Kelly over at The Lady Errant has long been one of my favorite bloggers – she writes on a lot of really interesting topics in a thoughtful and educational way. And by now you’ve probably heard about the monthly link-up she and I host – The F-Word – to discuss feminism with other bloggers out there.
So it probably comes as no surprise that I’m really excited to be able to share this interview with you today, where Kelly talks all about her time teaching English in Korea and China and the familiar itch to travel again soon, her new blog design business, and blogging.
Q. You spent time abroad in Korea and China – what was it like to pick up and leave America for so long?
A. The first time was pretty intense. I had only studied abroad for a summer in Europe, so I was pretty nervous about living abroad for a year. I also had zero teaching experience, and didn’t know how I’d handle classes of 40 middle-school students. I spent my first week hiding in my room because I had no idea where I was in the city and it was all overwhelming. I actually felt like I had made a huge mistake during those first few weeks and seriously contemplated the “midnight run” – which is when you pack up and randomly leave without telling your school or refunding the airfare they paid to get you there. But really, it was one of the best decisions I ever made. And then I went on to do two more year-long stints.
When you’re abroad, you miss odd things. I’d get these crazy cravings for ginger ale (a rare find at Western restaurants), lemonade (sometimes carbonated in South Korea), and iced tea (that wasn’t Lipton mix and sugar). I, an extremely reserved, shy, and antisocial person, actually missed American small talk. When I taught adults, I often had to give lessons on how to small talk. Be proud of your skills, Americans! I always felt behind on the news – but it was funny to see how American coverage of South Korean news was so sensationalized. I missed American personal space and peripheral vision after being literally packed into subway cars or having countless people walk into me. And even though it was an interesting experience to not be that highly visible minority for the first time in my life, I wanted diversity.
Sometimes, no lie, I’d just get fed up with Asian people and how they could never give you a definite time for anything. I’ve never been sure if they just don’t make definite schedules, merely neglect to tell foreigners, or truly do things at the absolute last minute. One morning, I walked into class ready to teach, and no one showed up – and later that day, I got an email saying the students were on a field trip in the neighboring province and might be back next week. Or the week after. It “hadn’t been decided yet.” Stuff like that happened all the time, which really sucks when you could have slept longer if only you had known.
Q. Speaking of your time abroad, what was your favorite part of that? And the hardest part?
A. My favorite parts were probably the cheap transportation and long vacations. With most public school jobs, winter vacation is about four to six weeks. Paid. It was amazing. I spent that time escaping the snow and travelling around Southeast Asia. I also spent some time in the summer out west in Gansu Province, China.
And in retrospect, I always felt very safe. Whenever I told people back home that I was going abroad, comments about safety concerns were really common. But it was never an issue for me.
My students (children through adults) would ask in hushed voices with wide eyes if everyone in America had guns. And then be shocked and aghast when I confirmed that yes, many do. But there were times at night when I’d walk across half the city and never felt a qualm. Not that crime doesn’t happen – or just go unreported – but even here in my hometown, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. I’d make sure to walk faster, to call someone, to stay on busier streets in the nicer neighborhoods if possible.
I wouldn’t call this “hard” per se, but it was a constant thing throughout my three years abroad. there was almost always some weirdness involved with being an Asian-American in Asia, no matter who I met. Native Asians wanted to know where my ancestors were born and why I didn’t speak the language. White people/Westerners wanted to know why I was in Asia if I didn’t have family there – and they never saw the irony. I ended up having to tell a huge percentage of the people I met – fleeting encounters or otherwise – about my birth and upbringing. It was just weird. I do get it often in America where people still equate looking Asian with being an immigrant, but it was on a larger scale abroad.
Q. You’ve recently started doing blog designs – what made you interested in that?
A. My boyfriend had been telling me for a long time that he thought I would enjoy learning coding. I resisted, since I’ve never been that tech person. But I’ve always done all of my own blog stuff, although that was mostly limited to CSS styling and tweaking premade themes. About two months ago, I moved to a new domain and redid my site, which meant learning more about WordPress, PHP, jQuery, and more advanced CSS stuff. Surprisingly, I really liked doing it – it’s that perfect mix of analytical and artsy that I’ve always been looking for.
I’m not an expert by any means – I’m still learning, and I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of what’s possible in web development. The typical blog, for example, barely requires a fraction of the functions of full-fledged websites; instead, it’s mostly about styling. And I’m a complete beginner at Photoshop. But I’m enjoying the process and making real progress, which is so refreshing after months without direction.
And honestly, I eventually decided to start doing blog designs because when I’d see some designs out there, I’d think “I could do that – or better!” Not in the sense that I’m a better graphic artist, because I’m just not. I’m basically approaching this just from the coding side. I mean in the sense that I could do a layout without relying on plugins for coding shortcuts, image mapping, or externally hosted images – the kind of things that can make it hard for a blogger to do tweaks, or even just add widgets with matching titles, without going back to the designer. I randomly jumped into doing blog designs over the past few weeks in a disorganized way, to see if I could handle it, and now the next step is to try to be a bit more systematic and set things up for real.
Q. What’s your favorite part of blogging?
A. I really love the community. My friends are scattered around the world now, and it’s been hard to form close connections in my city. Blogging has really helped me find my people: my fellow travelers, feminists, writers, and dreamers.
I did something unusual for highly reserved and vague me about a month ago, and opened up about some of the difficulties I’ve been having with unemployment in the post-expat life and finding some kind of career path. As much as it kind of made me cringe to put myself out there like that, I needed advice from other people who were pursuing non-traditional paths and I just couldn’t have gotten that from anyone in real life. And this past month has basically been great for me because of that.
Q. I know you were saying that you want to travel again soon. Where’s your next destination?
A. My boyfriend and I are planning on going to the Netherlands next fall. We’re basically planning out trip around Ayreon – a progressive metal project – concert. At this point, I haven’t travelled in almost a year and a half, so I’d like to get in some weekend trips before then. A few of my friends from abroad are actually living in America too, so I’d love to visit them, but cross-country plane tickets are expensive.
Q. You mention in your About Page that you got into blogging because someone told you that you had no intellectual curiosity (which, by the way, is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard about a person who spent years teaching English in another country and has her graduate degree). How do you think your blog’s purpose has changed since then, if at all?
A. Hah! My wildly incompatible ex told me that. I don’t feel that my personal purpose has changed that much. I started blogging as an outlet, for a creative exercise, and to start writing regularly, and those reasons still apply. These days, now that I’m no longer a student, it helps me sharpen my critical thinking skills, and is kind of serving as the starting point for some freelance ventures. Another difference is that now I’m aware that I no longer have an audience of one, and my writing has changed to reflect that, in terms of formatting, direct address, or using excessive qualifiers to avoid people misconstruing my meaning.
My topics though have changed a lot, as well as my “niche” since I’m no longer an expat or travelling regularly. If you’re ever bored enough to wander through my early archives, all you’ll find are vague journal-like paragraphs and photo dumps. I didn’t start mixing it up with more meaningful stuff until about a year after I started blogging.