I ain’t dead yet!

It’s been 2 years since my last post and the general sentiment may indicate that I am no more. However, I am still here, still in Korea and riding the wave of anxiety like Tony Hawk. 

I would like to promise that I will jump into regular writing and be as productive as Stephan King, but I’m afraid I’m more of George R.R. Martin type. Hence, rather than make empty promises I will break and feel sorry about, I’d rather leave it all up to the creative juices and the gods of inspiration to fuel this site. 

But before I get too poetic and run away with my allegories, here’s some updates. 

I am not unemployed… or am I?

The office

Last time we left off, I was collecting unemployment benefits from the Labour Office. I never went back to working full time for any company (so no more unemployment benefits). There were a few offers, a few part time long-term gigs (did not like those), a few unsuccessful interviews with Big Name Organizations (‘You are not Korean’ was one of the reasons I heard for not being hired). And somehow along the way that little, innocent side hustle, called Seoul Startups, became a full time vocation and at that point going to work for someone seemed like such a bore. 

Here are all the projects I’m working on, at the moment. I’m sharing them, because I think they are awesome, not because I am involved, but because they are really making a ripple in the world of ignorance and anger. 

  • Seoul Startups : my love and bane. I’m currently in Jeju with some of the team, trying to justify getting out of town with an actual project. With less than 300 members in 2019 this was a joke. It is now rocking over 2,000 and growing. And it’s not just the size that’s growing. I have a crew of Community Leaders who (I hope) have my back and I have theirs. We’ve not only run networking events and a kumbaya online platform, but have graduated to creating content, working with government and NGOs. Yes, we’re getting money, albeit not as much as we should. That means I’ve registered as an sole business proprietor (개인사업자) and considering upgrading to incorporation (법인사업), with social or non-profit corporation down the line. These plans, however, are blocked by my immigration woes, which I will explain below.
    All in all, Seoul Startups is doing fabulous and really the momentum depends on me putting on some grownup pants and getting shit done. No pressure.
  • Impact Collective : Through my engagement with weave, a ‘future of work’ collaborative (which deserves it’s own post titled ‘ups and downs of working in a remote collab with big egos – the two year journey’), I became the community lead for a virtual community-driven investment and acceleration program for impact startups. You can say you had me at ‘community’. The job is hard and mostly driven by ‘passion pay’ (열정페이), but the compensation is meeting and working alongside some great minds and leaders of our generation. What really gets me, though, is seeing teams like DeafTwak, Tella, Sahat Kahani, Freedom One Life, Kara Technologies, Planet Protector Packaging and others, using their knowledge and technology to make this world a slightly better place. Very very humbled.
  • ASAN SANGHOE : I am not as involved this year, but for the last 2 years I had been a coach for an entrepreneurship bootcamp program led by Asan Nanum Foundation, one of the biggest NGOs in Korea, focused on empowering through entrepreneurship. From the organization standpoint, it also deserves it’s own post, titled ‘How NOT to run an inclusivity and diversity program’. But like with Impact Collective, the staffing drama is compensated with wonderful participants, who really DO want to learn and grow as entrepreneurs and people. And that almost makes it worth it. Almost.
  • Other side hustles : Because the F2-7 visa requires me to earn and earn money like there’s no tomorrow, despite already being close to my physical limit, I do have hustle more as a freelancer. Some jobs are in line with what I do and bring me joy and delight (German Accelerator team!), some require me not to roll my eyes all day, every day. But they pay the bills and I should be grateful for that (albeit still bitter and bitchy). 

So what am I?

Comfortable to parade in public in yoga pants, that’s what.

Up until the last post, my official job title was ‘CMO’ and unofficially I was hustling as a ‘community leader/organizer’. Since then I have not had an official title, although with being the proprietaire of Seoul Startups, I could go as ‘CEO’. I really don’t like it though – Seoul Startups belongs to the people and I’m only a ‘catalyst’ that makes sure the resources are in place and interactions happen. I’d like to think I’ve become a ‘startup community/ecosystem builder’ but in Korea it’s not considered as a ‘serious’ job, not a job at all. 

