Vlogs 22/23 – Summer Vacation in America

Steve and I have had a wild time since returning to the states. We’ve visited six states, driven over 2000 miles,  gained 20lbs (each – thanks to finally being reunited with quality beer), and hugged, laughed, splashed, and relaxed with so many of our loved ones we sorely missed for the past three years.

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Our travel plans were a bit chaotic, but that’s how it had to be to spend time with everyone we wanted to see.

We landed in Chicago at the end of June and were picked up by our friends Jamie and Sarah McCauley. We spent a week with them and their dog Professor (Pretzel’s bestie), drinking good beer, relaxing outside, eating pizza, and playing Space Team.

After this week of getting over our jet-lag, we sped over to Steve’s parents’ house in New Hudson. We visited Cedar Point, stuffed ourselves with home-cooking, and enjoyed some incredible burgers at Blimpy Burger in Ann Arbor.

After a quick return to Jamie and Sarah’s, we left for Pennsylvania! We stayed a night or two with Steve’s brother and family and made arrangements to move in, in just a few weeks. Despite these plans, our vacation was far from over, in fact, it had barely begun! We left for to stay with the Hoffman-side of the family on the other side of the state.

In the middle of the week, Steve and I took a day-trip to NYC to take in some sights and spend some time just the two of us. We visited Korea Town, which was disappointing because we wanted to feel immersed in the culture that we left, and it just wasn’t the same. We walked ALL OVER that day, like good tourists, making friends, taking pictures, and eating everything in sight.

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Once we got back to the Hoffman abode, we rested, we ate (of course), we played video games, and then we left for a beach house on the Jersey shore. (Not the show.)

My family (the Hoffmans) have stayed in the same place on the Jersey Shore since I was in high school. We love to get away, boogie board, eat fudge, shop, sun bathe, and eat a lot of seafood! On the last night we were in New Jersey, my parents renewed their wedding vows on the beach. My brother contacted their original officiant and he phoned in to marry them again, this time with their children present. As we prepared for this, we knew it would be beautiful and special, but I could not have prepared for how touched I was to see my parents renewed love right in front of me. It was a beautiful evening!

We returned to Michigan (from New Jersey) the following day to spend a week at a vacation house with the Rigbys. It’s a much more energetic experience when there are little kids around, and we had a lot of those! Never a dull moment with this crew. If they’re not jumping into a pool and splashing everyone around them, they’re climbing trees, or jumping on trampolines, or getting mani/pedis ( done by your truly).

We had so much fun together! We went on boat trips and visited the LEGENDARY Shipshewana, Indiana. Now, you may think “INDIANA?!” And normally, I would agree with you. But Shipshewana is awesome! They have an Amish Smorgasbord. If you don’t know what that is, you cannot fathom the glory that awaits you. We ate our hearts out. Not only this, but it also has this amazing animal farm named Dutch Creek Animal Farm. They have ZEBRAS. They have LLAMAS. They have WATER BUFFALO. And you can PET them and feed them. So freaking cool. If you have kids, or if you’re an adult, you should visit!

Whew! Five weeks of family, fun, and food. Sadly, this adventure eventually had to come to an end. We returned to Michigan briefly to visit my closest friend from college and then drove back to western Pennsylvania.

While the past month was a whirlwind of fun, we are now facing a very sobering future that will be our lives for the next year in the United States. We feel so blessed by the amount of people who have reached out in support for us. Every week I receive numerous texts from friends just asking how I’m handling the transition mentally. (We’ll post more on this later, but reverse culture-shock is a real thing, and it sucks.)

Steve and I are still on the hunt for job opportunities, though we have a few things lined up. This transition has been difficult, and we know that we couldn’t have done it without our friends and family supporting us and praying for us. Your prayers are felt daily. We love you all so very much, and we’ll keep you posted as this year continues.

❤ Leah & Steven

Check out our last video about our first week back in America!

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.

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Korea Vlog 21 – Moving Back to America

The day after we got deported, the sun came back up the same way it did before. Right on time. Why do we expect the world to slow down when something traumatic happens in our lives? Well, life did not slow down. Before we knew it our eyes popped open as the wheels of the plane were bouncing down on the tarmac in Chicago, Illinois. Welcome “home” Rigbys!

