Are you a boy?!

A year ago I cut off my waist length hair and donated it to an amazing charity called Little Princess Trust that makes wigs for children. I was in awe of the generosity of my friends and family who helped me to raise over £900 for the charity. I’m not going to lie and say that my actions stemmed from an innate desire to act charitably; in fact it was the Korean summer that instigated my plan.

I grew up in England, where the summer can be completely unpredictable; on an average day you might interchangeably need a jacket, jumper, umbrella and a cup of tea to survive the perils of the weather. However, Korean summers are cemented in a suffocating cocoon of heat and humidity that was foreign to me. It’s not uncommon for the weather in Ulsan to reach more than 30c, and this combined with close to 100% humidity is unbearable. I felt like I was drowning in sweat under my thick mop of curly hair, and I spent the majority of the summer with my hair scraped back off my face.

During this period I worried about how I would handle 6 months travelling around South East Asia – a region renowned for its hot, humid weather. I contemplated getting my hair braided, but the fact is that this takes a bit of work to maintain, and if I have to wash my hair more than once a week it’s too much effort for me. For years I had been growing out my hair, trying to get it as long as possible and keep it looking healthy, so it was with a bit of trepidation that I began contemplating cutting my hair short. However, after a lot of research I decided that this was by far the best option. Ultimately, this was my chance to give something back, and I would still reap the reward of a cool head whilst travelling. 

All of my life I have preferred the dentist to the hairdressers. Curly hair has this annoying ability of springing up an extra 6 inches when you get a one inch trim, and I’ve been left frustrated by an uncountable amount of haircuts. Evidently, I was terrified when I walked into the Korean hairdressers and requested that they remove the majority of my hair. 

In the end, I was happy with the results. Generally, I received a positive response from my friends and family. There were one or two students who didn’t like my new style, and on more than one occasion I have been asked whether I am a boy, but this doesn’t really bother me. One year later, I’m starting to grow out my hair again, and in a few years I plan to donate it once more. 

 

 

CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages)

When I first moved to Korea in 2014, I got an online TEFL qualification in order to beef up my CV and hopefully secure a decent job. The course was pretty mediocre; it seemed to teach a lot of basic grammar (concepts that you could do a quick internet search in order to refresh your memory), but it failed to increase my confidence when it came to teaching. As a first time teacher, I wanted to walk into the classroom with a bit of certainty about my teaching ability, but it took a while for to build my self-confidence. Since then, I’ve realised that most teachers over here don’t have a TEFL qualification, and I’ve seriously wondered whether it was a waste of time and money.

During my first stint as a teacher, a couple of friends spoke positively about their experience achieving the CELTA qualification. When I researched CELTA, I was deterred by the hefty price tag (around £1,300), after my less than positive experience with TEFL (a program that is considerably cheaper than CELTA), I just didn’t want to feel let down. However, after a considerable amount of time debating the pros and cons, I decided to sign up to complete the course during my time back home. 

There are centres for the CELTA worldwide, and you can find the most suitable place for you on their website, and each location has different options. I chose the full-time course which takes four weeks. The program ran Monday to Friday 9-5, with a couple of half days over the duration. There were 11 students split into two groups; each group spent two weeks teaching a lower-intermediate class and two weeks teaching upper-intermediate. For each lesson that we taught we received in-depth feedback from our peers and tutors, who would observe the class. We were also given guidance on our lesson plans and time management in order to adapt the material to the students. Each lesson that we taught was graded as a ‘below standard’, ‘to standard’ or ‘above standard’.

As well as teaching our own lessons, we were provided with the opportunity to observe qualified teachers in order to accumulate an array of teaching methods. Our tutors did seminars on complex grammar, various tasks and styles of teaching for the classroom; they encouraged us to incorporate these into our own lessons. The general feeling was that you don’t need to re-invent the wheel as there is a multitude of resources out there created by qualified teachers.

There are four assignments over the duration of the program that you have two chances to pass (and the tutors will offer you guidance if you are struggling). Each assignment was relatively different so that most trainees found at least one easier than the others. These assignments – along with your lesson grades – go towards your final classification.

