Tag Archives: Erie

Erie Expatriates Seeking Jobs…in South Korea

This guest editorial comes from Kristi Gandrud, a native of my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania, currently living in South Korea and working as an editor of a national English-language proficiency test. She created the Facebook group Erie Expatriates, which was inspired by one of my favorite Rust Belt blogs, Flint Expatriates.

What do you think about what she has to say? Do you know fellow Rust Belters who have sought work abroad? -Kate G.

When I was an undergraduate headed to Canada for my freshman year, I remember trying to get a money order to pay for my visa application in advance of crossing the border.  Standing at the counter in my credit union in Erie, PA, trying to persuade the clerk to make a money order out in Canadian dollars? I might as well have asked for Mauritian rupees. Before I left the credit union, half the staff had been called on deck to figure out how to perform such an exotic transaction. I shook my head at the apparent difficulty of using the currency of a country which, on a clear day, I could see from my bedroom window. Eventually getting what I’d come for, I left the credit union in disbelief of my hometown’s provincial ways, and made for the border.

Four years in Canada and one linguistics degree later, I found myself living in Seoul, South Korea as an ESL kindergarten teacher, far from the shores of that provincial hometown. I had, at some point in my undergraduate linguistics career, heard the drumbeat of the overseas ESL market, and registered for a one-year intensive Korean language class. When Koreans ask me how I got here, that’s what I tell them. I say, “Yeah…I studied the language in undergrad, so I got interested in Korea, and I just ended up here…”

But what I really want to say is: “Well, I come from a pretty economically depressed region of the US, and when I finished my undergrad, I had no viable options for a job in my hometown, and few personal connections for jobs anywhere else. I was able to get a job in Seoul that paid about $23,000 a year, included free housing and round-trip airfare, provided health insurance, and only required a bachelor’s degree,” –which is more along the lines of the truth. My Korean studies did help me move to Seoul, and my linguistics background did nudge me toward language teaching, but the main draw of the Korean labor market was stable, decently remunerated employment for my 22-year old self.

And it seems, I wasn’t the only Erie native to figure this out. Most obviously, there was my boyfriend (now husband) Chris: we were hired together by a major Korean ESL conglomerate, YBM, and were placed in different schools in Seoul. Chris was in as much of an employment bind as I was: he had just finished a one-year master’s degree in political science at the prestigious London School of Economics, but lacking professional opportunities in Erie—as well as personal or professional networks in London—he spent five months pounding the pavement before he finally gave up on getting a job in the UK, and heeded the call of the East Asian ESL-teacher experience.

Also somewhat obviously, there was Chris’s brother Nate. He finished a degree with top marks at Bard College—also, by all accounts, a well-regarded institution of higher education –but, lacking immediate opportunities to start earning an income, followed in his brother’s footsteps to Seoul. Nate now works as a kindergarten teacher at the same company where Chris and I worked, somewhat improbably given his double major in philosophy and history.

That, of course, is all in the family. But how about Emily, a girl from my graduating class at my high school? What are the chances that I would go thousands of miles from home, and meet a classmate working in the very same city, in the very same industry? And this didn’t just happen to me: Nate also met a classmate of his in Korea via Facebook, a girl in his graduating class who now works as an ESL teacher in Busan, on the southeast coast of the country. And what about the steady stream of emails from Erie residents that I’ve answered in the last four years: ‘My cousin is moving to Korea soon, do you think you could write to her with some advice?’ or ‘My neighbor’s son is looking for a job in Seoul, do you have any recommendations?’ or ‘My friend is thinking of doing a year abroad at Yonsei University, what do you know about it?’ When I can momentarily set aside my own gratification at having apparently developed a celebrity reputation in my immediate circle as the pre-eminent South Korea guru, I marvel at the unlikely number of Erie natives heading for the Land of the Morning Calm.

