Monday, April 27, 2015

On finances

A few months ago I was a mess. I was about to graduate from grad school and join the “real world.” My boyfriend was moving back abroad and we didn't know if we would be able to make it work. My student loans were nearing repayment, my car loan was overwhelming me, my car insurance went through the roof when moving back to Minnesota, and my priorities were a mess.

I didn't want to join the real world. I didn't even know what that meant. I spent hours upon hours researching places to go, jobs to apply for, things to do, and things to see. Nothing was appealing. I looked at the east coast, the west coast, even Texas and the south. Nothing.

That was when I finally decided to commit to the thing I had been throwing around as a possibility for a few weeks: teaching English abroad. I wanted to travel and learn more about other cultures. I wanted to get out of my Midwest bubble and do what so many of my close friends had done: move to a place where I could barely speak the language, where I would know nobody in advance, and see what would happen- sink or swim. If my best friend Mei can come over from China with very little English skills, then I can do the same thing! I would do it, I would move abroad!

When I made this decision things opened up as if the clouds parted from the heavens and a beam of sunlight gracefully flowed down onto the earth and into my outstretched arms! The angelic chorus sang with delight and approval as I effortlessly danced and twirled onto a new continent.

Or not. With this decision did not come an easy way out. I was not irresponsibly avoiding all of the “real world” problems that many thought I didn’t even have. I had been living the entirety of my adult life in this “real world.” I had been working hard to pay for my few possessions: you don’t want to know how much flutes cost, macbooks aren’t cheap, and if you really think someone else is paying for my car and college expenses then you are either an idiot or someone who has never stepped outside of your own safety net.

The real world had been slapping me in the face for years and I knew that I would need to balance my dreams with reality. I researched the repayment options for my student loans, I listed my car for sale, and I enrolled in the International TEFL Academy’s in-person Chicago course. I had just finished school, barely gotten my diploma, and already signed up for more classes. I knew that if I wanted to get a good job abroad, I would need certification. So I found the best school around and paid to study there (let me tell you something, it wasn’t a cheap investment either).

The time before coming to Korea I found myself unemployed and ready to go. I spent my savings on plane tickets to see some friends in the states, my boyfriend abroad, and then to land in Incheon, the gateway to my new home.

And now I find myself here in that new home: Busan, Republic of Korea. It’s been extraordinary, but this post is only about one moment of that experience: this morning.


I sat down at my computer. Well, I rolled over and pulled my computer off my desk and onto my bed. I booked a flight to India. I got up and went to work. At work I wrote down what I had done this week: the morning's flight to India, last week's flight to Minnesota, the train tickets to Seoul, the running shoes, the food. Then I went online and pulled up my bank accounts and loan accounts.

My credit cards, my student loans, my car payment and insurance. My Netflix account. Over $60,000 worth of debt and worry. 60,000 pounds of weight on my shoulders.

What did I do?

I took a deep breath. 

I made significant payments on both of my credit cards, I made insignificant payments on two of my loans. I made my monthly car payment and set aside the amount needed for the monthly car insurance that would be inevitably deducted from my account later this month. I paid Netflix, in thanks for the hours of English I surrounded myself in weeknights after school, watching ridiculous shows online.

I set money aside for my upcoming trip to Seoul, for when Valentin would visit on my birthday. For food, coffee, and beer. For public transportation. For life.

I calmly balanced out what I needed to do (all 60,000 little reminders) with what I wanted to do (Seoul, India, Minnesota) and what I did daily (food, transportation, entertainment).  

I exhaled audibly. And then I smiled.


What an extraordinary feeling, being able to live your dream. Certainly South Korea has not been my lifelong dream destination. But the travelling, the cultural immersion, and the personal introspection combined with new languages, new friends, and new experiences- that is my dream.

What an eye-opening moment, being able to live your dream while simultaneously paying off your debts. I did the time, I got the three pieces of paper, and now I owe the money. I don’t agree with the system, but I participated in it, so I have to follow through with it. (And carry those degrees with me wherever I go.)

In the next four months I will have paid off both of my credit cards, hopefully sold my vehicle, ran away to India for a wonderful week long hiking trip, and even gone home for a wedding.

In the five months after that I will be able to continue paying off my debts, plan new trips for my winter vacation, and begin to reconstruct my savings account. The final month of my contract here in Korea will be all about researching the next two possible locations on my list, Germany and Argentina.

This morning reminded me that I am exactly where I need to be. That where I need to be and where I want to be can exist in the same place. That, in the future, I can go where I want without fearing to lose what I need.

I finally found the balance.

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