I thoroughly enjoyed completing the CELTA. It was obviously very tiring, and there was a lot of work to be done outside of the classroom, but I believed that it broadened my capacity as a teacher and it boosted my confidence. Over the past month, I’ve been implementing some of the concepts into my Korean classroom, and I’ve been really happy with the results.

11 Months Travelling/11 Months Unemployed

Many people dream of the day when they can quit their job and head off travelling for a few months or longer. I was lucky enough to spend 11 months doing just that. In the years prior to my trip I saved huge portions of my wage and planned the locations that I was itching to visit. The last day of work was an emotional rollercoaster as I said goodbye to my students and colleagues at the small private academy in Korea where I’d spent the past 20 months teaching English. Sitting on the late night flight to the Philippines, I shed a tear as the wheels lifted off the Korean soil. Korea had been my home for 20 glorious months, and at the point of leaving I was uncertain whether I’d ever visit again. 

For just over 6 months I explored the beauty of South East Asia; revelling in their culture and sampling exotic food. For the final 5 months of my period of unemployment I travelled around the UK and the USA. During this period of luxury I tried to relish every spectacular encounter, but without much structure in my life I felt that the days were moulding into one. I drifted from one delicious meal to the next, collecting amazing experiences as I went. 

I’m not saying that there was anything negative about the time that I spent travelling, but perhaps I just spent too long in this state of euphoria. For a long time, I’ve believed that you can’t truely appriciate pleasure without pain, and this trip epitomised my philosophy. Without the trials and tribulations of working life, I began to be desensitised by what I was experiencing. 

Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm that I accepted a job teaching in South Korea (again). The time that I spent travelling taught me a multitude of things, but there’s one fact that I’ll cherish as I step back into the working world: a weeks work makes the weekend so much sweeter. 

Trump

The election campaign for the President of the United States of America was a perpetual stream of outrageous statements and bizarre results. Trump, the candidate who many people would have presumed was least likely to succeed at the start, has spent the past two years becoming more popular and powerful as he stepped closer to the White House. The campaign and debates were equally terrifying and hilarious. At times, as candidates denounced one another, they slipped into the realm of low budget reality TV; a genre perfectly moulded to suit Trump’s larger than life personality.

​There was public outrage at Trump’s success, and this was fuelled by the fact that Hilary Clinton actually won the popular vote by an estimated 2.83 million. Many Americans feel let down by the college electorate system which ultimately chooses the President; an elector casts the vote for a whole area, and they are not obliged to vote in favour of the most popular candidate. It seems wholly unjust that in ‘the land of the free’ your vote might actually be worthless, and perhaps this is one of the reasons that an estimated 57% of the population didn’t vote.

​However, it wasn’t the injustice of the college electorate that carried Trump to the final debates. Trump stood with a politically clean slate in contrast to the other candidates – particularly Clinton who has been in politics for over thirty years, and has held the title of First Lady, Senator of New York and Secretary of State. In recent years, distrust of politicians has grown because of multiple scandals. Therefore, is it really a surprise that this election has seen a vast percentage of the public turn their back on traditional nominees, and reach for an alternative like Trump and Bernie Sanders. We can only speculate about the result if Sanders had won the Democratic nomination. Nevertheless, it seems that the nation was ready for a big political transformation.

​Trump stands in complete opposition to conventional candidates; mainly because he lacks a political background, but there are numerous other factors that have made him stand out. He is a businessman first, and has ran his campaign like a business. He’s made some outrageous claims, in order to encourage voters, and many of them will never come into fruition. His whole campaign was dripping with false propaganda that has stirred up an unsavoury mentality of hate and fear. Despite Clinton’s obvious superiority on many topics throughout the debates, Trump still managed to win the public over like the successful businessman that he is.

​If Trump sticks to even half of his proposals there are going to be some big changes in America over the next four years. It is presumed that many of these alterations will benefit the privileged, enabling them to get richer, and therefore furthering the inequality of wealth. Certainly this disparity will lead to civil unrest; a reoccurring theme in the States over recent years.

​As the year ends, many people continue to wonder what Trump will accomplish during his term. The 1,000 mile wall that would separate America from its Mexican neighbours has become an integral image of his campaign, but it is highly doubtful that this border will materialise during the Trump years. However, a wall has been built in America, because the election has divided families, friends and whole towns. This election will continue to mould the next four years for everyone, but for now we can only speculate about the impact that it will have.

