I’m on a plane to a place I’d never been to work with
people I’d never met in a country whose language I did not speak, to remain for
the next 18 months.
Sure. Why not?
My experiences were wide and varied and not always pleasant
in that peninsular country. I won’t engage the story here (I’ve got to
leave for work), but the school year always ended and began around the Chinese
New Year, a.k.a. today.
Today would be the day you would be assigned or reassigned
to a classroom of sometimes wily, sometimes endearingly shy 5 year olds. Today, as
the cherry blossoms bloomed outside and streets were hung with red paper
lanterns and students’ parents handed you red envelopes full of “thank you”
tips, you listened to the 5 year olds who had cried at the start of the year,
“Teacher! Water!,” ask you, “Molly Teacher, I’m thirsty. Can I have some water,
please?”
It was more beautiful than the blossoms. 

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