HAPPY NEW YEARS! While we welcome a new year, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the one that has just concluded. 2014 was a year of transition for Hedgers Abroad. Finishing our contracts at our first job in Korea was a struggle of will and perspective that we eventually won; leading to a much better situation in public schools. This change has been of paramount importance in our lives being as secure and comfortable as they currently are.
Heartsick from a long year in trying jobs, March offered us a month with no responsibilities and time to go home to Oklahoma. We still didn’t know for certain that we would be employed the next month like we were hoping for, but we gambled on everything working out and bought plane tickets. The trip home is a long and expensive one, but we needed to reset and spend time with our families. We miss out on many aspects of family life, so getting a chance to see them all in person was an amazing experience. While in Oklahoma and Missouri we went fishing, visited grandparents, and even battled grass fires on the family farm. Our last night in Pryor we got the email we had been hoping for that confirmed we would be returning to Seoul with jobs lined up for April. Sad to leave our families once again, we focused on what was yet to come and boarded a plane back to South Korea.
2. Got New Jobs
A long year of frustration with our jobs led to a search for more stable employment. We wanted something with consistent pay, vacation, and government oversight to ensure we got what was promised. We contacted some recruiters that feed teachers into public school programs and found what we hoped would be a perfect situation. As you probably already know, we are incredibly happy with our jobs.
3. Moved to Yeosu
While in Oklahoma we found out that we had been placed in our first choice of cities in Jeollanamdo: Yeosu. Our gamble had paid off and we soon found ourselves in a whirlwind of orientation sessions, learning all about the public school system in Korea, and meeting some really great people. When we were picking our preferences for Jeonnam cities, we selected Yeosu based on internet searches and people we had met online who were living there. This coastal city we call home is beautiful and moving during springtime was a perfect welcome as the weather and natural beauty of this place really showed through.
4. Made New Friends
The people in our live are amazing. As an expat there is a common mindset of temporary friendship that permeates your relationships. Living abroad means that the people you come into contact with, and share your time with, will inevitably end up living far away from you. For this reason, a lot of people guard themselves from becoming too attached to their friends. We have been incredibly lucky to find a group of friends that has been so welcoming. While we all might move far away someday, these people are family. Our friends have been amazing and we love them.
5. Fell in Love with Jeollanamdo
Let’s just say that we aren’t, and have never been, city people. Coming from Oklahoma, we are more accustomed to open country and farmland than skyscrapers and apartment complexes. For this reason, Seoul was sometimes a bit of a strain. Too many people and a lack of nature reminded us of what we really need at our core: the option for natural solace. Once we got situated in Jeollanamdo, however, we found ourselves in a blissful state of reunion with nature and open spaces. We love our province and find ourselves far more comfortable with trees and fields off in the distance rather than apartments and concrete structures.
6. Hiked Jirisan
As summer ramped up, we started doing a fair amount of hiking around Jeollanamdo Province with different groups of friends. We hiked at every opportunity and saw some really beautiful national parks last summer. Being the largest mountain range in South Korea, Jirisan is a park that we have fallen in love with, and hiking its tallest peak (the tallest on South Korea’s mainland at 1,915 meters) was a spectacular experience with our friends Kenny and Alison. I still have a scar from this trip that reminds me of how great of a time we had with our new tent and good friends.
7. Got LASIK!
After a long battle with poor vision and not wanting to mess with glasses or contact lenses any longer, I decided to get Lasik eye surgery in 2014. Medical procedures being more affordable in South Korea meant that this dream could finally come true, and my wife was gracious enough to help me recover in the few hours of discomfort in a Gwangju hotel room. I now have better vision than she does and, after many years of relying on corrective lenses, you can be sure that she gets reminded of this regularly.
8. Traveled to the Philippines
July in South Korea brings the monsoon season and weeks of rain. As August approached and the rains finally subsided, we grew anxious to point our vacation days at a destination that promised ample opportunities to lounge on beaches with a beer in hand. We got excited for our trip to El Nido and it lived up to every expectation. With over a week to bask in the Palawan sun and swim in perfectly clear waters, we realized that paradise is, indeed, all it is cracked up to be. We talked about many of our experiences in past posts, but scuba diving for the first time stands out as a particularly memorable experience. The feelings we felt on this trip, whether 30+ feet underwater or driving motorcycles through forested villages during rain storms, redefined what a vacation should be.
9. Bought a Car
Once we returned from summer vacation, we decided that a car was necessary for our further exploration of South Korea. We are now proud owners of a Hyundai Sonata named Su Ji! No longer hindered by public transportation and time tables, we have been far more adventurous and free to explore our surroundings. Back home we loved and craved roadtrips, now we are once again connected with a sense of rogue ambition to get out there and see what else is to be seen.
10. Tried Our Hand at Pottery
This year we have also found ourselves with enough time to pursue hobbies and pleasure without worrying about wasted time. A few weeks ago we spent the weekend visiting a friend and making pottery in his small town, and we couldn’t have had a more enjoyable experience. Not only was the town we visited somewhat reminiscent of both Stephanie and my hometowns in size, but the attitude was welcoming and incredibly comfortable. We had a wonderful time and realized how lucky we are to now be granted the time to explore such pleasure filled weekends with people we care about.
Needless to say, 2014 was a spectacular year. Filled with genuine characters and fortuitous circumstances, we have found ourselves grateful for our time which seemingly passed by in a matter of months. With a better understanding of ourselves and our path, we are more than excited to begin another year. Happy New Years, everyone! We look forward to sharing more adventures, and another year with you in 2015.