An isolated island 

As the year nears to an end, it appears that 2016 has been overshadowed by politics. Brexit is one episode that Brits won’t forget in a hurry. No matter which way you voted, Brexit is probably still a sore subject. The referendum tore through the nation and left a gaping scar that will take a long time to heal. ‘Remainers’ were heartbroken at being ripped away from Europe, and leavers have yet to see the repercussions of their vote. The whole escapade has left the nation questioning what is going to happen as 43 years of treaties are unravelled to remove the UK from the union.

            The six months that have followed the referendum have been spent in a precarious limbo. No one seems to know what will happen between the UK and the EU over the next few years as they are untangled from one another, and the timeline is extremely ambiguous. News sources still rage about Brexit and the slow, uncertain pace that it is taking. The outcome is still hotly discussed, but it seems that many people have started to see that the grass will not be greener when Britain re-establishes itself as a lonely island nation. In fact, many of the claims that were made in the Brexit campaign have been proven to be completely ridiculous.

            Immigration was a defining issue of Brexit, and the main reason that many people voted to leave. Prior to the referendum 330,000 people moved to the UK every year, and around half of those were Europeans. As the campaign reached its climax, many news sources ran the stories of the refugee crisis perpendicular to those about Brexit. People began to fear the deluge of refugees, many of them Syrian, that appeared to be racing towards the British border. This fearmongering led to the victimisation of innocent refugees who were fleeing from oppression in their native countries. Brexit campaigners increased paranoia about the flow of migrants; asserting that they would wash away British identity, and this was something that many voters wanted to protect. Therefore, they attacked free movement to the UK, and claimed that if we left the EU this would be restricted. Due to this irrational paranoia about immigrants, many people surmised that leaving the EU would completely resolve the issue. However, the campaign failed to highlight that the refugees were not fleeing countries in Europe, and therefore leaving the union would not affect their migration to Britain.

The EU has asserted that the UK will no longer have access to the single market if they don’t accept free movement of its members. Theresa May, who voted to remain, has the preposterous task of negotiating the terms of Brexit with the EU. She has two options: soft Brexit, where the UK will remain in the single market and Europeans will be granted free movement; or hard Brexit, where there will be no compromise. The terms of her proposal must be accepted by all 27 countries of the union. It is no wonder that May appears paranoid about unveiling her plans; with the country so divided on this topic, neither option will please everyone.

            As we look to 2017, many people feel that not much is going to change. Brexit will gradually be implemented, but many contemplate that the proposals will be edited and altered so that they hardly change anything. The referendum has left a distinctly bitter taste, and it has raised the question of why we voted and were our voices even heard. There is also uncertainty about the EU, as the second country to leave the union (Greenland left in 1985 after their own referendum that mirrored Britain with 52% voting to leave), many speculate that other countries might follow suit further rupturing the EU.

Reverse Culture Shock

During the 27 months that I spent living and travelling around Asia I had a lot of time to speculate about returning home. It was a common topic amongst fellow travellers and migrants; many had been home at some point and grimly recounted the adjustment issues that they suffered. Their woe painted my image of home, and I began to agonise over reverse culture shock. The possibility of no longer fitting into the place that I left, and consequently feeling isolated loomed over me. I sought out blogs that narrated tales of bleak acclimatisation in a place that was once normal. When the time finally came for me to return to the UK I was torn between ecstasy and anxiety.

I really shouldn’t have distressed myself about returning home because it hasn’t been anywhere near as bad as I imagined. My family and friends are still here, and it feels like I’ve only been away for a week. We have so much to catch up on; many of them are starting families or settling into homes and it’s lovely to see their lives unfolding. Living at home is not as bad as people make it out to be; I get to be around the people that I love and have missed so much. Also, England has many special quirks and so much beauty that I was blind to when I lived here, but now my eyes are wide open.

Of course I miss lying on the beach and spending balmy nights drinking local beer. I yearn for the butterflies in my stomach as I sit on a long bus to a new, unexplored town. I’ve scattered my heart like Hansel and Gretel along the roads that I’ve wandered. I find myself feeling homesick about so many things, because I love a multitude of places, but really there’s no place like home.

If your homecoming is approaching and you’re starting to feel anxious, don’t believe all the negative stories you hear!