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July 9, 2013

Take Two

TwoYearsAbroad40

This essay was written as a contributing article for Don Suh and HiWorld Recruiting for the launch of their their new website. 

While coming up quickly on the end of my second one-year contract teaching English in South Korea I realized this might be the perfect time to recount the whole experience so far and summarize my experiences over the last 24 months not only for posterity, but for anyone else out there considering moving abroad to teach English. My time in Daejeon has really gone by quickly, but in looking back over pictures from when I first arrived, I certainly feel I have come a long way and that, overall, the experience has not only been mostly positive, but also life-altering.

My decision to come to South Korea and teach English began back in the long, cold winter of 2011. Gas prices were outrageous and the economy had completely tanked. So had the employment market. I was working 3 jobs at the time and still could not really make ends meet. After a long heart-to-heart with my mother over dinner, I asked for her advice and guidance. I was 42 with a good education and a wide range of employment experiences. However, I had no savings, no real investments, and had never really been anywhere exciting. I was substitute teaching part-time at two Career and Technical high schools, working as a Specialist at the Apple Retail store at Easton 30 hours a week, and still working as a mobile DJ with a full calender of bookings for the upcoming wedding season. After my mother and I failed to come up with a logical solution that didn’t involve my borrowing money from her, I retreated with my old friend Patrick to the Donley family hunting cabin for some quiet reading, soul searching, and some more good advice.

The idea to move overseas was always simmering on the back burner since Pat himself returned from his two-year stay in Vietnam in the late 90′s. The prospect, however, never really got any serious consideration from me until some fortuitous events occurred to show me a new path. First, Pat introduced me to a terrific book by Rolf Potts called Vagabonding. The book, subtitled “An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” was a huge inspiration for me in the reality (and necessity) of a very different lifestyle than the one I was leading at the time. The toll of having three jobs and still barely surviving was no longer a viable option and, in fact, had never really been a good one to begin with. The writings and ideas of Simon Black and his website, www.sovereignman.com, also helped me to really understand the practical necessity of diversifying my finances, my opportunities, as well as my attitude about how I actually intended to survive in the future.

After over 250 gigs as a DJ in seven years (some 200 of those events were wedding receptions), I decided to look at the possibility of a radically different path and one that did not include “The Electric Slide.” Potts’ book outlines the simplicity and rewards of life abroad, as well as specific practical advice in harnessing my independent spirit and desire to travel to create a completely new lifestyle for myself. After opening up to the idea, I began to float a variety of options around to selected co-workers at the Apple store. I was soon informed that back-of-house guru, Mike, had completed a similar adventure in South Korea with terrific results, and so the scene was set for some vagabonding of my own. With Patrick’s encouragement and the support of my wonderful family and friends, the transformation and exodus into a prospective English teacher and future world traveler took a mere 7 months.

I quickly contacted Mike’s recruiter in Daejeon and began an online job search that became a daily obsession. The rest of my time was spent selling, scrapping, or donating some 75% of my worldly belongings in a cathartic, minimalistic process of having more through owning less. Once I stopped to really evaluate why I had so much “stuff” and why I was seemingly so attached to creating and maintaining a space for all of it, the spring cleaning of a lifetime was on and it just snowballed from there. Each trash run or drop-off at Goodwill also brought me a little closer to realizing my intention to live a life abroad that all fit into just 2 suitcases. After considering a few different offers and one brief false-start, I agreed to take a job in central Korea over the bustling capital of Seoul.

My goals upon arrival on the Korean peninsula were relatively simple. First, I wanted to see if teaching was a career path I wanted to pursue in earnest. Second, I wanted to jump-start my traveling adventures as Ontario, Canada, was the only place I had been outside the United States. Finally, I wanted to pay off any remaining credit cards and finally accumulate some real savings for the first time in my life.

