College was a cozy time for the Tadhgster. When you spend four years as a sometimes-invested English major who is not involved in any activities, you grow accustomed to a certain way of life. And by "way of life," I mean "I had more free time than a hamster." In the summer I worked, but nothing impressive or difficult, nothing that taxed me any more than school did. Some of my friends came up for air during the summer months with jobs or internships that made real demands on their time and forced them into something resembling adulthood. I kept working the same jobs I’d worked in high school, and as graduation approached that felt more and more like a mistake. At school we all lived in a dream world to some degree, but most people had the will and the foresight to wake themselves up from time to time. I’d been out cold for four years.
So graduation scared me. But you know what? Graduation ended up being no big deal. It was kinda like Y2K – this big bad thing was supposed to come fuck my day up, but it came and went and nothing seemed to change. I bought 100 cans of beans for nothing.
Two factors contributed to this:
1. The summer grace period. I expected to come home and be under immediate pressure to get my shit together. But that didn’t happen at all. Taking a month or two after graduation to adjust and relax was, to my surprise, viewed as acceptable behavior by pretty much everyone. Most of my friends spent the summer either un- or barely-employed, even the ambitious ones who were actively pursuing work. And that was because of…
2. The economy. Even without the grace period of the summer, the general consensus was that graduating seniors had no chance of getting decent jobs anyway. Nice card to have up your sleeve. If any uncles got too nosy about your future plans, you just shrugged and said, "shit, it's rough out there," and that was the end of it.
So there was no urgency. I read, I slept, I started running. On weekends I saw friends, went back to New York a couple times. One friend from college had a graduation party that lasted all of 4th of July weekend. On Sunday her dad set up a projector on the deck, and we sat and watched The Natural on a bed sheet spread over the back wall of her house. I remember sitting there with my friends, drinking a beer as fireworks exploded behind us, thinking, “well this hasn’t been so bad.”
And then, slowly but surely, the weather got cold, and people got jobs. Though still not ready for anything resembling real work, by the turn of the seasons I too had joined the ranks of the employed. Through a connection I landed a part-time job as a courier delivering paychecks between offices in center city Philadelphia. I walked around, I listened to music, I talked to secretaries, I went home. I loved the job, but (of course) I made next to nothing doing it.
It was around this time that I started to take seriously my friend Mike’s idea of going to South Korea to teach English for a year. Mike had been thinking about this for months and was by now in the process of applying. We talked about it a lot and every time it came up it sounded more appealing to me.
As the glow of summer faded, the pressure to move in the general direction of adulthood grew steadily. As much as I liked it, I couldn’t stay at the courier job forever. Down economy or not, the friends who'd been looking for work eventually found it, and the difference between my life and theirs was becoming hard to ignore. A few of them found apartments and moved back to New York, and it was obvious that number was only going to grow. I found myself riding buses twice a month to hang out and spend the weekend on their couches - unsurprisingly, living in New York with all your friends > living at home with your all your parents. But still, I was torn. I envied my friends' freedom and independence, lived vicariously through it, but I knew also that the portion I was seeing was tiny, and that the rest was taken up by long subway rides, demanding jobs, early bedtimes, and a lot of other shit I was not ready to face. Christ, a few of them were working over 60 hours a week. My friends had left the jacuzzi and dived straight into the Arctic Ocean, and I couldn't do that. I went back to my secretaries and paychecks and tried to find some middle ground, and more and more Korea seemed a good answer. There were a few reasons for this.
One thing about jobs is that they have no set ending. In most cases, once you're hired you just start going in every day until you leave or get fired. School was just the opposite, and that was one of the nice things about it. If you were having a bad time with anything, you could always count the days until the end of the semester, the end of the year, the end of school itself. Even in college, a place where I was almost never having a bad time, I liked that impermanence. It's nice to know that you're building toward something, that every day brings you closer to a goal that will be completed, that eventually this chapter will end and something new will take its place. My first job out of college, I didn't want to watch the movie without knowing its running time. So the year-long time table was a plus.
Living abroad appealed to me also. As much as I loved New York and Philadelphia, I didn't want to work in either, at least not yet. Rationally or not, I was reluctant to drop anchor in the same areas I'd always lived. It felt too much like an ending. If I didn't go somewhere else now, I wasn't sure it would ever happen. South Korea was, decidedly, somewhere else. That was another plus.
I was excited for the work, too. I never planned on becoming a teacher, but every student imagines at some point how they'd run a classroom. I was eager to drink deeply from the cup of power and become instantly cruel and petty. THERE WILL BE NO TALKING IN MR. FERRY'S CLASS. Also the pictures they sent of the kids were insanely cute. Due to the nature of the job, my hours would be light (less than 7 hrs a day) and my day would start at 10:00. As a labor-averse night owl, this was deeply appealing. Other factors (free housing, good pay, my own apartment) played their role. Ultimately it just seemed a nice compromise - an adventure, a future conversation piece, a postponement of the real world, but still a job, and a legitimate one, one that would be challenging and time-consuming, and one that would pay.
So I applied and was accepted. I write this now on the eve of leaving. I've been asked why I decided to do this. The answer is combination of everything in this post and the "let's hope for the best" naivete you bring to every unknown situation. Let's hope for the best.