My journey really started at the end of my senior year of college in 2012. I was doing an internship in Florida and I was finally living on my own. The internship turned into a job and while it wasn’t my dream job I was happy where I was in my life. I was living the life that my parents and society had told me I needed. Go to college, get a job and make an independent life for yourself. I thought I was a success. Yes, I have debt like any other college student. I had bought my own car and I had a great little apartment. Then my world crumbled around me. I got laid off and I had no way to support myself anymore. This meant moving back in with my parents. I felt like a failure.
I did another internship in California as an attempt to get my life started again. Sadly the internship didn’t lead to a new job since they were not hiring. I loved the experience working with that company and I learned a lot from it. Once I had finished my internship I had to return to my parent’s home once again. It was very disheartening.
I promised myself then that I would only stay until I could find a good paying job. That good paying job didn’t come. I was able to get a summer job that I had in college back and I started working retail once more. One retail job turned to two. At minimum wage working two jobs it was barely enough to pay the bills I already had. My parents were helpful letting me stay with them and while I was grateful for this it was still difficult to go back. I know my parents were willing to help me during this part in my life but I still felt like an unwanted interloper. I was back to being a high school student and yet also a guest who had over stayed my welcome at the same time. My old room had been turned into my mothers office and I was pushed into my sisters already filled room with barely space for my own belongings. What didn’t fit went to the storage locker I was paying for just outside of the city.
As summer neared and the one year mark of my failure approached I took on a third job teaching swimming lessons at the YMCA. It didn’t have many hours but it was the best paying out of the three. Shortly after I got a fourth job working at a summer day camp at the Taekwondo studio I attended with my parents. This fourth job kept me very busy. My weeks were consumed with work and scheduling became very important to make sure I could maintain all four jobs. Monday through Friday waking up at 5 to get ready for work, then from 7 am to 2 pm I worked at summer day camp. Organizing activities and keeping 30 children entertained and taken care of with only one other adult who became like a brother to me over that summer. After that I had an hour to get lunch before going to teach an hour long swimming lesson to twice the number of children in two 30 minute classes. The other girls I worked with there were light hearted and were the pick me up I needed after an already long day that was only half way finished. Between two and four nights a week I would alternate between the two retail jobs I still had at the mall. Weekends I spent my Saturdays teaching 4 hours of swimming lessons and then getting a quick lunch and a shower before heading off to the mall for a 6 to 8 hour shift at one of my mall jobs. Thankfully I arranged my schedule in a way that allowed me to have Sunday all to myself. If I didn’t have that one day I would have been even more burnt out than I already was.
In short it was the busiest summer of my life and one of the worst as well. While at times the long hours at work would get me down it was the feeling of coming home and being told that I should be working even more or being criticized for not doing my chores on a schedule that pleased my parents. While the criticizing wasn’t all the time it was often enough that I felt guilty for the few hours I had at home to relax and do nothing but sit and watch an episode of my favorite T.V. show. In all honesty it’s not an uncommon feeling for me to feel like this around my parents. That feeling of inadequacy has been there all my life. I’ve always been told that my work ethic is lacking and in some ways that may be true, but for someone who has grown up being compared to an older sister for her accomplishments and even at times to a mother it’s more pressure then I wanted to deal with. Me being me I would push back and fight what I was being told to do and did the opposite instead.
Towards the end of the summer work drama at one of my retail jobs lead to a promotion to sales lead. This allowed me to quit one of my four jobs that was coming to an end soon anyways. It was like a weight had been take off my chest. I would have a bit more money and a bit more free time. It was a lot of work but I enjoyed my new responsibilities at the job. One of the main struggles about this job was that for an entire month there was no manager and no assistant manager! That’s right the entire store for a month was run by me and one other girl who was also a sales lead. It was a small store with not too many employees which helped but it meant working 9 hour shifts every day plus picking up hours at my other jobs as well. But I felt better because I had accomplished something in getting this promotion even at a time of struggle for the store. What was really amazing is that the two of us and the other girls at the store did an amazing job and we made over 10% of our sales goal for the month.