I won’t attempt a detailed review of the positively unfathomable, never-before-seen-in-human-history growth that the South Korean economy experienced from the 1980s to the present. Let’s just say that 50 years ago, it was the poorest country in Asia—malnutrition was widespread, and the infant mortality rate would make even the most hardened social statisticians cringe. (For reference: a Korean friend of mine who is in her mid-30s, the oldest of five children, grew up in a mud hut in the southern city of Gwangju.) Today, Korea’s economy is among the most developed in the world: it gained membership in the OECD, the rich world’s premier economic social club, in 1996.

If you don’t have a Samsung cell phone in your bag or pocket right now, you probably know someone who does. The last time I visited Erie, my father-in-law proudly gave me a detailed demonstration of his top-of-the-line, front-loading LG washer and dryer, and I must admit, they were quite nice. When my cousin from Pittsburgh wrote me to say that his Playstation soccer game contained a Korean league team called the ‘Pohang Steelers,’ I pointed out that, as home to steel manufacturing  giant POSCO, the coastal city of Pohang has taken much more from Pittsburgh than just the name of its football team. That friend of mine who grew up in the mud hut? She now lives in Seoul in a beautiful high-rise apartment with her successful lawyer husband and a three-year-old daughter. Can this country afford to employ legions of 20-somethings from depressed areas of the US to teach their kids English? You bet it can.

I’m living in Seoul now, and having gotten a master’s degree, have moved up a rung on the expat employment ladder: I work as an editor at Seoul National University on an English proficiency test. From March to July of this year, I spent a grueling 5 months in Erie trying desperately to find a job that would enable me to live closer to my parents, sisters, and grandparents. To no avail: even the interviewer at the temp agency told me the pickings were slim. I finally threw in the towel and decided to come back to a place where I knew employment, a decent wage, and health insurance awaited. This past week, I helped my father and sister-in-law book tickets to Seoul for Christmas. Since my brother-in-law, husband, and I will already be in here, it made sense to do the holidays in Korea.

A few weeks ago, I was on the phone with the good people at the Erie Federal Credit Union. I’ve been sending remittances home, and I wanted to check on a few of the details of the transactions. I explained to the teller than I was actually living and working in South Korea, and so I understood if my requests to deal in Korean won were a bit out of the ordinary. Fully expecting to don the outlandish mantle of the long-lost hometown girl, I was taken aback when the teller at the other end of the line said, “Oh, no, that’s fine. We deal with won all the time.”


-Kristina Gandrud


Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Education, Headline, Rust Belt Blogs

A City’s Scale And Its Promises

Editor’s note: We at Rust Wire love cities like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Detroit. But how welcoming are these places to everyone? This piece was contributed by New Yorker Frank Dix, a native of my hometown of Erie, PA. What do you think after reading his essay? Can someone who is gay ever feel truly at home in a place like Erie? This piece seems especially relevant in light of several recent high-profile suicides by gay teens.-KG


People who have made a life in New York usually remember their hurry to get here. The draw of the city may have developed early, but plain ambition does not quite sum it up. Whether you grew up in Erie, PA as I did, some other Rust Belt town, or in another region altogether, what you get here –and in Los Angeles and Chicago, I hear – is the chance to dissolve into a new crowd, and perhaps later, with confidence, to piece together what feels like your own tribe. If you happen to be gay then you realize, over time, that your hometown might not promise either one convincingly.

Certainly, many small towns and cities, including Erie, are rich with at least a few examples of visible gay men and women who are genuinely part of the community, reliable as local fixtures. But even the richness of these few can feel strained in contrast to the options and space afforded to straight friends. At the same time, for young gay men and women, it requires extra work to imagine how their adult selves and future partnerships might compare to the daily lives of their parents, relatives, and family friends.

The next best thing – or at least what is available – is to turn toward the community and observe it a little more closely, for clues. Gradually, a certain cast comes into view, sometimes plainly, sometimes opaquely through hints and jokes: the hairdresser, the dance instructor, the choir director, the figure painter…that eclectic interracial couple seen riding around town in a Rolls Royce or peddling their tandem bike. Job prospects notwithstanding, you could probably get along just fine in this company, if bigger cities did not seem at once vast and better suited.