After nearly 2 years in Korea, the experiment/adventure has turned into a way of life. Not only have I found a true passion for teaching, I feel I have been forever liberated from a lifestyle that was killing me not so softly. I have also said goodbye to an imaginary American ethos (“The American Dream”) that was really a pleasure to leave behind. The only real things that I miss are my mom’s cooking, good Mexican food, and sharing a laugh and a smile with my family and friends in person. The flip side here has been an experience that helped mature and refine many of my better attributes, while helping to jettison old and negative attitudes that were not working. All this has happened organically, while at the same time achieving all three of my objectives in a way I could never imagine.

After a long flight, high-speed train, and scary taxi ride to my new school, I was given a tour of the classrooms and of my semi-furnished apartment. My airfare here was paid for initially by me and then reimbursed through direct deposit in full once my Alien Registration Card was processed. The school was very clean, bright, and highly modern with computers, white boards, and nice digital projectors and speakers in each classroom. This was my first huge sigh of relief as the academy turned out to be much nicer than I expected. My apartment was also paid for and was to be the other positive indicator of the condition of my life for the next year. Thankfully, it too was also big, clean, modern, and quite well appointed. Apparently my recruiter and I had done pretty good for ourselves and the stage was set for a great experience.

(Please click on each individual image to view full size or as a slideshow)

Teaching in South Korea can take on many forms, the most popular being in public schools, private academies, or in a university setting. While the requirements are slightly different for each and are changing every year, the basics are a native fluency in English, an undergraduate degree, and a clean background check. Some programs and schools require additional training or certification, but were not really required for my employment contract. My school is a private English academy (called a hagwon) with 2 locations in Daejeon. The main location is in Dunsan-dong near City Hall in the center of the city. The second, slightly smaller branch is in the suburbs 20 minutes away in an newer area called Noeun. My contract requires me to be there 40 hours a week from 1-10 p.m. on weekdays only. Students typically come to hagwons during the week after normal classes at their Korean schools finish. This can make for some long days for the students, but I have really grown to like the later hours and altered schedule. This leaves my mornings free for video calls back home and other activities; including lots of coffee, a gym membership, voracious reading, biking, and volunteering at 2Typically classes start around 3 p.m., so my first 2 hours in the office are for prep time and entering homework or grades. While a few of my classes are one hour in length, most are a quick 35-40 minutes. Students come in waves from younger to older throughout the day, so I start with 3rd and 4th graders and end up with middle school kids in the evening. The classes can be as small as 2-3 students and rarely go above 16-18 kids. Throughout the week I teach about 25 classes with a higher concentration of them being on Mondays and Fridays. This semester, I actually have NO classes on Tuesdays, but have to remain on site for what expats teaching here call “desk-warming”. This free time allows me the opportunity to read extensively, make travel arrangements, and to update my travel journal with articles like this.

As I mentioned, my teaching tenure back home was limited to substitute work with high school students, mostly Juniors and Seniors, so I had no real experience with young kids. Once the excitement of leaving the U.S. wore off and the newness of my surroundings sunk in, I began to really be nervous about how exactly I would handle my new position and how they would, in turn, accept me. My fears were pretty quickly put to rest during my first week teaching as the students were friendly, curious, and for the most part, highly intelligent and polite. Once I got the hang of in-class discipline (an evolving art form), I was much more confident as a teacher and far better off as an actual educator. As I often joke, it can’t be “Dead Poet’s Society” every day, but it is relatively easy and rewarding.

The coursework was all provided, including books and corresponding PowerPoint slides, as was some basic training and lots of terrific administrative support. In my second year, new textbooks were introduced and the native teaching staff came up with a suitable curriculum focusing on speaking for the younger kids and writing for the higher levels. While I do generally share a common office with some of the other teachers, I have had occasionally my own classroom, too, which was terrific. Typically, however, I go from class to class depending on my schedule and give the Korean teachers a break while covering my material with students on a weekly basis. Also, I now split my time between the 2 locations and take the subway to the suburban school 3 times a week.