Around this time a friend of mine had told a woman I used to work for during college that I was looking for a job, which I was, three jobs was still a lot. The woman gave me a call and asked if I was interested. The next day I had an interview for a sales lead job at a different store and a week later I was working there. This allowed me to quit the retail job that I used to work at during college and the swim instructor job. I was now working two sales lead jobs and working between 20 to 32 hours at each job a week. I would open at one store and close at another. It became easier once a manager was hired at the first store. I later found that scheduling became a bit of a nightmare. The new job paid even better then working the four jobs over the summer had and I was given benefits which was amazing! I’d never had benefits before, not that there were a lot of benefits since I wasn’t considered full time but any benefits was amazing to have. I ended up quitting the retail job with the in store drama because I needed a more stable working environment and the constant cutting of hours was not helping me at all. The new job was great and my manager was more than willing to give me more hours to make up for the loss of the other job.
It was while I as working there that I met with someone I had gone to college with. We were opening the store on a very slow sales day and while we walked the isles straitening things she told me about a mutual acquaintance who was teaching in South Korea. I was intrigued. While working the four jobs during the summer I had been applying left and right to jobs in my field of study with no luck until I asked a contact from my internship in California if she knew anyone hiring. She did and I had applied and even had a phone interview back in June. We were supposed to set up another interview and I would call and email every week to check in until finally I was told they didn’t want to hire me because I was from Iowa. They feared I would get homesick and leave after three months. I was told to visit if I was ever in Los Angles. With something I had really wanted for a year and a half being dangled in front of me only to be taken away I was crushed and I was really taking a step back to think on my next step.
Hearing about teaching abroad really appealed to me. I got in contact with this college acquaintance and asked her all of my questions about the job. How did you get into this job? Do you like it? What’s teaching like? etc. After long Facebook chats early in the morning or late a night, due to the time difference, I finally decided that this is what my next step was in life. I was going to teach abroad. I didn’t tell anyone about this decision right away. I applied to Canadian Connections which is a company that helps find teachers for schools in South Korea and started taking a TEFL certification course online. That was when I finally told my mother about what I had decided. A week later I had my first ever Skype interview. A week after that I was told I had a job! I was given three choices for types of jobs in South Korea. There were two different public school choices and assistance in finding a private school job. I ended up choosing the Jeollannamdo Office of Education. It’s a public school program in the South West province in South Korea. I had a little over 5 months to collect the necessary paper work and then off to South Korea.
The next 5 months I worked and prepared for my trip. I visited my friends out of town as much as I could and spent time with my family while saving money for my journey. I finished my TEFL course and as the deadline approached faster and faster the more I worried. Getting my FBI background check was taking longer than I had expected and I missed the deadline to have it in. Thankfully I was able to get an extension when I explained that I was still waiting to receive the document and sure enough a week later it arrived. The last three weeks in March, 2015 before leaving were a whirlwind. I got my contract and sent everything to the Korean Embassy to get my Visa and I told my father about what I was doing. I knew my mother had told him about my plans but this was the first time he was hearing it from me. When I got my contract in the mail he finally felt reassured about my decision. With the contract he was able to look it over and he became more accepting to my choice. I put in my two weeks notice at work and got all of my other affairs in order so that everything was prepared for me to leave.
Packing was done a week in advance and I had packed and unpacked at least 3 times before being happy with everything, though I still sometimes think I packed too much. Better to over pack than be unprepared. Saying good bye wasn’t as hard as I thought. I was finally excited for the next stage in my life and I had so much to look forward to. The hardest part was saying good bye to my two kitties who I was very sorry to be leaving behind. They would be staying with my parents while I was moving into the next phase of my life.
This was the start of my new life and I wasn’t going to waste a second on doubting my choice. I was leaving Iowa and moving to another country where I didn’t speak or read the language. I was ready for anything! Yeosu, South Korea here I come!
And so begins the journey of Danni’s Travels!