Light at the End of Purgatory

Life is all about balance. Too much of any one thing, and that will most likely have negative consequences. For me, I have had an imbalance of time spent in my house since I decided to try and break out of the teaching industry earlier this year. I have floated about, not accomplishing much by my own metric. In a little under two weeks, I will start a new teaching job that I am relatively excited for, which will hopefully break up my daily cycle and give me feelings of satisfaction once again.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I was immensely dissatisfied with teaching earlier this year. I felt like I wasn’t being fulfilled by it, and I decided to try my hand at video game testing and the games industry as a whole. I studied for and obtained a software testing certification, and despite my best efforts, I just simply couldn’t find my place. I do not speak enough Korean to be employable at a Korean-speaking company, and the handful of English-focused companies didn’t want me either. This was an immense blow to my self-confidence, and after a little under two months of unsuccessfully trawling job boards, I gave up and settled in for a little over a month of self-hatred and wallowing in my own incompetence. When asked about it, I would express chipperness and resolve, but inside I was broken.

I spent the next few months in this state, always hoping that something would magically come my way. I had a potential prospect that was continually being delayed and pushed back, and I kept waiting for it for far longer than I should have. I was so focused on the possibility of that position that I believed that I was unworthy of anything else. But, after the umpteenth delay, I resolved that I needed to find a job, to contribute to the household that Kris and I had built once again. Kris was remarkably understanding during this period and never gave up on me. I had to pay her back.

As it happened, the day that I found out about the delay that broke my resolve for the previous position, a friend of mine posted on Facebook looking for a replacement at his school. I had experience with the school and knew that it would be a job that would give me a combination of income, good working conditions, and enough time outside of work to pursue my passions on the side. The hours were short, there was a vast amount of vacation, and I knew that the kids were generally well-behaved. So, I messaged my friend and applied for the job. After a couple of interviews, I was told that the school wanted to hire me. I was ecstatic.

I am currently jumping through a couple of immigration-related hoops, but if it all goes smoothly, I should start there on the 8th of November. I am looking forward to having gainful employment again. I go into the position well aware of my previous disillusionment, but with a new resolve to make the most out of my time. Even if it is nothing more than the means to which I continue my time in Korea, that will be more than worth it. Here’s to living the expat life until November 2019 at least!

Featured image from kireiaoshinari00 on DeviantArt

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Six on the Beach 2018: Another Six Things I Learned

This past weekend, I attended my fourth Six on the Beach, or Sixes for short. Sixes is arguably the most well-known Ultimate hat tournament in Korea, and has had a large turnout whenever I’ve been lucky enough to make it. In both 2015 and 2017, I reflected on the six main lessons that those respective Sixes tournaments taught me. This year is no different!

Don’t make me a hat team captain – there will be a typhoon

I was captain for the 2016 tournament, and on the second day of that tournament we were treated to the worst weather that I’ve experienced in my time in Korea. The heavens loosed their liquid contents on the beach from early in the morning, which led to most of the players leaving before their games were done. It was a miserable day.

This year, I was made captain again, and two days before this year’s Sixes was set to start, Korea was hit by another typhoon. Luckily for the attendees of Sixes, there were only small showers during the tournament itself, and play largely went on unaffected by the weather. The fact remains – apparently the forces in charge of inclement weather don’t like me being a hat team captain.

Music on the sideline makes Ultimate even better

This is a fact that I’d known was true for league play for several seasons, as it helps to cut the tension that competitiveness can bring. It was in this Sixes that I truly noticed the difference in a hat tournament setting. For most of our games, there was no music on the sidelines, mostly due to the risk of rain. However, for a couple of our games, we had spectators bring their own portable speaker to watch us. I’m not sure if it is just my own personal background being intertwined with music, but I instantly gained extra energy and happiness, regardless of what was playing. If music be the food of fun, play on!

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Jackson 5. It was an honour to captain you!

