Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We are moving to South Korea

We've been kinda cryptic about our upcoming plans, but now that everything's official, it's time to announce it clearly. Yes, we are moving to South Korea. I've been hired through the Korean government to teach English at a public middle school in Seongnam, which is a city of about 1 million people (9th largest in the republic), just a 45-minute trip from Seoul, roughly. Carlos will stay home with Lucas and teach him all the important stuff in life. We will be together.

The position includes a furnished one-bedroom apartment (for those who have taught in Korea, you know that one bedroom is a big deal!), which is located about 5 minutes' walking distance from the school, and which has a park across the street.

My contract starts September 1, but I'm pretty sure we'll be heading there a bit in advance, so we'll straighten out those details soon. I'm very excited about this position because when I interviewed with the school, they were especially on board with me bringing a family, which isn't typical for these government teaching positions. I was praying a lot for the right position and this is very much an answer to those prayers.

South Korea is the plan for the years until Lucas reaches school age. At that point, hopefully the final step in our plan will be complete, but until that stage of the plan is more fully secured, it's safest to refrain from discussing it.

So, I want to thank everyone who has been praying and encouraging us as we headed towards this goal.

To my Korean-American friends who have spent time in Korea, and to all my friends who have taught English there, I especially would appreciate any advice you are willing to offer.

To everyone else, we need your prayers that all the details between here and there will work out. Visas are especially a source of stress, as Carlos and Lucas' visas are dependent on mine and I'm still not confident whether we'll all be able to enter Korea together as residents. So please pray that the paperwork all goes smoothly and we don't have to spend too much time, if any, apart. Also pray for peace. Although we've been preparing for this for about a year, it's still very painful to finally give up on the dream of creating a life in the US, and saying goodbye to so many loved ones is truly heartbreaking.
So, the upcoming weeks will bring my final goodbyes to the country I love. I am truly devastated to be leaving the US this time, knowing that from now on, I will only be back to visit. But if I must leave, at least I know we will be in one truly remarkable place, and we'll be there together.

Although this is about Seoul rather than Seongnam, this is a great video for getting excited about moving to South Korea. (I love the folk anthem used in the background)

Seoul Time Lapse 2011 from Oh Choong Young on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

il mio panino al prosciutto e formaggio

I go 6 months without posting and now I do two posts in two days. This isn't likely to be a regular occurrence, but the holiday weekend gave me some time to ponder and write.

This weekend the New York Daily News published an article about three wonderful bloggers I've come to know well through our shared struggle in balancing immigration and international relocation for the sake of a marriage: Emily Cruz (The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juarez), Giselle Stern Hernandez (The Deportee's Wife) and Cheryl Arredondo (Us, After America).

The moment the article went online, the comments section predictably filled with the usual hate and ignorance that you see any time one of our stories is published. I became well-acquainted with this rhetoric one year ago when my family's story published in the Chicago Tribune. The best advice is to not even bother reading the comments section, and I normally follow that advice because truly, nothing healthy or productive can come of doing so. And I haven't read the comments on this weekend's article, but I'll take everyone else's word for it that this one offered an even more ridiculous spread than the usual, including the allegation that the US citizen wives of inadmissible foreigners are too pathetic to find an American guy and desperate enough to marry anything that comes their way, even a "ham sandwich".

After Emily crafted a great response to these comments, "25 Things I Love About My Ham Sandwich", Corin at Corin in Exile suggested that more of us follow Emily's lead and post about why our spouses are worth every drastic decision we've made. So here we go -- here are my reasons why Carlos is worth every day of agony, every tear, every expensive flight, and every life-altering decision:

  1. For one of our very first dates, he brought over a copy of La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) which we watched in Italian, and through which he introduced me to the magic of Roberto Benigni movies. Later he introduced me to Johnny Stecchino, which has got to be the world's most hilarious, under-recognized film ever.

  2. For the entirety of our 4-year dating relationship, he drove 40 minutes in each direction at least once a week so we could see each other. A lesser man would have balked at the vehicle mileage resulting from this relationship.

  3. Despite the fact that I spent the majority of pregnancy in a separate country from him, he did all he could to make me comfortable when I was with him. He remembered the horrible morning sickness I experienced during my first trimester, and when I went to visit in my 4th month or so, I discovered the fridge loaded with ginger ale that he had searched far and wide to find in Monterrey.

