I’m Getting Worried

It’s rare for me to get stressed out, so the past few weeks have left me feeling strange. With less than two weeks before I move to California, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m making a mistake. Am I doomed to burn through all of the money I’ve saved over the past two years? Will I waste it all while wading through a hopeless job search?

As my twenties come to a close, I am encumbered by the Catch-22 that affects so many job seekers. You need two years of experience to snag an entry-level job. This bit of irony makes it nearly impossible to change careers without taking an unpaid internship.

In an effort to build experience in marketing, I did just that. I went to work for a small tech start-up last year, agreeing to forgo pay in exchange for the experience my resume has been missing. I was initially responsible for basic translations and copy writing, but my position quickly evolved into a marketing role. I’ve learned a lot about how an app is conceptualized, designed, made, and sold. Watching a new company get its feet wet has given me a new understanding of and appreciation for the hard realities of entrepreneurship.

Armed with my new experience, I sent out dozens of job applications over the past month. As the rejection letters begin to stream in (11 as of this morning), it has become clear that I’m no closer to landing an interview than I was before moving to Korea.

This should not be mistaken for a lack of confidence. I believe that past performance is the best predictor of future success, and I have a strong history of exceeding expectations. As a police officer, I earned promotions early and often, ultimately becoming the department’s youngest detective. I was awarded the annual emergency services Hero Award and the annual city Customer Service Award. As a teacher, I won 2nd place in the national teaching competition.

I am intelligent, had working, and dependable; I’ve never missed a day of work in 13 years. All I need is somebody to give me the chance to prove myself. The next few weeks will be spent thinking about ways to differentiate myself from the sea of applicants competing for each open position.

I want to hear your job search stories. What helped you land the perfect job? Tell me about it in the comment section below.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Busan to Fukuoka

Three weekends ago, during the Lunar New Year holiday, I took a trip across the East Sea to Japan. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, so I was excited to finally go.

Instead of flying, I took the Beetle speed ferry from Busan to Fukuoka. A round trip ticket cost about 200,000 won ($185) and took just under three hours. The port worked much like an airport. Passengers go through security, show their passport, and present their ticket at the gate before boarding.

Port of Busan Security

Busan to Fukuoka Speed Ferry

The boat also felt like an airplane on the inside. It was a jet-ferry, so it even sounded like an airplane.

I naively expected Japan to be similar to Korea, but the two countries are quite different. The most obvious differences are cultural and not aesthetic. Japanese people seem to be more aware of the people around them, which makes public places in Japan much more pleasant than in Korea. There was a noticeable absence of pushing, spitting, and loud cell phone conversations. When I made an effort to be polite, like holding the door for people, they didn’t look at me like they caught me fingering a cat.

Escalator in Japan

People even follow the rules on escalators, keeping right so others can pass on the left.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see any of the weird sexual stuff for which the Japanese are so famous. With the exception of a few women in costumes and a baby-themed liquor bottle at the hotel bar, I didn’t see any weird stuff.

Weird baby bottle liquor in Japanese bar

The liquor bottle shaped like a baby’s milk bottle openly was the only hint that there might be some weird fetishes that don’t carry the same social stigma as in the west.

I stayed at the Crowne Plaza ANA hotel in downtown Fukuoka. Ordinarily out of my price range, I was able to stay at an upscale hotel by using credit card points. After checking in, I went out and explored the city. I tend to travel with a loose itinerary, so most of my time was spent wandering. I managed to incorporate a few of the heavily advertised local tourist attractions into the trip.

My favorite place was Maizuru Castle. This 400 year-old defensive structure was built on a hill in the center of town. It offers stunning views of the surrounding city. The original wooden buildings are gone, but the stone walls remain intact and some replicas wooden buildings have been constructed.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Entrance

This is the castle’s main gate. The Naka river acts as a natural moat.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Stairs

The castle is built in levels. To get from one level to the next, you must pass through a narrow stairway. This allowed for easier defense.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan house on wall

All along the walls are guard towers from which defenders could shoot arrows and drop stones.

Maizuru Castle in Fukuoka Japan Panorama from top

The top level of the castle offers beautiful panoramic views of the city.

Not far from the castle was an indoor street market. I never learned the name of the market, but I spent over an hour walking around and checking out the shops. It stretched the length of six city blocks and included several hundred businesses. The shops ranged from fresh produce to traditional clothing to touristy trinkets.

Fukuoka Japan indoor street market

At the far end of the market was a Buddhist temple complex. I walked inside to look around and realized that I had seen the golden steeple of the temple’s shrine several times before. It is visible from several other places around town, including my hotel room.

Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The entrance appeared to be decorated for some celebration, but I have no idea what it might have been.

Woman worshiping Fukuoka Japan Buddhist Temple Entrance

The golden column atop the shrine is visible from miles away.

The most surprising thing I found while walking around Fukuoka was a familiar face.

James Brown statue in Fukuoka Japan

That face is pure nightmare fuel.

My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to spend exploring the city – especially the nightlife. I was so tired from walking that I wound up in bed early both nights. Next time, I”ll budget more time for relaxing during the day and hitting the town at night.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Big Winners

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, my coteacher and I won 2nd place in the Korean national teaching competition at the end of last year. Last week we went to Seoul, with an entire fifth grade class in tow, to receive an award and demonstrate our concept class in front of hundreds of teachers and school administrators from around the country.

I didn’t realize just how big of a deal this competition was until we walked into the auditorium in which the ceremony and demonstrations were to take place. In fact, nobody even bothered to tell me that all of the hard work I did last year was for a competition. After the fifth time we demonstrated our concept class in front of a huge group of teachers, I asked why we were doing the same thing over and over. That’s when I learned we were heading to the semi-finals of the competition.

2013 Korean National Teaching Competition

My coteacher receiving the 2nd place award.

In the auditorium, there was a TV crew and a couple of news crews setting up on the stage an hour before the show. We set up a booth with information about our class and then sat down to watch the ceremony.

They called all of the teachers up to to the stage one-by-one. It didn’t take long to realize that I wasn’t going to be recognized for my hard work. I wish I could say that I didn’t mind, but the truth is that I was a little upset. As the only foreign teacher in the top ten, there was little doubt as to why I was snubbed. Despite being a little butt-hurt, I kept a smile on my face and did my best when it was our turn to perform.

After our demonstration, a man walked up to me and addressed me by name. In perfect English, he thanked me for my hard work and gave me a gift bag. I found out later that he some big shot from the Korean Ministry of Education.

Once we loaded all of the students onto the bus, I opened the gift bag. I was surprised to find a new camera – not the normal gift of snacks and hand cream.

Sony DSC-WX300 Digital Camera gift seoul Korea

It’s nice to know that somebody noticed and cared enough to let me know I was appreciated. This kind gesture made a huge difference in the way I felt about the whole event.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Koreans are Busy!

Within two weeks of arriving in Korea, I learned that Koreans are always busy. My students studied all day long – usually more than twelve hours on weekdays. My fellow teachers rush through the halls, frantically playing catch-up. My Korean friends – mostly grad students and young professionals – are perpetually too busy or tired to hang out.

For my first six months here, I operated under the impression that Koreans are the busiest and hardest working people on earth. At some point during my first semester, that illusion fell apart.

In the west, image is important. But we’re taught that being dependable and producing quality work are the way to cultivate a positive image at the office. In Korea, image is everything. Quality of work and efficiency are relatively unimportant here. Convincing others think that you are a hard worker is far more important than actually working hard.

A recent post on an expat teaching forum perfectly articulated what I’ve come to understand about working an studying in Korea.

[Korean kids] “study” a lot. But the way they define studying is very different… Sitting at a desk is “studying” in Korea, no matter what you’re doing. You could be sleeping, playing games, texting, talking, staring off into space – it matters not. If you are sitting at a desk and there are books in the vicinity then you are a master “studyer”. It’s the same with work here…Sleep at your desk all day and occasionally wake up and run around with your arms flailing screaming, “SO BUSY!”.  Koreans are very good at making things look much harder than they really are.  -Source

EPIK coteacher sleeping in school

My coteacher last year was always busy. Fortunately, he found time in his busy schedule for morning and afternoon naps.

As I prepare to leave Korea, my thoughts are filled with all of the things that I will miss when I return to the US. This isn’t one of them. I look forward to working in a place where I’m judged by the quality and consistency of my contribution and not my ability to look busy.

Until next time.

-Taft

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Resume Update

Four years ago, I paid a service to create my resume. It looked nice, thanks to some great formatting, but it never felt like a good resume. Much of the writing was awkward because dozens of popular keywords were clumsily forced into sentences.

Yesterday, I decided that it was time for a complete overhaul. The goals were to cut out the keyword-focused content, simplify the format, and pare it down to one page. After several hours of writing, and dozens of revisions, I think I’m finally happy.

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear suggestions. Do you have any great resume writing tips that we can all use? Feel free to add them to the comments section below.

Until next time.

-Taft

P.S. If your company happens to be in the market for a blogging ex-cop international traveler, then you can contact me here.

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