Steve and I are pretty positive people, but we really took our time sulking in Korea before our day of departure. Even though there was so much to sell, so much to clean, so much to eat, so much to see, and so many to say goodbye to, we spent the majority of our final days in Korea laying on the couch watching Youtube. Let’s face it, we were hiding.

Everywhere we looked we were reminded of what we were going to miss. Even that Kimchi smell we swore would never smell appetizing to us. Even those stupid cats that meow and scream all night long and keep us awake. Even the loud hock and splat of lougies from the workmen across the street. They all left a stinging sensation and reminder of all that we were about to lose.

We went through periods of feeling sad, then numb, then excited, then scared on repeat. And that’s where YOU came in. Yeah, you! The one reading this! The old college buddy who reached out to say that you were praying for us. Or the high school acquaintance we hadn’t spoken to in years who simply messaged us to say, “Saw your video, that really sucks!” And old coworkers who wrote to us to say, “You have a job waiting for you if you want it.” And of course, close family and friends who contacted us throughout the day despite the time difference just to ask us “How are you doing today?” Without your encouragement and prayer, I’m not sure how we would’ve gotten through our last few weeks in Korea. You gave us something to look forward to in returning to the U.S. and reminded us that we were not alone. Your prayers were felt DAILY, and I pray that one day we can repay you all for your generous support.

Out last week seemed to stretch to fit all our last minute needs. We had a great meal of samgyeopsal and galbi with our students and parents and went bowling, Steve sold all of our furniture, we got Pretzel prepared for his first international journey, we went to a baseball game, and of course, as with all nasty break ups, we got our hair did.

Our final meal was our favorite: Dakgalbi. We shoveled that food in our faces unceremoniously as always, and it was glorious. We grabbed some ice-cream cones and took the long route back and watched the sun go down on our favorite city, our home.

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This week also included a lot of packing. I (Leah) love packing. I am a great organizer and feel elated when I look in a suitcase and it looks like a perfectly fitted Tetris game. This is a skill that really comes in handy with all of the traveling we do, but it never came more in handy until we were given thirty days to pack up our entire lives. YIKES.

I packed so tightly that I now have callouses from where I would force the lid closed and yank the zipper. I’m not kidding. These callouses have slowly been peeling off in the shower since we landed state-side.

In the end, the total came to one kennel (with one adorable precious little Pretzel-pups!) three backpacks, five suitcases, and five large boxes to ship home.  With all of our luggage weighing us down we missed the airport bus and had to wait thirty minutes for the next one. We were nervous that we were not off to a great start. There’s something about traveling that causes you to expect setbacks.

We had it all planned out for how we were going to get out luggage on the plane without paying for an extra checked bag. As we waited in line at the check-in counter, we were sweating because of all the weight we were carrying and because we knew some of our bags were overweight, and we were kind of trying to hide how many bags we had to take as “carry-ons”. We were moving to a new country! Of course we had a crazy amount of stuff.

But then, our first miracle of the day occurred. One of our bags was two pounds overweight, and we held our breath as we waited for the ticket agent to say, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to shift some weight into your other bags” which of course just could not be done at this point. It was as if we had, had a Jedi Master with us to wave her hand and say “This luggage is not overweight!” The agent looked at the weight and politely said, “Next bag please.” We fist-bumped behind the desk. We got all of our bags checked in no problem.

Miracle number two. After we checked our four bags and we got Pretzel taken care of, one of the ticket agents noticed that our luggage trolley was still piled high.

“You guys have a lot of luggage,” she said as she leaned over the desk to get a better look.

We looked at each other and gulped.

“Yeah, we’re moving,” I said.

The agent then kindly said, “Well, we can check another bag for you, free of charge.”

My heart freaking EXPLODED. We have traveled enough to know that this NEVER EVER happens! Your prayers at work, people!

Miracle number three. As Steve and I waited in line to get through security, two of our students ran up to us shouting “Mr. and Mrs. Rigby, I can’t believe it’s you! We’re so lucky to see you!” They were on their way to Japan with their grandparents. Their hugs were the best. I hadn’t realized how much I needed a proper send-off, but God knew, and there they were! We were so, so blessed to see them as we spent our last hour in our favorite country. ❤

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Miracle number four. On our long flight from Tokyo to Chicago, we had an empty seat next to us while the rest of the plane was packed. Need I say more?

