From Pat, to Ex-pat, to Expat

This story starts with a 3 x 5 index card. Well, not one, a bunch of them. You see, my father loved 3 x 5 index cards. He put everything on to them. His schedule for the day, little notes to himself, and encouraging phrases and mantras. Most importantly, when my brother and I borrowed money, he wrote down the amount owed, and when it was owed by.  He was a very fair debt holder, I’ll note. Since I was a kid and didn’t have any way to make money, he was more than happy to accept labor in lieu of cash.

And Dad was never short on work. You see, he’s a landlord, and his houses were always in need of some form of labor, be it painting trim, cleaning up garbage, mowing a lawn… the list goes on for miles. It wasn’t ever dangerous, but it was certainly hard labor. And no offense to Dad’s rent houses, but they were gross. The people who moved out often left piles of garbage and filth as parting gifts. There were occasionally half-decomposed rodents hidden in the houses. One time I turned on a faucet and cockroaches poured out. Like I said, gross.  

And then there was Dad. He believed in hard work, which I can appreciate now, but it made him a less than enjoyable boss when I was a lazy teen. Plus, he was my dad, so if I did something stupid at work with him, it followed me home. Annoyed and filled with that self-righteous certainty that belongs solely to people under thirty, I began looking for a part-time job. I found one at a local grocery store. And that is where I became a Pat.

Within my first few days of work, I met a boy named Steve. Well, he was nineteen and I was fifteen so boy might not really be the correct term. Whatever you want to call him, he was a bit different from other people I’d interacted with before. In fact, the very first time I met him was so odd that I can still remember it almost perfectly to this day. This tall, skinny boy with glasses and a hard-core side-part walked to me. He was holding a pad of paper and a pencil.

“Hello,” he said. “My name is Steven and I’m renaming everyone in the store.”

I will be honest, of all the stranger danger warnings my parents gave me, none of them ever included a strange man trying to rename you. I blame them for all of the events that followed. “Uh… hi?” I said.

“You are,” he looked at my name tag, “Miranda?”

“Yes?” I said. He wrote my name down in the notebook under a line of other names.

“Okay. Hm.  You look like a Pat.” And with that, he wrote Pat next to my name, turned and walked away. And that is how I met my future husband and became a Pat. The Pat thing only lasted a few weeks, if I remember correctly. It was replaced by Moo-Moo-Head because the Mir in Miranda sounds like the sound a cow makes, and then Geckie because I had some very dope gecko hair clips. And just like that, I’d become an ex-Pat.

Fast forward to December 29th of 2001. I married that guy, despite the fact that at some point in our courtship he actually bought me a stuffed cow because he refused to stop calling me Moo-Moo-Head. We did a bunch of married people stuff. And we did a lot of weird people stuff. There’s no room to go into any of that because we’re quickly reaching the part where I became an expat. This part of the story starts with Japan.

Steve was really into Japan. I was basically not, but when the man who nicknames you so many times you eventually marry him says, “I like Japan,” sometimes you just go with it. We had a friend who went off to teach in Korea and then came back raving about how great it was. The Japan-loving part of Steve immediately decided Korea could be a great place for us to spend a few years. Now, there are many things to note here. One, Korea is not anything like Japan. Why we thought that one country in Asia would be the same as another is probably a question that the Texas Department of Education should be asking themselves. Two, we had never done anything like teach English and did not bother getting any sort of training prior to coming to Korea. We didn’t think we needed it because we both spoke decent English. How hard could it possibly be to teach a language you spoke fluently? Three, we never even bothered to learn anything about Korean culture, other than eating at a Korean restaurant in a little Asian strip mall once. I spent five or six months using a Korean Rosetta Stone program, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, reading wasn’t really part of their curriculum, so I couldn’t read hangeul when we got off the plane.

All of these things turned out to be rather disastrous for us. First of all, back in 2009, there was a lot less English in Korea, especially in Gwangju. We couldn’t order food from restaurants unless they had pictures on their menus. Some of the buses had English on their routes, but a lot didn’t. We spent a lot of time lost and confused, randomly pointing at pictures and smiling pathetically. And work was no better. It turns out just speaking a language does not make you good at teaching it. Seriously, it doesn’t. We were crappy English teachers for our first two years. But I’m sure those kids didn’t want to learn English anyhow.

Somehow over the course of eleven years, we got better. We learned how to speak Korean. We took a CELTA course so we wouldn’t be crappy teachers anymore. We learned all about Korean culture and fell in love. And one day, it happened. I woke up and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I’d gone from being a Pat, to an ex-Pat, to an expat.

So what’s the point of this story? Well, I suppose the main take away is, you never know what one simple action might lead to. I’m sure my father didn’t know that those 3 x 5 index cards would eventually lead to me moving to Asia, and I’m sure Steve didn’t think that giving some random girl at a grocery store a new name would lead to marriage and expatriation. But here we are. Life’s nothing if not full of surprises. We can only hope that most of them end up being good.

Author: Miranda New

Wife, mom, teacher, writer, expat. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.

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