Leaving the Cubicle Life Behind
I grew up in a small, Midwestern city. A few rebellious high-school years aside, I did all the things that I was supposed to do. I finished college and got a degree. I graduated, started working full-time in the insurance industry, invested in a home and rental property, and started working towards my MBA. I had a grey cubicle and an altitudinous stack of files on my desk. I answered calls from people wondering if the check was in the mail as they told me their hard-luck tales of losing a car or house because of missed payments. I did what I could to be as helpful as possible but was assured my superiors that I needed to harden my heart. A few speculative promotions aside, this was looking like it would about sum up my life. I wasn't so sure I was OK with that.
Weighing the Options
I looked into joining the Peace Corps but at the time anyone with a mortgage wasn't eligible. I had been speaking with a co-worker about teaching English overseas and he showed me some pictures a friend had shared with him of an apartment in Thailand with a pool. Sitting in the office in the middle of winter, the tropical environment looked like a welcome change of pace alone.
The idea of teaching wasn't alien to me either. I had taken courses in preparation for the art education program in university but the plan was canceled before I could complete it. I did have my substitute teaching certification and was able to find a lot of information about TESOL—Teaching English as a Second Language—certification online. The courses were around $2,000 all inclusive. The process of certification would take about one month, beginning with classroom learning and ending with volunteer teaching. The company would also provide the accommodations and assist with job placement services once the certification course was complete. With all of this in mind, I started to consider teaching abroad more seriously.
I had a good rapport with my new supervisor and we discussed my options for moving on from the company. I was able to sign a mutual agreement to terminate my employment and walk away with a reasonable severance package for my 6 years of service.
Both Feet Out the Door
Now that my day job was behind me, I began putting my other affairs in order. I rented out my apartment and moved back in with my parents for the time being. I sold as many of my belongings as I could and put the rest in storage. As things began to fall into place, I enrolled in a TESOL course that would begin in Cambodia and finish in Thailand. My father agreed to manage my rental properties and put my car up for sale. I began reading up on what to pack, although, the information I found on preparing to move abroad was lacking. Soon enough, it was time to leave the United States behind for my new adventure in Asia.
My family took me to the airport where we said our goodbyes. At the time, I wasn't sure if this would be a one-year change of pace or something more. It was all a bit surreal. I boarded the plane and settled in for the first long stretch to Seoul, South Korea.
I didn't sleep much on the plane but enjoyed a few movies and listened to music along the way. The economy flight was uneventful but mostly pleasant. I was fairly new to flying and even enjoyed the airline food. I was beginning to feel pretty uncomfortable about 12 or 13 hours in though. Eventually, the plane began a welcomed descent and we arrived at the Seoul airport. I was glad to be on the ground again, even if it was only for a short layover.
A New Beginning
My last flight to Phnom Penh was the most interesting. I sat next to a friendly middle-aged Cambodian-American who was excited to see his family for the first time in 30 years. I can only imagine the depth of this man's story and I've thought about him as I've learned more about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide. I wonder what difficulties he may have faced when reading passionate accounts of the tragedy, such as First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung. After reading the author's striking and heartfelt tale, I can only imagine.
The plane landed and we wished each other best of luck on our journeys, his undoubtedly more significant than my own. However, I also stepped out of the airport front doors filled with optimism about what I would discover in this unfamiliar and exotic place.
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