Hat tournaments are perfect for forming new bonds, or strengthening old ones

A large part of the appeal of hat tournaments comes from playing with and against players that you otherwise would not in a league or club setting. Whether these are new players looking to get into the sport, players from other regions that you’d never get put on a team with, or long-running teammates that you can finally style on from across the field, this mix-up of the established order is refreshing.

This change can change the way that you had previously perceived or interacted with a player that you didn’t know too well. Looking at them from a new angle could change your view of them completely. Playing with new players to the scene helps give them a way into the community. It wasn’t too long ago (okay, maybe it was) that Kris and I were new to the scene, and the 2015 Sixes was where we first got a taste of the Korean Ultimate scene as a whole.

Communication is key, both on and off of the field

Due in part to this change in the rosters, hat teams tend to be chaotic. There is often very little structure to start off with, with everyone running around trying to get open. The easiest way to fix this is through communication. Talking to the team before the game, designating a simple formation and reinforcing that lead to everyone having a greater understanding of what was going on and enjoying it more as a result.

Communication is also important off of the field. The organisers of Sixes were once again excellent with their communication to players. Before the tournament, there were constant updates about the schedule, format, start and end times, weather, and party theme. This information helped us all plan our weekends, book transportation, and come to the party suitably prepared for the madness.

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Myself and Inge, the most improved player on the Jackson 5. Well earned!

Promoting women’s Ultimate is vitally important to the sport

One of the most remarkable aspects of Ultimate is that it is a sport where both men and women can play on the same team. Despite this, women still have to work harder to be seen as athletes and valuable members of competitive teams than men do. Kris and I are both strong proponents of women’s Ultimate and women in the Ultimate community in general. So when Ollie, one of the organisers of Sixes (and bearer of one of the most majestic beards in Korean Ultimate) suggested that we play an all-women’s point in the game that we were playing, I leapt at the chance.

The reaction from all of the players was heart-warming. Even though each side only had just enough women to play the point, they were all more than happy to participate. The point was one of the most competitive of the entire game, and all of the players had beaming smiles on their faces for the whole point. My team managed to score the point, with every single lady on the line touching the disc.

I could (and will) write entire posts more about promoting women’s Ultimate, but even that small moment clearly meant a great deal to all of the players, highlighting the importance of doing everything possible to bring women’s Ultimate into the spotlight more.

Six on the Beach is a world-class beach hat tournament, worthy of travelling to Korea for

Previously I’ve said that Sixes is a must for any Ultimate player in Korea. After playing this year’s iteration, I expand that to the worldwide Ultimate community. It may be hosted in a small town in Korea, but there is no tournament I’ve yet been to with a bigger heart than Sixes. The community is welcoming. There is the perfect balance of fun and competition (with perfect balance, of course, leaning far towards the fun end). There is always a party. If you want to see what Korean Ultimate is all about, look no further than Six on the Beach.

All images courtesy of Cartographic Productions, except the Jackson 5 team photo.

Bonding and Re-bonding

I sit at Incheon airport, a place that has become strangely familiar to me over my time in Korea. Even though I normally only spend a few hours here with each visit, I find that there is far less change here than the rest of Korea. Restaurants and shops have largely remained in their same places. The procedures are generally the same. The process of arrive, check in the bags, go through security, go through immigration, find the gate, wait for the plane, then leave gives me some small comfort in the otherwise moderately stressful act of travelling.

For this visit, Kris and I will be returning to South Africa, mostly for her best friend’s wedding. I say mostly so as not to offend all of the South African-based friends and family that we will see while we are there. It’s also to see all of you, I swear!

This will be the second time that we’ve visited South Africa since we left for Korea and I started this blog. Last time was for our own wedding, and for a much longer period of time. With this visit, we will be staying for less than two weeks, and trying to cram in as many lunches, brunches, dinners, board games, Ultimate games, family meetups, and general socializing as we possibly can in that time. In our last visit, we had a much more relaxed social timetable, because we could afford it. We also were lucky enough to see a large portion of the significant people in our lives at the wedding.