(Please click on each individual image to view full size or as a slideshow)

As for accomplishing my goals, it has been relatively easy to save money each month and send it back home to the states on the fairly standard terms of my arrangement. My expenses are minimal as health care is provided, food is abundant and cheap, and tipping is not a part of Asian culture. Public transportation is easily accessible, reliable, clean, and cheap, so the thought of owning a car again back in the states is a daunting prospect. I am responsible for my internet, gas, and apartment maintenance fees (including electric and garbage), which add up to about $150.00 per month. During my first year here I bought an older smart phone and paid about $30 per month with no contract. Recently I upgraded to a new Samsung Galaxy 3 (sorry Apple) as a small luxury and love everything about my new phone. It is twice as expensive as what I had but is super-fast, convenient, and fairly essential for translations, directions, and conversions. That being said, I can still send home roughly $1,000 per month. I also contribute $100 per month to my teacher’s pension, which my school matches. I can apply for this money back as a refund once I leave the country for good. My contract also includes one month’s severance at the end of each contract period and a return flight home. Any unused vacation time is also paid in cash. All in all, I have made out pretty well.

With regards to travel, the above mentioned liquidity and the ease of travel within Korea means that most weekends and holidays can be spent out exploring or traveling throughout the country. Seoul to the north and Busan in the south are easy to get to by bus or train for weekend getaways and I also visited Hong Kong for 3 days last Fall. I am planning a Summer break trip to Japan this month and then diving lessons in the Philippines over the winter holiday. I was also able to visit Jeju Island and bike around the entire province on holiday recently, as well. This part of my plan could be further extended if I am able to secure a university teaching position. I have discovered that I do indeed want to pursue a career in academia and that teaching at a higher level here might just be the perfect fit. The pay and benefits are roughly the same, but the vacation time is considerably more. Requirements for these jobs have just been completely overhauled, so be sure to do your homework if you wish to follow a similar path.

All things considered, my last 2 years here have been quite unforgettable and I highly recommend the experience to anyone looking to shake things up, travel a bit, and/or pursue a career in teaching. Korea (over Japan and China) seems to offer a nice balance of all the things ESL teachers are looking for; good working and living conditions, ease of travel, and an affordable lifestyle with the potential to save money or pay off debts. It is an interesting culture that can provide some basic challenges, but overall, most Koreans  have been friendly, gracious, supportive, and highly curious about me and the country I left behind. While I am not ready to return to the U.S. any time soon, I will have quite a few adventures to share when I return and an outlook on life that has been permanently changed for the good.

Check out HiWorld Recruiting on Facebook, too, for this and other articles about living and teaching abroad.

May 18, 2013

Seoul Searching

PatVisit019Last month I was thrilled to get a “human care package” from home in the form of childhood friend, Patrick Donley, visiting Korea for the first time. Pat was also a mule for a real care package of goodies from back home; including a wonderful Flannery O’Connor book and much-needed chocolate chip cookies from Aunt Margo!

Pat’s 20 days here perhaps went by too quickly for both of us, but we managed to squeeze in a lot of the best of what “The Land of Morning Calm” has to offer. As Patrick was in many ways the inspiration for my decision to move here, I wanted to not only show him why I have enjoyed my time here so much, but I also wanted to thank him for providing the impetus for the decision that has forever altered the course of my life.

The idea to move abroad was always simmering on the back burner since Pat himself returned from his two-year stay in Vietnam. The idea, however, never really got any serious consideration until the U.S. economy completely collapsed and some fortuitous events occurred to show me the path. First, Pat introduced me to a terrific book at the Donley cabin one night by Rolf Potts called Vagabonding. The book, subtitled “An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” was a huge inspiration into the reality (and necessity) of a very different life than the one I was leading at the time. The toll of having three jobs and still not making ends meet was no longer a viable option and, in fact, had never really been a good one to begin with.

After over 250 DJ gigs in seven years (some 200 of those weddings), I decided to look at the possibility of a radically different path that did not include “The Electric Slide.” Potts’ book outlines the simplicity and rewards of life abroad and specific practical advice in harnessing my independent spirit and desire to travel to create a completely new lifestyle for myself. After opening up to the idea, I began to float a variety of options to selected co-workers at the Apple store. I was soon informed that back-of-house guru, Mike, had completed a similar adventure in South Korea, and the scene was set for some vagabonding of my own. With Patrick’s encouragement and the support of my wonderful family and friends, the transformation and exodus took a mere 7 months.

