Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Milwaukee Friends

I have to say it's been great seeing all my friends since I've been back. Here are some highlight pictures.
1) Dinner at Oakland Trat with my S&TC girls.
2) With my friends Matt and Josh on Josh's 30th birthday.
3) Heidi, Erin and Jeff. Erin's the one I lived with in California. She was back for a visit.
4) Heidi, Heidi and Keri on New Year's Eve! Party at Keri's pad.
5) Dawn and me on NYE.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Master Plan

Well, I finally decided on one of the university jobs in Korea that I was mulling over. I will be starting work at a university in Seoul starting March 1, but I'll be leaving to go back February 10 so I can get settled in and adjust to jetlag before I start working.
My job has 2 parts. I will be teaching english to university students for 6 hours a week, and the rest of the time (I don't know how much yet) I will be an advisor at the Center for Teaching and Learning. I'm really excited about this because advising was always something I thought would be cool to get into. I really like working with people one-on-one. This advising position also includes giving one or two workshops/presentations a month to the other English instructors and English course students.
I am really excited about this job. It sounds like it leaves a lot of room for creativity on my part and flexibility. Another great thing about it is that it has 8 weeks of vacation! Yeah! So more traveling is in my future (did you have any doubts?)
Another cool thing is that the university has a beautiful campus. There are so many cherry blossom trees that they have a cherry blossom festival every spring. Here are some pics I pulled off the web. It's also very close to where I lived/worked last year, except a little bit closer to downtown (which is good). Since the city takes about 2 hours to cross by subway, I'm really glad I'll be close to my friends and familiar parts of the city!

Biloxi/Gulfport Disaster Relief

Well, I’ve arrived back unscathed from my time in Mississippi, and with only a blister to show for it! (For those of you that know me, I’m pretty klutzy so that’s pretty amazing).

Some observations:

I can’t BELIEVE how much damage there still is after a year and a half. Hurricane Katrina happened August 29, 2005, and I would have thought it was more recent by the looks of things. I guess I don’t know how long it “usually takes” to clean up after a disaster of that magnitude, but it was pretty shocking to me. There are still so many buildings/resorts/houses that haven’t even been touched since the storm. You can tell that people haven’t even set foot inside, or on the lot for that matter. I saw a huge hotel standing at sort of a slant with the side ripped off, so you could see inside the rooms. There was still furniture in there: beds, tables, and chairs overturned by the winds. That was not an odd occurrence. There were also so many damaged signs and billboards that are still standing, for things like “The Waffle House”, “McDonalds”, beach resorts, etc…but with an empty lot behind it. The beach was beautiful, of course, long, with white sand. But the boardwalk was ripped apart. This was the way it looked along the whole coast that we drove, probably 20 miles at least. Some communities were hit harder than others, but for the most part, they were all still in shambles.

After seeing this on my first day there, I prepared myself mentally to do some pretty hard, disgusting work. I was thinking I’d be gutting out destroyed houses, picking up debris, and things like that. However, that wasn’t the case. I was able to work on 4 different job sites while I was there, and none of them were actually that bad. I guess there is A LOT of red tape involved with this. Our disaster relief group needs to do assessments on certain homes before they can send us there. I think they also need to see which individuals qualify for our help (I don’t know the criteria). They are only able to send us to job sites that they have approved for work.

Much to my dismay, the first house my group of 6 was sent to was almost finished. The home was really nice; new furniture, all the floors were installed, already painted, etc… I was thinking “Why am I here?” Our assignments were to install some baseboards, doors, and window trim. I was pretty shocked that we actually were working on something like that when so many people are still living in F.E.M.A. trailers and don’t even have a start on rebuilding. That night, I spoke to the leader of the camp about it. She said “So many organizations start a project and leave the homeowner at 75% finished; we take it 100%”. Ok, so I do understand. And after having lunch with the homeowner of the first house, we got to talk to him and find out his story (listening to their stories was the best part of the trip! He and his wife lost everything, because their house flooded with 3.5 feet of water. They also did not have flood insurance; the insurance company denied them coverage because they technically were not in a flood plain/basin. The man did most of the work thus far all by himself, and he shared that he had lost his momentum and stopped a couple of months ago because it was so overwhelming. He shared that having us there working on stuff rejuvenated him, and sort of reenergized him to continue working. So even though we thought we weren’t really helping much, it helped him mentally to have us there. The other homeowners throughout the week had different stories, but all were equally touching and devastating. I helped build a deck at a house another day. The homeowner there was up in a tree for 8 hours with her dogs to escape the flooding! We heard stories like that all week.
Anyway, I'm really glad I did this. I would recommend it to anyone. I worked with cool people, got to meet and speak to homeowners who lived through this tragedy, and felt pretty good about myself after I got done helping. The hard thing about it is that if you have a traditional job, with 2 weeks of vacation a year, it's almost impossible to do something like this. You'd need a vacation to recover after it! But if you ever get the chance (even when you retire, as there were lots of retirees there), do it!
Here are some pics of the devastation...also a picture of my workgroup with a homeowner.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2007 already?

Happy New Year everybody!
I can't believe 2006 came and went already. Overall, it was an awesome year for me. Lots of travel, adventure, and life-enriching experiences. I hope 2007 can be as good.
Although the overall year was good, the last couple of weeks have been filled with ups and downs. First off, I was offered not one but TWO university positions in Seoul. The timing was a bit off, since I verbally accepted one, only to get a better offer from a different university less than a week later. We're still working out the details, but within the next day I'll know which job I'm taking. It's actually been really stressful deciding between the two of them, because of course there are pros and cons to each (not to mention I gave my verbal acceptance already, so I'll have to let someone down). Either way, I'm going back to Seoul in February for another year!! I'm really excited about it. A better job working with university students, 6-8 weeks of vacation time, new people, old friends, and more travel!
In other news...January 6-12 I'll be flying down to Biloxi/Gulfport Mississippi with a group of people (including my aunt and uncle) to help clean up some of the hurricane damage. Even though Hurricane Katrina and Rita happened a year and a half ago(!), there is still so much damage and rebuilding needed. It really pulled at my heartstrings when it happened and I would have really liked to have gone down and helped right away, but they were really discouraging untrained volunteers from going. The mess was just too big. Now that so much time has passed, it's a little less crazy down there so finally I'll get to go help out! We'll be doing some debris removal and possibly some home rebuilding. I'm not really skilled in those departments, but I'll do what I can since I'm not working right now anyway.
Another interesting happening....the apartment I lived in for 2 years near Brady Street on Milwaukee's East side burned down on Christmas Eve! I was watching "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV that night, and the local news came on with that as a top news story. I was absolutely shocked. A little over a year ago it would have been me in there! Luckily everyone got out alive, but the apartment is VERY damaged. A few days later I went to have a look at it and it was really depressing. The whole front wall of the house was gone (like a dollhouse), and I could see directly into my old apartment!! Sad.
On a lighter note, I've been able to spend a lot of quality time with my closest friends and family lately. It's been wonderful! And like I said, it's like I never left!
I hope you all have a wonderful new year and thanks for keeping up with my asian invasion! There will be more to come in 2007!