What happens when you’re sure of a life decision, but suddenly get beaten down with an onslaught of criticism against it? For me, I have always carried my resolve through these kinds of storms (mostly to a beneficial end), but this time I find myself in the unique and rare position of being completely lost. How has a decision that I have been sure of for the past three years crumbled in a few days?
The storm winds started picking up a few weeks ago, on a Saturday night. I was at a bar with some of my friends when I ran into a local University professor and expat who I had met on the subway back in November. Upon hearing that I was planning to leave Korea in a few months to go to law school, he suggested that I have a talk with his lawyer friend who was also with him. I saw this as a rare opportunity to communicate with someone in the field that I wanted to enter, so I gladly obliged.
What ensued was a 40 minute, one-sided lecture about how stupid I was being by deciding to go to law school. At first I sat down listening carefully to the middle-aged former attorney talk about America’s current economic downturn and the surplus of lawyers out in the workforce, but at some point the conversation went from friendly advice to a grave warning. Multiple times he shared his predictions of my future: a late 20-something year old with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, living at home, working in everything BUT law, unable to start a life properly. For a Saturday night at a bar, no amount of alcohol could drown out that sobering speech. I left the conversation physically weak, feeling like my future had just been torn apart.
Everyone faces big life decisions at some point or another, many times at this particular nexus between schooling and a career. For months before deciding to go to Korea, I read up about it thoroughly. I ran through online message boards, blog posts, and any recommendations I could glean. I took every piece of advice to heart…at first. It wasn’t long before I discovered a veritable mire of horror stories, one after the other, outlining “midnight runs” and bogus promises made by shady characters. Fraud, illegal working conditions and language barriers. People complained about being isolated and confused in a country that they did not know how to properly defend themselves in. With many teaching job offers written in shoddy English, it wasn’t a stretch to believe that it was all a scam.
It’s been a little over half a year since I’ve been in Korea, and I can say that it has been nothing like the horror stories I’ve read. I have a well-paying job that pays on time, a decent apartment, and a generally happy and fulfilling life here. But while I still believe that it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I remember how much the initial uncertainty left me feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. I could have heeded the warnings and stopped the application process, but I eventually decided to “take the plunge” and find out on my own. And I’m still thanking my confident stubbornness for that.
Now, as I prepare to go to law school, I face the same problem. I have read so many negative things and heard firsthand from lawyers that I shouldn’t go. As a usually decisive person, I planned and prepared this next move for a few years. Before coming to Korea, I had a law internship under my belt, recommendations written, and plenty of work experience. I was convinced that law would be the right place for me, but now, holding the acceptance letters in my hands, I find myself at a loss.
Am I being a strong willed person, or just plain stupid?
I think about my other options and honestly, what else is left for 20 somethings in America other than more schooling? Though law schools nowadays are churning out lawyers, many of the recent grads entered law school because they didn’t know what to do after college. In comparison, I’ve known the particular branch of law I wanted to study for years, researching the field and cultivating a passion for it. As for the option of staying in Korea, even though it has offered me a wonderful life so far, I feel like a year here is the perfect amount of time. I want to start a career. I want to begin the next part of my adult life. I’m at the very edge of the next step, but there’s no telling if there’s a landmine buried underground.
When I received my first law school acceptance letter in the mail, I told my parents that I wanted my grandfather to be able to hold it in his hands. Blind from the complications of prolonged diabetes, he had once dreamed of continuing his education in America many years ago. What held him back then was his mother, who didn’t want her son to leave her behind. After deciding to stay in Guyana, settle down and have six kids, he could no longer pursue his education. He worked his way to the top of his field as the head of customs for Guyana, but his stories are always tinged with regret. When I was growing up he constantly encouraged me to be ambitious about my education, and my successes so far have been a testament to his belief in me. When my grandfather held my acceptance letter in his hands, he cried.
I’m in a place where my heart is heavy and my wallet is empty. Although my parents are supportive and proud of me, I know that I can’t afford hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to pay for law school. If I was not able to pay off college on my own through grants, financial aid, jobs and scholarships, I would not have been able to go. I even made sure I could graduate a semester early to save money on tuition. And now I certainly can’t ask my parents for any support, as they have their hands tied trying to help my younger sister pay through college. What was already a complicated decision between choosing a law school in either Chicago or New York has turned into an even more basic, but pivotal choice: should I even go to law school at all?
At what cost should I pursue my passion?
Can a price change the course of the rest of my life?
It will certainly take a while before I can emerge from this limbo of doubt. In the meantime I’ll try to cash in these won coins and see how much I can scrape together.