  4. One summer, I was enjoying a fabulous internship with the Chicago Public Schools. It was only partly a teaching practicum, and mostly it involved a concerted recruiting effort to sell the awesome city of Chicago to a bunch of future teachers. While I was busy making new friends, exploring new places, and having a general good time, Carlos was working a grueling night-shift job while he saved some money to pay off his car and build the bank account that would carry us through our first year of marriage. Yet he still came to visit me and go out during his free days, even though he was visibly exhausted.

  5. He thought nothing of jumping on the Blue Line with me and heading to the Desi corridor on Devon Avenue for whatever Indian or Pakistani food struck our fancy.

  6. He joined me in developing a love for Joy Yee's, both the Chinatown and Naperville locations. And Pompei restaurant, both the Little Italy and Oakbrook Terrace locations.

  7. He proposed to me over cappuccino at Pompei in Oakbrook Terrace. He knew exactly what I would like: simple, laid back, genuine.

  8. He knows my tastes in fashion and jewelry. My engagement/wedding ring is a sapphire surrounded by tiny diamonds and it's perfect. The Princess Diana/Kate Middleton ring but after/before it was a fad.

  9. He can go to the mercadito and walk out with two pairs of dress pants, a pair of running shoes, and a still-unworn Givenchy shirt for less than $20 US. He has an impeccable sense of both style and a bargain.

  10. When I took Lucas to Mexico for the first time, Carlos did not waste a moment, and immediately strapped our son into the Baby Björn carrier to take him for a walk. During any subsequent visit, he steps right in and takes the role of Lucas' father as if there hadn't been months of international separation in between.

  11. He can jump right into a new activity or job, learn it quickly, and rapidly start to excel in it.

  12. In the later years of dating and the beginning of our marriage, Carlos endured weeks on end where we were physically in the same room but rarely had a chance to even talk due to the demanding lesson plans, grading, and class prep that my new career in teaching required. Even knowing that this could be our reality for a long time if I remained a teacher, he stayed with me!

  13. He learned how to drive on snowy, icy, icky Chicago streets, and it never bothered him.

  14. Carlos still remembers fondly some of the funny moments he spent with my extended family here in Chicago and he used to drive all the way out for endless family gatherings, even though gatherings of this frequency were not a familiar concept for him.

  15. He loves geography and can easily identify more countries, cities, and languages on the planet than I can.

  16. He mastered the English language so well that he teaches ME about a lot of its features now.

  17. Whenever we travel somewhere new, he not only can quickly pick up the daily essentials in the language, but he immediately gains a sense of colloquial terms, accents, intonation, and expressions.

  18. My nerdy side does not bother him, and he kindly joins me in watching Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Futurama. And then proceeds to join me in discussing various aspects of these films/shows.

  19. He cooks together with me. And is much more inventive than I am with flavors and ingredients.

  20. He is great with technology. He solves computer problems by scouring the internet until he finds a solution. He knows what he's talking about.

  21. He cares for his dogs in a way that most people in Mexico don't. He recognizes them as much more than a security device for the house; to him they are companions, and he is always aware of their needs and well-being.

  22. He is a patient and respectful English teacher even when his students struggle mightily and have been written off as hopeless by other teachers. He is inventive and constantly finds new ways to make the English language accessible to his students.

  23. Despite the fact that we have gone as many as 11 months without seeing each other in these challenging years after our marriage, and despite the fact that opportunities to be unfaithful present themselves all the time, he does not give up, and continues to steadfastly await our future together.

  24. He supports my dreams, even if he feels we're too old to dream. He is willing to make any changes, no matter how drastic, to accomplish them.

  25. He will move anywhere to ensure our family's ultimate happiness, even if it entails a completely foreign language and culture that we've never been exposed to before.

So in summary, I did not wind up with Carlos because he was the only guy who would go out with me/respect me/care for me/whatever. That was not even remotely the case. I wound up with Carlos because he does all that but he also fascinates me, challenges me, supports me, and expands my world. I married him because nothing could be more amazing than building a future together. It's not necessarily because he's Mexican, although that part of his heritage does have an effect on who he is. If any typical American citizen met the above description, I could have married him. But the one who fell into my world was Carlos, and I am grateful to be his wife.

