The Time That A Mid-Twenties Revelation Turned Into An Insatiable Passion

AUTHOR’S NOTE REGARDING THE APRIL 1st BLOG ENTRY: I want to thank all of you who read my April Fools’ Day treatise about my conception. I would like to have shared more with you about my life-creating moment, but as the old travel saying goes: “What happens in utero stays in utero.”
Better luck next time, people, and enjoy blog entry #3.

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By the time my freshman year of high school rolled around, I already had my mid-twenties all mapped out. At some point during the year 1996, when I wasn’t firing spitballs at my classmates or wondering why hair was growing in strange places, my naïve 14-year-old self imagined lofty ambitions for my mid-twenties: I figured that by the time I was 25, I’d be living in a penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan, and I would be able to afford such opulence because I would be making millions as the starting center fielder for the New York Mets.

Yup……this was my plan.

But as I grew older (and presumably wiser), two grim realities reared their ugly heads:
1) Becoming a Major League Baseball player is really, really, REALLY difficult (yes, even making it to the crappy Mets).
2) If you fail to become a wealthy professional baseball player (or movie star, or pop music icon, or fat cat CEO, or bigoted blowhard Republican presidential nominee), living in a luxurious penthouse apartment in New York City is damn near impossible.

Okay, so I would never hit a game-winning home run and circle the bases at Shea Stadium with 55,000 people chanting my name. But even so, by the time I actually reached the age of 25, it still seemed like I had the world by the tail. I was young, healthy and energized (still am, actually). I had a Master’s Degree in my back pocket (still do, actually). I was working as a gainfully-employed middle school history teacher. I’d plugged myself into a variety of post-college social pipelines and made some great friends. I played roller hockey in several leagues throughout New York City and New Jersey. The house that I shared in Staten Island with my buddy Rocco was a few blocks down from a fantastic, enormous bookstore. By night, I went out for a few beers with the guys. I prowled the bars and chased the skirts. I was livin’ large and lovin’ life, and on the surface everything looked great.

But only on the surface.

You see, something was missing. On or around my 25th birthday, it dawned on me that I’d been around for a while…indeed, it had been a quarter of a century since I popped into this world. And, so far, my global travel had been lacking. Check that…my global travel had been SEVERELY lacking. In fact, I’d only been to the USA and Canada, and I wasn’t okay with that. Sure, the USA and Canada are two nice countries to visit, chock-full of countless incredible places to explore, but there are also more than 200 other countries in the world that I yearned to see. Hell, I’d never even been to Mexico…even drunk on a dare you make it into Mexico! There was only one way in which I was going to have the time, the money, and the opportunity to travel extensively: I would have to live abroad.

When I first got the idea to live overseas, some of my friends thought I was flat-out crazy to leave the USA. Especially my friends from New York. See, many New Yorkers–nay, MOST New Yorkers–think that if a person chooses to live somewhere besides The Big Apple, then that person is, in a sense, kidding.
And I heard quite a few bemused inquiries:
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss your family?”
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss your friends?”
“You’re kidding. Aren’t you going to miss going to baseball games [as a paying customer]?”

The answer to all of these questions, of course, was yes. But as the old saying goes, “Ya gotta give somethin’ to get somethin’.” And, no, I wasn’t kidding. I needed to get up. I needed to get out. I needed to see the world.

I also knew that I needed to do this sooner rather than later, for one very simple reason: if I waited too long, there might not be a “later”. You see, as we get older, we get tied down to the domestic life of spouses, kids, mortgages and minivans. And, while it’s definitely still possible to take fun and fulfilling trips as a family, it’s simply not the same as traveling when you’re young and single. After all, it’s not very easy or cheap to travel with your nagging wife/stubborn husband, not to mention your hyperactive children. If you don’t travel while you’re young and single, then you can’t get the opportunity back. Indeed, the four worst words in the English language are “It’s too late now” (narrowly beating out “Whose panties are these?”).

Before I took off for another country, I needed to do my homework. I had to figure out who I was, what I wanted, where I was going, and how to get there. Choosing which country to move to is not like opening up the fridge and going, “Hmmm, what should I have for breakfast this morning?” No, it’s a lengthy, drawn-out process that must be calculated and mustn’t be rushed.

Many people don’t know this, but my first choice was Japan (shhhhhh, don’t tell Korea!). However, every time I asked people about living abroad in Japan, they always gave me the same exact feedback: “You’ll make a lot of money, but you’ll spend it right back. The cost of living is very high in Japan, and it’s pretty hard to save much money.”  So much for that…sayonara, Japan.

Korea, on the other hand, is a place in which I could make a first-world salary and pay third-world prices. I could live rent-free with a minimal amount of monthly bills. I would be able to make a pretty good amount of cash as an English teacher/professor, and more importantly, I would be able to SAVE a pretty good amount of cash.  It’s also a very strategic geographical spot for wanderlusts: China to the west, Japan to the east, Mongolia and Russia to the north and a plethora of Southeast Asian destinations to the south.

After five or six months of research, studying, cultural swaps, language exchanges, job interviews, visa applications and airfare purchases, I was ready to roll.

It was time to chase a dream.

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ABOVE: On my way to Seoul in November 2008…
…my plane’s wing and a beautiful sunset over Alaska.

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