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Congratulatory Jealousy...or is it?

Ever Evolving Primate: Travel, photography, food, cooking, and just about anything else.: Congratulatory Jealousy...or is it?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Congratulatory Jealousy...or is it?

"I envy you" is one of the most awkwardly and frequently used expressions that I hear from my Korean coworkers and students here. I'm not sure how it entered the common conversational framework here, and that's probably less important than the fact that there is something lost in translation. When you dissect the sentence the Korean English speaker is correct in their usage, but I think most native English speakers would agree that "envy" has a slightly more sinister connotation than does "jealous." The use of this phrase has nothing to do with what I'm going to write about in this post other than its role as a metaphorical fish-hook that I'm setting in your cheek right now so that you may continue reading my wonderful writing.

An acquaintance of ours just announced on Facebook that he has been accepted into the JET Programme and will be moving to Hiroshima in August to teach English in Japan. This guy is well known among the expat ESL-teaching community here in Daegu (probably in Korea, for that matter), and is that guy that you're always afraid you're being compared to in some way by your coteachers and evaluators. He's one of those very rare (from what I can tell) people who has a huge passion for education, learns the local language to rather admirable degree of fluency and is probably outstandingly effective at his job, despite the difficulties that the educational system here lays on top of simply getting your job done well enough. So basically, he's one of the most upstanding native-English speaking teachers in the area, and has really earned himself some great opportunities.

Something you might need to know for this post to make sense is that the JET Programme is essentially the holy grail of ESL jobs in East Asia. The benefits and pay are good, the working conditions seem to be great, the jobs are extremely competitive to land, and the interview process is arduous. The job is good, and the place you get to live is, well, Japan. How many nerds from the U.S./Canada/U.K. and other English speaking countries are secret or not-so-secret Japanophiles who want to spend some time in Japan doing karate, eating sushi, reading manga, and all sorts of other things that you can only really do in Japan? Get the point? The JET Programme is in essence, a very, very cool job to land for a year or two or five or however long you want.

Here's a little backstory. In 2007 I needed to escape my hometown, so I left to be a scuba instructor and move to Hawaii. I got bogged down by financial concerns (the concept of "go big, or go home" was a little too daunting) and settled on Florida, before moving to Hawaii when the dive shop I worked at in Florida tanked. I fostered an unhealthy attachment to some friends in Florida that kept me on a leash, didn't really enjoy my time in Hawaii as much as I could have, and moved back to Florida when those friends (who I really should have estimated given 27 years of life on this planet) planned to relaunch the previously failed dive shop. I knew about 3 days into the new job that it wasn't going to work, and that we were pretty much doomed. I got depressed. I was financially stuck, I couldn't dream of coming up with enough money to escape, and the job paid enough to barely (and I mean barely) keep my head sort of above water. It would take me about three and a half years to recover to a place of true comfort from this decision. For whatever reason, I latched onto the idea of Japan to right myself. I took karate classes (a great thing for anyone struggling in life, I might add), tried to learn some of the language, and kept a JET Programme brochure on my table throughout my (probably also ill advised) master's degree in teaching.

Something happened that caused me to throw the brochure away. I met a lady. I fell in love with the lady, and I knew that the JET Programme was no longer an option. I thought Asia itself was off the books (but hey, it turns out I was DEAD wrong about that), but the most important thing in my life now was my relationship. Now, push came to shove, and as we worked together we both needed a way out. One day while browsing job opportunities in her office, she discovered that the public schools in Korea would accept couples' applications, and we applied. Nearly two years after making that decision we're both sitting at our desks in Korea and I see an announcement from an acquaintance (someone I have met exactly once) that they've been accepted into the JET Programme and all of the sudden it's time to reflect a little bit.

Here's what's going on in my head:

  1. Our time as expats is quickly coming to a close. We're nearly halfway through our second contracts, and at the end of this contract we'll get married, celebrate with a tour of Europe, and settle back into the United States to reboot life. This is exciting, but it also comes with some scary things like the lack of nationalized heath insurance and paying rent again and all of that tripe that really makes life hard sometimes. What will it be like when and if we have to struggle just to make ends meet again instead of prosper like we have here?
  2. I will never even apply to the JET Programme. I knew this anyway. It's always been there. This is not news. How many ways can I say the same thing in order to make the point that this isn't surprising, it just is. I'm not sad that I won't apply to the JET Programme or eat onigiri every day or become fluent in Japanese (right, like I became fluent in Korean?) or any of those things. I guess seeing someone else achieve a dream that was the light at the end of a really dark and dismal tunnel for you just reminds you about how bright and beautiful that light was when everything else was pretty terrible.
  3. I'm so happy with the twists and turns that my life has taken. I thought that I was escaping the orbit (death spiral) I was in when I left San Antonio in 2007. If we were to put this into spaceflight terms, I think I simply achieved escape velocity. I think the move to Hawaii showed me I could live and survive on my own and be happy-ish. I think that spending half a year as far from home as I'd ever been was probably a really important step towards being the kind of person that was ready for love and a relationship and all of the really good stuff that at that point I would have said wasn't important to me. I even think the dark times of the death of my diving career, and the resulting irrational hatred of water sports that has thankfully passed, was a crucial developmental phase that I needed in order to be truly happy.

    The fact that I found a light in the middle of that dark tunnel that just needed to be turned on (pun so not intended) to see that it was so very much more bright and beautiful than that light over at the end of the tunnel; and that it would walk to the end of the tunnel with me and hug me when I needed it or just tell me that shit was going to be okay when I was sure that it wasn't; is simply the greatest twist or turn that any adventure could have taken me on.

    Our time living together in Korea has really been one of those blessings that I never in my life counted on, thought would happen, or even considered as a possibility until I met my match. I think it's kinda sad when I look back on parts of life where I tried to fill what I didn't even realize was a void with various different obsessions and discounted what it would take to make me feel whole and fulfilled. Thankfully I think I've grown out of that and righted the ship, so to speak. My life is pretty great
  4. Japan is still happening for us. It's just going to be for 5 days instead of years like I initially thought. The good news is that even with rising oceans and a changing climate, Japan is still going to be there for the rest of my life, and I'm sure we're going to have a good occasion to visit again. I'd rather take the brighter light I found in the tunnel than the not quite as big and beautiful one that I thought was waiting for me at the end of it any day of the week.
  5. You know, had my original plan remained unchanged, would I have been too scared to go to Japan for a year by myself anyway? Probably so. I was petrified when we were at the airport about to leave for Korea on February 17, 2011. I could not have done this without my beautiful bride-to-be, and that's all there is to it. We've got plenty of adventure yet to come in our lives. You know, screw that. Our lives together are constantly adventurous. Even cooking dinner is an adventure together. No, seriously, have you ever had a bean steak? We have. Top that, I dare you.
At the end of the day, I feel really, really happy for the guy that now has the awesome opportunity to go live and teach in Japan for a while. I also feel really, really happy that I don't have the opportunity because the reasons that opportunity isn't there for me are really pretty great circumstances. Am I happy with my life? You bet your buttons I am! Do I feel a little melancholy when I see someone else achieve a goal that once sustained me through a terrible time? Sure. It's all normal human stuff, right?

Also, I might add, EPIK (the English Program in Korea) to my understanding no longer allows couples to apply together. I think we're really damn lucky we took the chance and came when we did, or else we wouldn't have had such a crazy, incredible, amazing experience. I feel pretty blessed. Did I really just say that?

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