From unemployed to overjoyed: Photog student finds recession relief in Seoul

It's two-thirds of a day by plane to slingshot halfway around the world from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea -- a monumental distance, by any reckoning, to escape the throes of the Great Recession.

But when Elizabeth Groeschen, a single 26-year-old Kentucky native, couldn't get anything going on the employment front, she decided to leave Chicago and return to Seoul, where she had spent two years traveling and working through 2008. And to hear Groeschen tell it, the everyday hazards of South Korean life -- everything from North Korean weapons tests to swine flu quarantines for travelers -- were worth braving to recover the sense of hope she'd lost trying to pursue her photography dreams in America.

"I had a free flight to Korea, a settlement allowance, free time to work on my photography and writing, four weeks of paid vacation and a bonus after completing the year contract," says Groeschen, who's teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in Seoul through 2010. "Then there's the convenience of life in Korea: walking to work, [free] school lunches ... and I found an affordable dance studio membership."

A church-going, affable graduate of Loyola University Chicago, Groeschen by no means fits the stereotype of a young, disgruntled American expatriate looking for the high life. Last year, she enrolled in Chicago's School of the Art Institute to gain more experience in photography, and found a job working for a production company.

Then came 2009, with a series of dark dominoes toppling in Groeschen's financial life. Let go from her job in January, she was then unable to qualify for financial aid at school, having lost her full-time student status. What savings she had left depleted in mere weeks and, as she put it, "I fell into a deep economic and emotional slump."

She recalls: "I watched CNN every morning while surfing the Internet for a new job. I lost hope as I gained awareness of the state of the economy. I called home often. I cried. I paid with credit. And I did not have any luck finding a job."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of unemployed persons in June 2009 hit 14.7 million, with the unemployment rate at 9.5 percent. While officials in the Obama Administration brace themselves for a possible jump to 10 percent unemployment when the July numbers come out, consider this: Since the start of the recession in December 2007, the number of unemployed people has increased by 7.2 million -- and the unemployment rate has more than doubled, rising by 4.6 percentage points.,feedConfig,entry&id=452584&pid=452583&uts=1249506028
Escaping This Recession
It's two-thirds of a day by plane to slingshot halfway around the world from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea -- a monumental distance, by any reckoning, to escape the throes of the Great Recession. Browse through this gallery to view photos of Elizabeth's new life in South Korea.
Chris O'Meara, AP
Chris O'Meara, AP

Although the bureau does not track the number of out-of-work Americans going overseas, the above figures suggest that Groeschen and young adults like her are far from alone seeking recession relief overseas. She compares the nine months of pounding the pavement in Chicago, to no avail, to the two days of negotiation it took to land her current ESL job.

"Just about a month ago, the weight of the recession was crushing my pursuit of happiness," Groeschen says. "Now free from the current state of the American economy, future hope in myself and my country has been restored."

Groeschen acknowledges that she already misses some things about America after more than a month away. "I definitely miss being able to attend family events and friends' weddings. I miss my dog. I miss cheddar cheese and nachos. But I do not miss putting my life in America on a credit card. This recession has been unfortunate, as well as my recent move nearly 7,000 miles away from my family. Yet being an American ... still grants me many freedoms other citizens lack. I do not need a green card, a visa, or special permission to return home. I am only a 16-hour flight away."

To follow Elizabeth Groeschen's adventures in South Korea, visit her Web site, The site includes videos Grosechen has mounted on YouTube, including this one of her students singing Queen. Or, Twitter Elizabeth at elizadele.
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