While things might not have changed too much at Incheon airport, a great deal has changed in our family and friend situation back in South Africa. My entire immediate family will be working outside of South Africa before the end of this year. Kris’ mom has moved out of their long-time family home. Over our time in Korea, we have lost contact with many of our friends back in South Africa, with each year causing more friendships to fade from vivid experiences to sepia-toned memories. This is the nature of life. Situations change, and you have to adapt to your new environment.

However, we are excited to return and get in touch with everyone that we might have neglected to video chat or message in the past few months, or even years. We will undoubtedly have many a story to share with each other. There will also be those that we cannot meet up with, whether that be because of scheduling problems, distance, or even just sheer forgetfulness. Maybe this will cause a few more friendships to lose their luster, or maybe agonizing over the missed opportunity will be the splash of colour that livens a bond that was dulling.

Kris and I are both excited to be returning to the place that was once the only place we called home. Our lives are more diverse now, and we will be leaving our Korean home for a while to nestle back into our South African one. Oh, and eat our body weight in biltong, Cadbury’s and Gino’s.

Stifling Myself

Normally when I’ve had a long break between posts on here, I’ve been incredibly busy doing something like visiting another country, playing Ultimate, or just working hard at whatever teaching job I’ve had. That’s not the case this time. There haven’t been external factors preventing me from sitting down at the keyboard to type up a few words to share with all of you. There has only been one obstacle: my own fear, anxiety, laziness, and perfectionism.

In the time since I last wrote here, I have been entirely unemployed. I haven’t had a job to fill my time. I decided to try and strike away from teaching and get a job in the field I have skated alongside the edge of for years – the games industry.

I spent two months studying for a software testing certification. I was going to write a post about that, sharing my feelings of anxiety about the test. I chose not to write anything until after I passed or failed the test. I ended up passing the test comfortably. I was going to write the perfect post summarizing my journey. Then I thought I would wait until I actually had a job and share my happiness about that. I spent two months searching for a job. I was going to write a post about how despondent and disheartened I was becoming, but I thought that no-one would want to read such self-important garbage. People want to feel happy when they take the time away from their own busy, draining lives to read some mangled collection of words on the Internet. So I kept waiting for some positive news on the job front.

Every morning when I brushed my teeth, I would tell myself that this is the day that I would write that accursed blog post. I would find a particular angle to my experiences to try and spin it into an inspirational story about how sometimes chasing your dreams doesn’t quite work out the way that you wanted, but you learn from the experience. It would be motivational as hell. Then I would sit down at my laptop and never even open my blog. I was emotionally and creatively suffocated. In this time, I’d tell people I was funemployed, trying to change my career path. In reality, I just sat staring at translated versions of job postings, applying to any and every position I was even remotely qualified for, and many that I wasn’t. Days blurred together to the point that I would forget whether it was Monday or Wednesday. With every day that passed, it became harder to share what was happening.

All the while, I was going on miniature adventures: visiting friends across the country, exploring Seoul, completing video games, playing in Ultimate tournaments, even bonding more with my cat. I also have many events to look forward to. I’m heading back to South Africa in just over two weeks. I even have an interview for a potential position soon, and I am excited. It is partially a teaching position, and I will share more as time goes on. It has been something of a backup position for the past few months, and I am glad that it may work out. However, the knowledge of this position hasn’t changed for weeks. These experiences and anticipations were fogged by the drudgery of my job search. Not even the constant, unwavering support from my amazing wife stoked the fire of creativity within me. I felt that nothing I was doing was important or interesting enough to share. Until today.

Today, I just sat at my laptop, as I’ve done countless times in the last few months. I procrastinated, as I have so many times before. But then I actually opened my blog and started typing, like I should have months ago.  I knew it was an option but was still too caught up in myself to write. I’m not perfect. I’ve been less emotionally available in the past months than I can remember being. I’m working on it. It’s not easy. But I’m still here, and starting today, I won’t leave you in the dark, for both of our sakes.