Miracle number five. Pretzel did not pee, poop, or puke in his kennel, on the airplane, or in any airport. The poor thing HELD IT until he got to a Doggy Relief Room at the Chicago airport. What a good pups!

Steve and I then gathered our luggage and immediately experienced a bit of culture shock.

For example, when Steve took Pretzel to go pee-pee and poo-poo, I waited with our luggage. Not one, not two, but THREE friendly strangers came up and chatted with me. We talked about traveling and family coming in from out of town and “how about that sunshine!” Weird. These people felt weird to me. But they weren’t weird, just American.

People are so darn friendly! Right now it makes me uncomfortable. I think I’ve forgotten how to small talk. People talk to me in line at grocery stores and chat with me about Pretzel when I take him for walks. Two guys passed me on a walk with Pretzel a day or two after we landed and said, “Cute dog!” and I said, “Morning!” It was 2:30 in the afternoon.

Thank goodness our amazing friends Jamie and Sarah were able to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the most relaxing place on earth: their home. We had an amazing week in Grand Rapids, Michigan going out to all of our favorite restaurants, soaking in their hot-tub, drinking local beers (I forgot you had to show your ID for alcohol!), laying on the floor and talking, and just sharing everything that’s been going on in our lives. They are such amazing friends, and we love them so much! It was a great way to reenter the country.

Now Steve and I are at Steve’s parents’ house near Ann Arbor relaxing and getting a few ducks in a row. We have a car thanks to my in-laws’ generosity, though I’m really nervous to drive it. I haven’t driven a car in three years! The past few days we’ve relaxed around the house, gone to the movies (it’s more fun at MJR!), attended the “Flat Rock Speedway Victory Lane Oil Change Michigan Figure 8 Championship” (definitely some culture shock there), and visited Cedar Point! It felt good to get some screams out.

It’s been strange to walk through Walmart and see how easily accessible everything is. I get excited when I see Asians because there are so few where we are! Parking lots are obnoxiously huge. What’s up with that? Everything is so spread out, it’s no wonder people don’t know their neighbors. America is GORGEOUS. Everything is so green and mysterious.

All in all, we’re okay. Right now we feel pretty distracted and happy to see family and taste everything that we’ve missed the last three years. Here and there it catches up with us though. I can feel a kind of internal sadness that’s waiting it’s turn for attention once the events of the summer have passed and the reality sets in that we’re not going back. The little moments that sting show up out of  nowhere but because we are so surrounded by loving and supportive people, we are quickly soothed.

Thanks for checking in on our journey! More to come next week!

❤ Leah & Steven

Check out our last video about getting deported from Korea!

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.

 

Korea Vlog 20 – We Got Kicked out of Korea

It’s been two weeks since we last posted, but it’s for a good reason. Our title is no click-bait. We have been issued departure orders to leave Korea within thirty days. We cannot return to Korea for one full year. Needless to say, it took two weeks to get our thoughts together on the issue and put them into the video below.

So with all that said, what now? Well, we’re (planning on) moving back to the US for a year, and we’re (planning on) returning to Korea after our ban expires. In the US, we’re probably going to stay with my brother and his family, but we’re open to wherever employment draws us.

Emotionally, obviously, it’s been a very challenging time – to put it mildly. We’ve had days where the biggest accomplishment we’ve made is making instant coffee and using the toaster oven to reheat our pizza delivery from the night before. Not only are we leaving the country, we are, like, really leaving. We have to sell all of our stuff. And we’ve accumulated a ton of it because we planned on staying here for a long time. We’ve dropped over $4,000 at IKEA Korea, just to give you an idea. In addition to that, we have to square away taxes; clear out our banks accounts; figure out our pensions; start hunting for jobs; plan for future housing/transportation in the States; all while trying to say goodbye to our friends, students, and this country which we love (oh yeah, and while continuing to pay student loans). Stick with me on this one, I’m not trying to get all woe-is-me: I’m going somewhere with this.

On the other side of it, we’re able to see the positive side of things. This is a chance for us to try something different, to take a break for a while, to spend time with family, to eat Chick-Fil-A again… We get that. We’re excited about that. And we’ve been supported greatly by our friends and family throughout all of this.

