July 3, 2008

Studying/Working Abroad

Posted in personal life tagged , , , , , at 4:21 pm by stephshimkooo

I more or less fell into working abroad. It started out as studying abroad. The first stamp on my passport came in July 2002 in Moscow, Russian Federation. I applied for and was accepted to the Moscow 4 + 5 program at the University of Pittsburgh. A professor came up to me and showed me the program, saying that she thought I would be a good candidate. It was an intensive language program designed to teach an entire year’s worth of college level Russian in 9 weeks, four spent at the University of Pittsburgh campus, and five spent at the Moscow Language Institute in Moscow, Russia. It was a price I could afford, and it meant I wouldn’t have to be gone too long if it turned out I didn’t like it. “I can do all this,” I said, “and all I have to do is learn Russian? I can do that.”

I knew there was something more out there. I knew there was more to life than the suburbs, part-time work, and dreams of “something different” that is largely pacified by Hollywood movies simply because they’re the most economical mode of escapism. I, like many people of my time, felt largely misunderstood by my parents, peers, and society at large, and I was especially mistrustful of the media. In a world of six billion people, why were the only ones I heard about the 300 million within the US? I decided that the best way to go about that was to go and see how other people lived.

I came back from Russia with the travel bug. I had to go abroad again. I was still in university at the time, so I arranged a study abroad semester for spring 2003 in London at the University of Westminster. I had an amazing time, but I also experienced my first and worst taste of anti-Americanism. This should hardly be surprising when I was living in London for the first half of 2003, when troops first entered Iraq (I will post more on this separately).

During my time in London, I took advantage of the spring break and long weekends to visit Europe, and one of my friends was gracious enough to invite me to her home in Germany for part of the summer. During my 6 months in the UK, I managed to visit Ireland, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, and the Spanish Island of Mallorca. As a testament to how much I liked the summer program at Pitt, I enrolled and went to Russia again with the same program in summer of 2004, and graduated college in August of that year. I would not travel abroad again until June 2005, but the circumstances requiring me to travel were much different.


June 21, 2008

Review of “Spamalot”

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:41 pm by stephshimkooo

I was pretty eager to see “Spamalot,” the lovingly-ripped-off stage production of Monty Python’s “Quest for the Holy Grail.” I went to one of those half-price booths and got myself the best ticket in the place, half off. When patronizing one of these establishments, it is important to remember that the position of the best available seat the day of the show often reveals how popular it is. Six hours before the show, 10th row center was their best seat. It was too good a position for the show to be good.

It started out alright. I was expecting to mostly see gags from the film and a little new stuff, and that’s exactly what I got. I would have enjoyed it much more if it had either been written better, or delivered better, which I guess means it was bad overall. The jokes were very dated, like the knights going to Spamalot, where “What happens in Spamalot, stays in Spamalot” referring to the popular Las Vegas slogan. King Arthur was particularly stiff, and walked around most of the time with little or no reaction to the silliness around him, when the whole point of his character is that he is supposed to be the one with some sense.

The other half of the new humor was trying desperately to poke fun at the musical genre, but I ended up being more annoyed than anything. Singing “This is the song that goes like this” and “Whatever happened to my part” felt more like time-killers than anything that was supposed to result in laughter.

As a fan of the movie and of live theater, I was let down. It was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening, but I regretted paying as much as I had to see it.

June 13, 2008

Reflections on a year with SABIS

Posted in SABIS/Choueifat tagged , , , , , , , at 11:12 pm by stephshimkooo

My New Passport Picture

So it’s over. It’s finally over. This past year with SABIS has been one of the most horrible personal and professional experiences of my life. What this company has done to myself and others is completely, in the politest possible terms, unacceptable.

I don’t know how to describe it without seeming overly dramatic, but unfortunately, emotion generally is not accurately portrayed in text. I can’t believe how… damaged… I am by the experience. I am a healthy, professional, hard-working individual, and I care so much about the job that I do. There have been times in the past where I felt unappreciated at work, but I’ve never really felt threatened by an employer before, and before this past year, I never would have fathomed working for an employer that was at least, negligent, and at worst, deliberately intending to do me harm.

Who I really feel sorry for are the people who don’t have any choice about staying with SABIS PPP or not. Most of these people can be classified as economic refugees because they did not necessarily want to leave their country, but the job markets at home were too abysmal to allow them to make a living. Most of these people are from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, as well as other places in Asia. They don’t have a choice. There are no jobs at home for them to take, despite their considerable skills, and they are tied to SABIS because of Emirati Labor law. If someone breaks with an employer, no matter how amicably, there is a 6 month work ban placed on them. They can stay with SABIS PPP (or any company they would work for, really), or they can take at least 6 months without any job or income. It’s a terrible situation.

On top of the occasional shaking and crying, I have found myself unable to write or to use my brain properly. Back in Korea, I churned out about a column a week for Socius, and I can’t even find the words to keep a personal blog going. Like I said, damaged.

So here I am in London trying to make it all fade away before I head back to the states this summer. I wish Ziad was here with me, but that’s a story for another time. I’ll get to see Johnathon and Pete this weekend, and hopefully Cat will get back to me soon. I’ve only been here a day, and already the creative juices are starting to flow, despite my excessive drowsiness from the flight.

I will document my experiences here under the tag “SABIS” for anyone reading this blog with research in mind. Apparently, some other people have been busy writing, too. Happy reading, and if you have a job offer with SABIS, Intered, or the International School of Choueifat, DON’T TAKE IT.