 

Farewells and See You Laters

Every year, roughly twice a year, there are waves of new teachers arriving in Korea. Paired with these arrivals is an exodus, as teachers leave to teach elsewhere, return home, study, or pursue other careers. As the school semesters end in March and September, many contracts end at the same time. Each time this happens, Kris and have friends that we have garnered, through Ultimate or otherwise, say farewell to Korea. Each leaving season has had its share of painful goodbyes, but this particular one has been especially severe, with a number of our close friends choking up and promising to see us again and stay in contact.

With the regularity at which this happens, you’d think that it might get easier over time. The more people we see go, the more we get used to the idea that friendships forged in Korea will most likely have their nature change as people inevitably leave. For some, this is the case. We know of a good deal of people who are used to the cycle of new people arriving and old friends leaving. We even thought that we were beginning to become accustomed to its flow until this March arrived.

With every exodus, some claim that ‘Oh, this one was much worse than the other ones.’ This March, it was our turn to utter that oft-heard phrase. A number of our close friends decided to move on and move out. A couple that we’ve grown close to in Seoul over board games and gushing about our pets elected to see some of the world before looking for new teaching work. Luckily for us, that new teaching work happened to be in Korea again, so they will only be out of the country for a couple of months before returning. Another couple who we bonded with deeply despite only seeing a handful of times outside the Ultimate setting. A man who never ceased being the tallest or kindest person in any room decided to go back to the US and make it a better place (he hasn’t quite left yet, but he will soon, and definitely warrants a mention here). A fellow South African we met on our first ROK-U team, who we grew to know and love through playing far too many games of Dota and drinking too much red wine moved back to South Africa to pursue a new career path.

Some people steel themselves against the ever-present reality of people exiting Korea by avoiding new friendships to prevent getting hurt more regularly by exits. Kris and I cannot face that possibility. Some leaving seasons, we only lose touch with a couple of acquaintances and count ourselves lucky. Other times, like this March, we see a large portion of our core friend group get on planes elsewhere.

Leaving Korea doesn’t mean the end of these friendships, but it does instill a sense of longing for a return to the previous status quo. No longer can we simply pop down for a chat or meet for dinner. Now, there is online video chat and instant messaging, and perhaps meeting up if we land up being in the same country for some reason. Some friendships adapt to this change and survive, whereas others fade and dull over time.

The constant flow of expats through Korea (or, I’d imagine, any other country where foreign workers are hired) is a reality that is not mentioned when you are job hunting. There is no warning that people you grow attached to will bid you farewell on a semi-regular basis. It is a phenomenon that you learn of only through experiencing it. It hurts. Sometimes it hurts a little. Sometimes it leaves you on the verge of tears writing a string of words into the black void of the Internet to try and ease the pain.

Waiting for the End to Come

Every year, around this time, Kris and I become far less concerned about our current school year. With our contracts always ending at the end of February, we are always more worried about what is to come in March. While we initially thought that we might stay at our current job, a changing climate in education in Korea and the job itself has resulted in us once again looking for a new job to start in March. Kris has already successfully landed a position that she believes is far better suited to her, but I am still wading through the mire of job hunting to try and find that one job that is ideally-suited to me.

When we first started our current job, we were happy with the short hours and, for me, the short commute. However, as time has gone by, little problems have grown into larger issues. This is particularly true for Kris, who has more consistently had problems from the upper management of our company, and whose job situation was less ideal to begin with. She had to do a lot more commuting and deal with greater levels of bureaucracy than I did. Towards the end of last year, she decided that she would not be re-signing the contract, and began looking for a new job. In a stroke of luck, one of our close friends is leaving Korea, and her position would be vacant. Kris interviewed for the job and was accepted. Her new job may have longer hours, but it is 10 minutes from our house and will allow her more freedom to experiment with her teaching techniques.

For myself, I was content to continue in my current position. Unfortunately, the Korean government decided to discontinue English classes for first- and second-grade students at public elementary schools, effective from March. These students currently form more than half of my student base. As a result in the massive drop in potential students, the company has decided to not re-hire any teachers with my type of visa, and fill the gaps with part-time employees to save money. This decision makes economic sense for them, but it left me in the unfortunate position of looking for a job after the ordinary job season is mostly over. I am now scraping the bottom of the barrel for a position that is better than the average academy job, similar to the positions that Kris and I held in Dongtan in our first year of teaching. I am currently still being picky, and I hope to find something before I have to settle for a mediocre job.