Something that we’ve noticed is how hard it is for people to know how to show support. It’s not like there’s an SAT multiple choice question that asks for the best method to support your friend who was just deported for a light visa infraction. We get it. It’s hard. You don’t know what we’re going through, because we barely know what we’re going through. I think a natural reaction for most people is to try to paint our situation in a positive light. And I’m usually down for that.

Let me just tell you that it’s not that simple.

I know when people say, “Well at least you get to see your family again!” that it comes from good intentions. But it feels dismissive of what we’re losing. Like when your grandmother dies and someone asks, “Were you close to your grandmother?” That’s usually used to try to gauge how much hurt a friend is feeling. But to the person experiencing the loss, it often diminishes the pain of the loss in a “well you weren’t that close so it doesn’t matter as much” kind of way.

It’s not an exact analogy, obviously, but I think it captures both sides well. We’re still in that mourning stage after a break-up where the idea of meeting new people is nothing but pain. As much as I love Chick-Fil-A, I’m too concerned with all the stuff that I’m going through here to actually be excited about it.

“Oh, you’ve missed so much that I can’t wait to show you!” is sometimes said by a close friend. We are so excited to be introduced to your new favorite places to go; however, not right now. Telling us that we’ve “missed so much” only reinforces the feeling of isolation. Not that we only want to reminisce in the past, but we kind of need to reconnect with our past to feel at home again.

It really does feel like a break-up we didn’t want to happen. “You missed so much of the party when you were with Heather! Now you’re a free agent again!” Only you don’t feel like a free agent. You feel dumped. You feel awkward. You feel like nothing can replace the love you once had. This kind of sentimentality suggests that while we were loving our lives in Korea, you felt sorry for us that we were “missing out,” but the truth is, we weren’t. We were missing YOU, not that trendy new hipster bar down the street.

Something that I appreciate is when someone offers sympathetic sincerity paired with silence. In times of serious loss, saying “I know what you’re going through” is not offering solidarity: It’s minimizing the personal nature of loss. For me, letting me talk or allowing me to be quiet is the best way of showing solidarity. Asking how you can help is showing that you’re willing to be in this with me even if I can’t think of anything to say. Saying that I “must be so excited to drive a car again” is incorrect. My life is in shambles. Just because I have hope, it does not mean that I do not feel despair, and forcing optimism really feels like ignoring my pain.

We don’t intend to suggest that people need to walk a fine line with us in terms of what they say or how they talk to us. We understand what people mean by the things they say. Really, we do. We love you guys. And we KNOW that you love us. If you say or do something that prickles us with sadness, that doesn’t mean we’re mad or that we think you’re insensitive. We know that you’re trying to help and that you deeply care for us. We see your good intentions. But we thought there might be some value in trying to explain what we’re going through emotionally to cap off this post.

We are beyond grateful for the support that our family and friends have shown us since we received this news. You’re the only ones motivating us to keep going and exciting us to see what’s on the other side of this mess. Thank you for your prayers and constant encouragement. You all are the best, and we love you.

❤ Steven & Leah

Check out our last video about visiting animal cafes in Hongdae!

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.

Korea Vlog 18 – The Jjimjilbang

Steve and I love to visit the jjimjilbang. We always feel so refreshed and relaxed after spending a few hours lounging in herbal baths and scrubbing all of the dead skin off of our bodies. While the idea of being naked at a spa once intimidated us, it now brings us a new sense of relaxation. No judgement. No comparisons. Just everybody naked and getting clean.

We don’t visit the jjimjilbang as often as we would like. We made time for it today though because the pollution in Seoul has been particularly horrible. Steve and I are both rather congested from it despite keeping our windows closed and wearing masks over our noses an mouths whenever we go out. (Spring is always a bad season for pollution, but we never remember it getting this bad!) The sauna in the jjimjilbangs contains hot tubs full of herbs that not only improve your skin, but the aroma from theses baths does wonders for the respiratory system. The herbal baths are based on oriental medicinal recipes written in the early years of the Joseon Dynasty (late 1300s).

As today is election day (more on that later!), Steve and I had the day off. So, we decided to clear our congestion at the steamy jjimjilbang.

I won’t get into details about our routine, but if you’re interested, you can check out our more detailed experiences at the jjimjilbang that I wrote about a while ago here. I still follow the same routine and the cost is still the same.