I quickly contacted Mike’s recruiter in Daejeon and began an online job search that became a daily obsession. The rest of my time was spent selling, scrapping, or donating some 75% of my worldly belongings in a cathartic, minimalistic process of more through less. Once I stopped to really evaluate why I had so much “stuff” and why I was seemingly so attached to having and creating a space for all of it, the spring cleaning of 42 years was on and just snowballed from there. Each release also brought me a little closer to realizing my goal of a life fit into 2 suitcases.

After nearly 2 years in Korea, the experiment has turned into a way of life. Not only have I found a true passion for teaching, I feel I have been truly liberated from a lifestyle that was slowly killing me and an American ethos that was a pleasure to leave behind. The only real things that I miss are mom’s cooking, El Vaquero, and sharing a laugh and a smile with my family and friends. That, coupled with my desire to show Pat the brilliance of his suggestions in person, led to an exciting and unforgettable 3 weeks in Korea.

(Click on any photo below to view full size or as a gallery)

After getting acclimated to the time change and Korea’s hurry up “bali bali” culture, Pat was truly in his element. Determined to give him the full experience of my favorite things about living here, we spent the first weekend at Asan Shelter. Pat gladly chipped in to walk, feed, and water the dogs there and was exhausted after a full day with the wonderful animals there. The following week was spent exploring my hometown and trying some of the local delights, including a lot of spicy food, bad Korean beer, a potent bottle of Soju and a daily visit to Paris Baguette for breakfast treats.

We then booked a night at Jin’s Paradise guesthouse in Seoul’s Itaewon-dong district and hopped on the high-speed KTX to make the 50 minute trip at speeds over 300 km per hour. Seoul can be overwhelming for any experienced world traveler, but we managed to see and enjoy some of the subtle brilliance of the city over the weekend, including shopping and haggling (successfully!) with vendors in Namdaemun and Insadong, and sipping Makkoli (Korean rice wine) with some classic characters in a street side tent cafe.

Overall, the weekend was exciting and the sensory overload was tiring for us both. We gladly returned home the next day with our fill of the capital city and for plans of the adventure to come- our cycling tour of Jeju Island…

 

December 28, 2012

Fostering Fatty

FosteringFatty15

One of my main objectives for 2012 was to volunteer at a cause I felt passionately about. After just a little bit of searching on the web, I found a terrific website, Animal Rescue Korea, that that manages to loosely organize the various animal shelters scattered throughout the country.

Having failed to contact anyone at Daejeon Paws after several attempts, I was lucky enough to find on Facebook that Animal Rescue Korea also had a weekly event at another shelter nearby. The Asan Shelter is run by Mr. Park and  is located an hour north of Daejeon by car. It is also just 20 minutes via the KTX high-speed rail and just another 15 minutes by taxi from the Cheonan-Asan Station.

I later found out that Mrs. Jung at Daejeon Paws is not very computer savvy, but does run an excellent animal shelter pretty much all by herself in a small, run-down flat. I was ultimately able to visit recently with Glenn, who has been volunteering to walk the big dogs there on a regular basis. In addition to his work at Daejeon Paws, Glenn has been helping out at Asan Shelter, too, while looking for a dog to adopt and send back home. Originally hailing from Ottawa, he has not only been a good friend and inspiration, but a valuable resource for all things shelter-wise here in Korea. In one of many heartwarming stories I witnessed at the shelter this year, Glenn adopted a beautiful Pyrenees-mix named “Ghost” last month and has plans to take her back to Canada on his winter break.