We may be more settled in Seoul than we have ever been in Korea, but the cycle of going from job to job every year has not changed. Maybe this next job is one we stay at for more than a year. Maybe this next job will be our last year in Korea. Only the next twelve months will reveal what Korea has in store for us. I look forward to the new adventures, and, for now, look for a decent job to sustain us while we go on those adventures.

2017: The Year of Shifts

2017 was certainly one of the more eventful and significant years of my 27 years on the planet so far. I moved to Seoul, got more into Ultimate, helped spread the cult of board games, and started reading for enjoyment again. Oh yeah, I got married as well. That was a thing that happened. Let’s look back at these major nilestones just before 2017 comes to an end.

The Old Ball and Chain 

I’m a lucky goof who married a beautiful lady.

The first, and most influential, event of the year was my marriage to Kris. Despite my nervousness before the day, which you can read about here, it was the happiest day of my life up until this point. While the old cliche may not be true for everyone, it certainly is for me. I spent a day with my family and South African friends, celebrating the love that I have for the woman I now am lucky enough to call my wife. 2017 got off to a strong start.

Seoulward Bound

Kris and my cousin Catherine posing with Seoul’s motto. Yes, it is a mediocre motto.

The next change brought about by 2017 was our move to Seoul. Our third new city in three years in Korea, we have been interested in moving to Seoul ever since our first year. This year we finally landed up in the largest city in Korea, and it has quickly won our hearts as our favorite city in the country. The sheer scale of Seoul means that there’s always something new to see, somewhere else to explore. Our new apartment is wonderful and it makes a huge difference in our daily lives. Seoul also brings with it a larger foreigner community than our previous towns. This has made it easier to meet up with Ultinate friends. While not good for our bank accounts due to eating out more often, it has left us feeling more at home than ever in Korea.

Disc-loving Gent

Smile!

Ultimate has always been a big part of my life in Korea, but this year I felt like I took my love of the game to the next level. I trained more regularly, took more interest in self-improvement, and generally put more time into my game than I had before. While I have slacked off in the current off-season, enjoying the festive food and sloth a little more than I should, I am proud of how far I’ve come as an Ultimate player in 2017.

Gathering over Games

Kris and a friend playing Terra Mystica, one of our more in-depth games of the year.

When a friend dressed up as me for a casual Halloween costume party, they merely wore their ordinary clothes. Onto their shirt, they pinned a note saying: 

“I love board games  (and my wife’s cat).”

That was all. And it was perfectly accurate. An increasing number of gatherings at our house involve bonding over some board game or another. This is reflected by the fact that I’ve had 77 plays of 29 different board games since April this year. And also by the fact that I am concerned enough about games to record each play. I adore board games. They allow for unique social experiences, and create memories that have stayed with me for years. This year was no different, and I have had a number of special moments thanks to board games this year.

New Stories, New Worlds

Ghüs, my favourite character from my favourite comic, Saga.

Before this year, I had spent very little time reading. Between work, the aforementioned Ultimate, and playing video games (another source of great stories, but not quite the same), I didn’t think to pick up a book much at all. However, during 2017, I longed for the escape that comics brought me throughout university. I slowly began to grow my collection of digital comics, starting by picking up ny old favorite series before spreading to new discoveries. I have also read a small number of novels, a number I hope to improve on in 2018. I had forgotten how enjoyable reading is, but I shan’t forget again any time soon.
2017 may not have been the game-changer year like 2015 was, but it was close. Getting married, playing Ultimate, spreading the good word of board games, and growing in my reading habits were only pieces of what made 2017 special. There were certainly dark times as well, and there will be more ahead. But, as the year fades into the past, it’s more worthwhile to look back on the happiness. Happy New Year, everyone!