So… I’m just me, really. Come to think of that, with my lifestyle and mannerisms, I’m still that 20-something year old kid, living in sweat pants and sneakers and not feeling bad about calling things by their name, right in their face. I’ve grown to realize that really people are not their titles. And yes, even though I do wear many hats and do a whole lotta things, I am, at the end of the day, me. And that’s how I’d like people to see me.

I do also sometimes reminisce about what would’ve been if I had stayed in Samsung or in ‘proper’ corporate jobs. Money would have not been an issue, for sure. But I chose the path of an unconformist and despite trying to piss up-wind, I have to walk the walk, with my head held high. Even if the walk is on a trampoline line, over a volcano. And I sometimes really really want to throw up.

My anxieties

Yeah, these have not gone away and probably never will. I will go to see a doc to get my fix of drugs, to get me through each month of chaos. His recommendation is ‘live less stressful’, but doesn’t really offer any pointers about how to ‘de-stress’ my current situation.

And boy, do I stress about a lot of things.

I mentioned Korean Immigration? I won’t get into nitty, gritty details, but there’s a RUMOUR that from now on long-term residency visa holders (F2-7) cannot be business owners. In fact they should have full-time working contracts. The thing is these rumours… apparently the immigration has already been denying people extensions based on some unpublished regulations. I have to renew my visa early next year, but already reading the facebook groups is making my stomach turn on itself. The whole point of getting this visa was to be working for the amazing team of Me, Myself and I! 

I probably can find some way to step around this silliness, ask friends to give me a ‘contract’ from their companies… but it’s about the principle. Call me silly, but I feel uncomfortable playing like this. 

Things I have to do over the next 2 weeks… no biggie.

I also stress about Seoul Startups. I fall asleep and wake up to Seoul Startups. I dream, I eat, I think Seoul Startups. I have so much to do, I don’t even have proper time to think about big picture things like incorporation or strategy. Sure, there’s the crew. But… they are volunteers. They can only contribute with their time and effort so much and I cannot ask for more. So everything getting done, lies on my shoulders. I wish I could employ at least a few people, but for various reasons, I cannot. So I stress out, because the oncoming disaster of a failure is terrifying. That pressure turns me into an ugly, snappy person that snaps and people and gets passive aggressive. It’s not like I want to be like that. But I cannot tell my Community Leaders that I’m just so terrified my every other meal makes a grand come back.

Over the years, I’ve learned to deal with stress better than the original self-harming. I’ve been trying to meditate, be more mindful. I still sneak out on smokes when things get too much. But my body has been recently telling me that it’s not liking what I’m doing to it. And in these times, an unhealthy body is a big risk factor. I’m not really sure what to do with this pickle. I mean, I do. But I’m not sure I’m liking the options.

What next?

The calm before… what?

This brings me to the future. I think the biggest reason for my blood boiling and heart palpitating, is that for years now, I have been living in this state of uncertainty, of ‘fight or flight’, of a drug dealer lurking around the street corner (no, I’m not a drug dealer, but you get the metaphor). 

Depending on whether my visa gets extended (and for how long?), I will stay on in Korea (or not) and continue with Seoul Startups (or… not?). I will or will not put more effort into growing this community and ecosystem. 

But until next January… I’m living on borrowed time, not sure of what tomorrow brings.

I’ve always thought that I’d live in Korea for…well, forever. But in the last year or so, I’ve been finding myself thinking about hippie Berlin, bustling Singapore, sunny California. I’m sure these places would come with their own baggage of troubles. But somehow… I feel I’d be more appreciated and respected for what I do than here, where I’m just seen as a poster white girl. Maybe that will take away some of this tension I’ve been feeling. But I’m also aware that ‘the grass is always greener…’. 

So. The bottom line is I know nothing, like Jon Snow, and I will continue on this drift on the stormy waters of life. Huzzah.

One thought on “I ain’t dead yet!

  1. Hello, Marta. Not sure you’d remember me. We went to high school together approximately 1 forever ago. It’s so weird to read about your experiences in Korea that seem to so closely parallel the experiences of my wife here in Poland – she’s Vietnamese and also went through a fair amount of immigration regulation anxiety.

    I wish you all the best in your struggle against the bureaucratic machine! I totally get how nerve-racking it can be to have one’s future depend on something completely beyond one’s control.


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