As I have outlined in several earlier posts, I began volunteering weekly at Asan Shelter beginning in September all the way up to Thanksgiving and the departure of co-teacher, Josh. As each week passed, I found that my thoughts and activities began to center more and more on the amazing volunteers at the shelter -and on all the sweet animals living there. Over the course of those 3 months, I couldn’t wait for each week to pass so that I could get back out to be with the animals. Despite the horrible conditions, the dogs have a resilient and inspiring spirit that draws you in and will not let go. Desperate for any amount of attention and care, the nearly 70 dogs in cages, along with the roughly 40 cats roaming the grounds, were always happy to see the taxis pull up loaded with volunteers.

As my involvement and level of commitment grew, I began to receive subtle (and not-so subtle) hints that I might make a good candidate for fostering an animal from the shelter. As I began to consider the logistics and realities of being a foster father, the temperatures began to drop with each passing week. I then began to look at the dogs differently and really tried pictured one of them living in my apartment in Daejeon. With that in mind, I was drawn again and again to the large pack of Spaniels caged together at the top of the hill. Their size and temperament seemed to be an ideal fit, as we had a Cocker growing up and I have never paid much attention to lap-dogs. The bigger breeds have always been my favorite and are actually in greater need of fostering and adoption, it just was completely impractical given my situation and work schedule.

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Still reluctant to take the next step, everything changed when the hints turned into pleas for sympathy, and several volunteers suggested I check out a shelter favorite named “Fatty” instead of a Spaniel. It turns out Fatty is the perfect name for an adorable 3-year old Maltese, who was always friendly and visible on my previous visits; he was just not on my radar as a dog needing my attention. In fact, I really only looked at him as a dog that got too much attention (and perhaps too many treats) in his year living there, resulting in his low-slung girth and unforgettable moniker.

I decided to take him out for a walk around the shelter so we could get acquainted. Fatty was certainly ready to stretch his legs after some fresh food and a little grooming. I immediately found him to be charming, well mannered, and highly intelligent. As I spent even more time with him, other volunteers approached us offering whatever they could to help make the fostering happen that very afternoon. I went from just thinking about it, to having anything I would possibly need to do it provided for us both. Everything, including a bright pink travel crate, was donated to the cause. After a quick trip to Seoul for some additional supplies, Fatty and I headed back to his new foster home via First Class on the KTX.

Fostering Fatty from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

After a few days of getting used to each other and a full check-up at the Cool Pets shop inside Home Plus, Fatty was also given a full pet-spa treatment of a bath, pedicure, and a haircut. Not only did he come back fluffy and smelling like baby powder, he was heart worm negative and his blood work, kidneys, and ears all came back in tip-top shape, to boot. Despite the obvious lingering weight issue, Fatty was in terrific condition, which is remarkable given his time at the shelter and the conditions there.

The prescription by Dr. Park for lots of exercise was easy to accommodate and a regular walking schedule was instituted right away. Regular walks in my Dong proved not only to be just the ticket for Fatty’s total transformation, but he also began to become quite the celebrity, attracting attention wherever we went. After only five days in my care, we were flagged down by  the owner of a flower shop called Tiger Wooju, just a block from my apartment building. Although he spoke no English, Mr. Jeong and I  exchanged cards and a lot of friendly attention centered on Fatty. Later that day, I got an text message from him seemingly indicating that he and his family were interested in “my little dog”.

After a few weeks of translating the adoption application, everything checked out and things started to look really good for “The Fat One”. On the Sunday before Christmas, I rode to the shelter with Mr. Jeong, his wife Mi-Jung, and their youngest son, Wooju, for a visit to see where their potential new pet came from . Following a cold and snowy tour of the facilities at Asan Shelter, which included seeing Fatty’s old cage, the adoption was finally green-lighted. Fatty’s forever home came just in time for Christmas and added one more name to the long list of little victories for second chance animals in Korea. Congratulations to Fatty and the Jeong family and thanks to all the volunteers that made it happen!

Fat Christmas from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

December 12, 2012

Farewell Joshua

JoshFarewell18December saw the end of another Native Teacher contract at my hagwon, as Maryland native, Josh Stinton, excitedly returned home to the United States. Josh was a teacher at the Noeun Branch of JLS and a great friend and travel companion over the last year.