Why I'm still unabashedly proud to be born in the USA

Today is a day of conflict for many families like mine. On the one hand, we're surrounded by parades, festivals, flags and all the symbolism reminding us to be proud of and celebrate our great country. On the other hand, we're weary from the daily and very undignified struggle of having our nuclear family unit split up into different countries as a result of our our own country's policies and legal values.

Our families are put through exceptionally miserable challenges due to unjust laws that were passed, after all, by legislative representatives of the American people. And more recently, various elected officials have started passing legislation that is not only questionable under the constitution, but thoroughly misguided and fundamentally based in racism and xenophobia. Finally, many news sources spread a huge amount of rhetoric that really does have its base in hate, ignorance, willful misinformation, and lies. This is the stuff that gets the most attention, because as Emily Guzman said one time, "Crazy gets attention". Unfortunately, because crazy gets attention, it gets a lot of the votes, too.

Despite the agony that my family is going through right now, I don't believe US immigration laws were made with punishing US citizen families in mind. I don't think US immigration laws were made with US citizen families in mind at all, and that is the problem. The immigration laws of 1996, the ones that have a thousands of families suffering under 5-year, 10-year, and lifetime bans, were really a hodge-podge of ideas and policies that ultimately got united under one big, messy, inconsistent, arbitrary, and unbending mass of legislation.

I think when the laws have ripped you from your country, it's easy to harbor resentment towards that country. In fact, it's probably essential to sanity and survival to see the best in your new home and recognize all the great reasons why you're there. But I disagree with the bashing of our birth country, because this blindly ignores all the amazing reasons why we're so privileged to be citizens of the country that the rest of the world is (sometimes literally) dying to get into.

I still have faith in my home country, even though I will soon be among its exiles. And I don't believe I am just being overly optimistic and naïve. Granted, my reality is set in Illinois, which detractors complain has become the most "unauthorized immigrant-friendly state". Here, people of half a dozen races and ethnic origins, including middle-class white people, can all live together happily in regular little suburban neighborhoods and gladly help each other out anytime they can (and I speak from personal experience on that). I went to a university where the Muslim students gathered to pray in the major commons area at noon while the Jewish and Catholic students held meetings nearby, and we all worked together seamlessly on projects and studies in class and often joined each other for meals during break times. I enjoyed free times watching my husband play on teams with guys who had almost no common language except broken English and soccer. I worship at church where dozens of languages are commonly spoken in the lobby and where multi-national, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial families are everywhere. I live in a country where a person can still arrive with practically nothing, and through a lot of hard work, they can not only acquire a vehicle, but even a home!

The US stands alone in its amazing range of diversity in background, culture, and experience. Few countries in this world are attempting to educate (for free) such a vast percentage of the population. The freedoms we have, while sometimes obnoxiously limited or challenged, still surpass the freedoms most people in our spouse's countries have. But above all, the potential for upward movement, even in the oppressed sectors of the US, is inspiring. And in the US, you don't have to worry greatly that achieving a comfortable middle-class lifestyle or becoming a successful business owner will cause your family to become a target from the evildoers (i.e. drug cartels) seeking financial gain through physical threats to those who are making even the slightest gains in society.

When you're forced to become a foreigner in a new country, and you see what poor opportunities exist for your own native-born spouse there, and when you take into account the struggles one must face just to become nominally successful in that country, you realize that the US is an awesome country that is in need of a serious attitude adjustment. 

I know that the US is becoming a toxic place for unauthorized immigrants. But having lived among illegal immigrants in several other developed nations around the world, I have seen that even our unauthorized immigrants are treated better than many of the legal immigrants in other countries.  I haven't spent a lot of time in other countries, but from those that I have visited, I can say without a question that the US is a much better place for an illegal immigrant than the other places I've been. In Europe, it's nearly impossible for illegal immigrants to rent or even finance anything, and their children are not privileged to birthright citizenship. In Mexico, illegal immigrants, particularly the most common ones from Central and South America, are not only despised and mocked, but incredibly exploited and abused, and recently 72 of them were found in a mass grave in northern Mexico.

No, the US is not blameless, and yes, the US has done some shameful and atrocious things and absolutely, some of its citizens do a total disgrace to the honor of being called a US citizen. But I believe that ultimately, the people in this country stand for justice. Someday the blinders will come off and the present issues will become yet another scar in the US' pained past as we heal towards a better future, welcoming even more people as members of our society than we ever have in our history.

We have a long way to go. But the US will always be home to me, and I dream that one day my family will be able to return to it.