Now we’re home and about to begin a short week at school. The countdown has begun!

28 more days of school

38 days until my brother and sister arrive in Seoul

43 more days until we visit the United States

Almost there!

❤ Leah and Steve

Check out last week’s video where we celebrate three years of living in Korea by talking about how we’ve changed.

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.

Korea Vlog 17 – How We’ve Changed Since Moving to Korea

Whelp, we’ve been in Korea for 3 years. We’ve stayed here longer than we had expected, and we’re not sure when we’ll return to the US. If you’re like me, and it bothers you when you’re looking for a recipe online and you have to read the author’s life story and several chapters of fan-fiction before you get to the ingredients, then here’s your answer in the first paragraph: We love Korea and we really haven’t changed as much as we might have expected to change.

We feel like we’ve been through so much with just our job situations over the past three years. We worked at two different hagwons (academies/kindergartens) and one international school that hit some severely wacky terrain and joined with another school, split, and then split again. It’s been a wild ride. But through all this, we’ve come to love being here. We’re afforded an excellent life, and I think it’s the happiest we’ve ever been.

There are some mannerisms we’ve picked up from Korea, but the bulk of the change that we feel is how we look at life. We’re more positive. Waaayyy more positive. I’m not sure if this comes from being happier, or if it came from the fires of survivalism when we were first struggling to adapt to living abroad. I’d guess that it’s a solid combo of the two.

We’re so thankful for the opportunities and friendships we’ve had so far, and we’re excited for the future wherever we end up.

❤ Leah & Steve

Check out last week’s video about Jeju and our favorite Korean food, Dakgalbi!

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.

Korea Vlog 16 – Jeju Tournament and Dakgalbi

Well, hello there. Nice to see ya.

Okay. Our vlog is late this week. So sorry friends. Sometimes, the stress of life catches up with you, and sometimes you buy a new Nintendo Switch and forget about all of your adult responsibilities. I guess we’re the latter.

Though the Nintendo Switch could not have arrived at a more necessary time. It’s the end of April AKA “Teacher-Burn-Out-Month.” Summer can’t come fast enough, but a new video game console sure does help.

This week Steve and I split up to do some different activities. He left for Jeju last weekend with the our boys’ soccer team to coach them in a tournament against five other schools. These boys played their hearts out, and Steve had a blast not only coaching them through their games, but bunking with them for the weekend, bonding over pizza, card games, and pillow-talk. (The students call us Big Rig-Rig and Lil Rig-Rig, and it’s adorable.) The boys came in fourth place out of six, and we are pretty satisfied with that. The majority of our soccer team was made up of 6-8th grade boys while other schools had teams that made up mostly of 11-12th grade boys. The age gap makes a big skill difference, but our boys held their own.

While Steve was away I got to play! The day he left the Nintendo Switch arrived along with the new Zelda game Breath of the Wild. Everything about this game is incredible. The graphics, the music, the characters, the stories, the items, the hidden features! Ah! It was so peaceful this weekend to eat cereal, play video games, and cuddle with my Pretzel pups. I tried to get as much playing time in because I knew that one Steve got home my reign would end.

Though it was difficult, I was pulled away from gaming for a short while. I went with a few friends to see Jekyll and Hyde on Saturday, and it was the first play I had seen since moving to Korea. It felt so good to be in a theatre again! I thoroughly enjoyed the show, more than I thought I would actually. The experience was truly immersive and captivating as the actors were so fully committed to their roles and their vocal talents were astounding. I was surprised to find that it was more of a spectacle show, but it was still very tastefully done. The lighting and effects were unbelievable! My jaw dropped at several moments. I had never seen the musical before, and I wish I could see it again! If you’re in Seoul for the next month, I highly encourage you to check out Jekyll and Hyde at Blue Square in Itaewon.

After this busy weekend, we returned to work. Monday went by, and we forgot to edit. Then on Tuesday night (Korea time) we began the editing process, but I reacted badly to some food that I ate, and Steve had to take care of me. Thus our vlog is late this week. We’re only human, I guess.

Thanks for bearing with us, and we’ll see you next week!

❤ Leah & Steve

Check out last week’s video about Korea’s Cherry Blossoms!

For more reflections, updates, and insights into our journey, check out our video archive or main page.