Despite his age, Josh was extremely mature and passed my snobby credentials early on by displaying a wide knowledge of both great music (like My Bloody Valentine and The Clash) and also good literature (like Hemingway and Chuck Klosterman).

My experience abroad has changed me for the better in so many ways and the best, most memorable part will always be the people I have met here. Josh was always quick to laugh, particularly at himself, and was always up for hike, bike ride, or other urban adventure. Our shared fascination with the daily absurdity of Korean culture was frustrating for him at first and was often times hilarious to us both. It was our ability to laugh at these otherwise infuriating cultural differences that made the experience bearable and ultimately all the more illuminating.

 

I got to see Joshua grow and mature even more during his short time here, too, becoming a more confident and experienced world traveler. This has helped me realize just how green I was upon my initial arrival in South Korea and how we both will be forever better for the experience. He also has a natural gift for teaching and the kids loved him. JLS and the staff were sad to see him go, but his adventure continues.

Upon his return to the U.S.A., Josh planned to substitute teach and pursue a graduate degree in a related field. I wish him continued success in whatever path he chooses to follow and I will miss having him here as a trusted friend. Josh always pushed me to go a little farther beyond my comfort zone, and as I have discovered…that is where the magic happens.

magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace, safe travels, and good luck, Josh, from The Rock Traveler!

November 8, 2012

Halloween Fundraiser

 

Three weeks in late October and early November meant a few wonderful adoptions at Asan Shelter as preparations get underway for the cold winter months. For Halloween, a small photo area was set up to take pictures of volunteers and dogs in costume (mostly plastic ears and crazy glasses), and these were used to freshen up the Animal Rescue Korea website profiles for each dog. Thanks to the tireless work of Daisy B., most of the cats now have names and profiles available for viewing on the site, too.

Each week lots of new faces show up to lend a hand as there is always lots to do throughout the property. Having professor Glenn and teacher Josh along with me from Daejeon has been a HUGE help. Both have eagerly chipped in wherever needed and really made a big difference with the larger dogs up on the hill. While Josh seriously considered adopting shelter favorite “Beast” and taking him back home, Glenn applied to adopt resident sweetheart, “Ghost”, to take back to Ontario. Fingers crossed, this is an adoption that looks like a true blessing for one of the sweetest dogs at Asan.

After a weekend trip was scrapped due to foul weather, a much-needed meeting with Asan owner, Mr. Park, was held instead to hash out some of the most recent issues to come up over policies and procedures. The main sticking point was the adoption process and maintaining a healthy, open dialogue. The meeting was a huge success, except for Mr. Park’s insistence that volunteers no longer feed the animals dry kibble or wet, canned dog food. He maintains that his practice of feeding all the animals raw chicken carcasses that he purchases on the cheap from a local processing plant is much better for the pets overall. He claims that it is perfectly healthy for the dogs and results in less odor in both their breath and stool. Jerky snacks and doggie biscuits are still allowed, however, in my short experience with the dogs, consuming the raw chicken (bones and all) seems to really affect their regularity, not to mention increasing their chances of contracting a food-borne illness. Overall, it may be only a temporary development as so much of what goes on there is like the rest of Korea, based on appearances and avoiding shame or conflict; logic or common sense be dammed.

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Pressing on, the group finished another productive weekend before taking the train up to Seoul for a streetside fundraiser. Over 650,000 Korean Won was raised in Itaewon by selling Allison and Matt’s awesome homemade veggie burritos, Jello shots, and Clare Mills’ ingenious “Booze-In-a-Bag” cocktails. While the group braved rapidly dropping temperatures and the assorted drunks from all over the world, our most bizarre run-in was with the alleged owner of The Nashville Club. The behavior of this man is still the source of much confusion and laughter, as he never really came out and said what he wanted or what was bothering him so much about us being set up near his building.  Ultimately, a hilarious exchange with him resulted in his accusations that our charity event was a fraud and that he, in fact, actually eats dogs instead of supporting their well being. Sad but not surprising, the struggle for many of these wonderful animals is overwhelmingly uphill.

Thanks to the thankless support of long-standing volunteers like Clare, Daisy, Allison, Guillian, Dan, Elaine, and Jennifer, I feel I have found a cause I can truly get behind and I never tire of contributing to. This amazing video, created by Allison, tells the story much better than words as to the reality for most of these dogs as the mercury drops.

Second Chance Dogs (by Allison Young) from Matthew M. Vacca on Vimeo.

To find out more about fostering or adopting a loving dog or cat, or to donate to the efforts to winterize the kennels, contact me or visit the Asan Shelter page at Animal Rescue Korea website.

Woof-Woof and Meow-man!

September 23, 2012

Asan Pet Shelter

 

I have been living in Korea now for a little over a year and I have been looking for a nice place to donate my time and energy for a while. Having a minimum of 3 jobs at all times back home in the U.S., I have never had so much free time (and energy) as I do now that I have adopted a minimalist lifestyle in earnest. It seems odd, yet deeply satisfying that having less has had a direct connection to a richer, more fully enjoyed life.

As I prepared for my initial yearlong (now longer) “sojourn” to Korea back in the Winter of 2011, I began the cathartic and transformative process of jettisoning over 75% of my worldly possessions, including my beloved car. I began small enough – with little trips to the trash bin and the Goodwill and Lutheran Social Services drop off. Once I got rolling, and decided what I truly needed and what I could legitimately live without, the whole process became a fun, liberating, and enlightening exercise. I likened it to my own personal version of the popular cable TV show, Clean Sweep, on TLC – only with no cameras or annoying presenters.

After selling 25% of my electronics, books, music and videos, giving away another 25% of furniture and odds and ends, and donating the rest, I was left with a much smaller and much more manageable pile of what really matters to me. Other than personal pictures and some keepsakes, the rest is still easily replaceable. What I was left with before I left was a stronger sense of my true identity and a removal of the attachment to “stuff” that has permeated and polluted the so-called American dream. I am now much more confident and outwardly focused as a result, and much more discriminating as to what I accept into my life and to how I spend my time.

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To that end, I happily came across a wonderful event on Facebook organized by pet-lover Allison Young, an English teacher from Canada, now living in Seoul. Allison and other volunteers from throughout Korea travel to Asan in the South Chungcheong Province to spend time with the pets at the animal shelter there. Mr. Park, a retired race car driver, owns multiple acres in the hills outside town which he generously uses to house and care for over 100 animals. As a part of Animal Rescue Korea, Mr. Park’s shelter has over 70 abandoned dogs of all ages and sizes and 30-40 cats, all looking for foster care or permanent homes.

This past weekend, I traveled north via the KTX (just a quick 20 minutes) to the Cheonun/Asan Korail station to meet the volunteer group. Nearly 20 folks, in Korea from all over the world, rallied at the Dunkin’ Donuts in the terminal before departing for the shelter – another 15 minutes by cab.  Once there, the energy was immediate and infectious. After a quick tour of the dogs main kennels with Allison, I was joined by Clare, from South Africa, Kate, from New Zealand, and Dania, from Colombia, who all got to work walking, cleaning, feeding and generally loving on these amazing animals. It was a day filled with challenges, adventure, exploration, and ultimately making a lot of great new friends both human and otherwise. It was one of the most humbling and rewarding things I have ever done, and the natural high was so strong I can’t wait to get back. I ended the wonderful day with a long, hot shower and a big bowl of Pho from the Vietnam Market (review coming soon) near Daejeon Station.

There are so many pets there looking for a new chance to love and be loved – all they need is a second chance with the right person, couple, or family and to get the word out throughout South Korea!

 

To find out more, adopt a pet, or simply to volunteer, please check out Animal Rescue Korea (ARK) online at: www.animalrescuekorea.org, or feel free to contact me at rocktraveler@gmail.com.

To learn more about embracing a minimalist lifestyle, I highly recommend the essays of Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus at: www.theminimalists.com.as well as the book

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long Term World Travel, by Rolf Potts, available at www.rolfpotts.com