After settling in, it does not take long for New York to start delivering on its promises. Instead of the easy insult, on the whole you find tolerance, either sincere or grudging; there are consequences here. Instead of the rare, relatable professional you find entire, remarkably specific guilds of gay actors, bankers, journalists, and lawyers, each having a membership in the hundreds. A fresh, blank page replaces the well-worn scripts left at home.

That page does not stay blank forever. You rush to fill it in as though just given permission. Peers are discovered, friendships maintained, romances begun and tested, probably not for the first time but perhaps for the time in-earnest. Broadly speaking, these impressions of Erie and New York are probably not so different from what others might tell, gay or straight. The promise of excitement – and a compelling love life –takes hold of all sorts of people, year after year. Finding a personal rhythm within this scale is a victory, always. But there are tradeoffs.

In the very place you left, where, if intact, the bonds were tighter, chances were better that you would meet your partner earlier, maybe through a childhood friend or at one of a handful of parties or lounges. In a city the size of Erie, even running a simple errand means seeing a friend or an acquaintance along the way. That closeness is a reliable comfort for many; it once was for me.

Still, navigating the coming out process, and imaging maturity, has a way of guiding other thoughts. Within the broad sweep of identity, being gay can settle somewhere between a singular focus and an afterthought. New York, with its large and vibrant gay community, offers a rough parallel to the relative freedom straight people take for granted. While not cozy, the city is attractive, in part, because it extends an honest chance to discover and express your-self as a gay adult. Here, the common grievance is not a lack of examples or choices, but trouble building the kind of strong bonds that people enjoy in smaller cities. The act of balancing intimacy and opportunity, I’ve noticed, can play out a little differently for gay men…

Traveling back home on the Acela from DC on a Sunday last October, I could not have been the only New Yorker savoring memories of the weekend. Activists and everyday citizens in the tens of thousands had just gathered for the National Equality Weekend, to bring critical attention to the concerns of the gay community. In marching and rallying, it had never been easier for me to consider personally what it means to be a part of a community. An hour or so from New York, I decided to get a drink. Among the passengers in the snack car there were two fit young men, iPhones raised, Grindr apps glowing, perhaps deciding to find each other.

-Frank Dix


Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Editorial, Featured

Guest Editorial: The Stigma of the Small City

I have recently returned to Cleveland after several years in the “Capitol of the Midwest,” Chicago. Chicago is filled with Midwesterners from all corners, and those who have committed to living there have a mixture of disdain, pity, and guilty longing for the places they left behind. The opinion they expressed was that leaving Chicago for a smaller Midwestern city would stifle career ambitions and deprive one of big city amenities. All they saw outside Chicagoland was corn fields and closed factories. In a discussion of urban development, one economist (originally from upstate NY) asserted, “Detroit and Cleveland no longer have an economic reason for being.” When I told people in Chicago that I planned to return to Cleveland, most looked dejected and some said, “I’m sorry.”

Having spent a year now in Cleveland, I realize that it is not a small city with nothing going on. It is truly a major city with sufficient scale for most things you find in major cities. We have finance and legal industries. We have designers and publishers. We have bicycle messengers. We have at least a half dozen companies that do nothing but walk dogs for busy professionals. We have a sand volley ball league, a dozen ski clubs, and thirty-some yoga studios. We have immigrants from all over the world in our universities and running ethnic groceries. We have commuter trains, valets, and loft condos with concierges. Life in Cleveland is much more like life in Chicago than people there, here, or elsewhere recognize. Is our perception about smaller cities also wrong?


Photo by David Richardson via Flickr.

Just as Chicago collects people from Detroit, Minneapolis, and Columbus, I have found that Cleveland has no small number of people who grew up in Youngstown, Lima, and Wooster. From time to time, I find myself in smaller cities or reading blogs about them – Erie, Jamestown, Flint, etc. I start to wonder about these places as the people in Chicago wonder about Cleveland. How can they have an economic future? Who would move there? If I were a young, educated person, how could I justify staying there? Would I have returned to Flint if that’s where I grew up? If so, who would I work for? Who would my spouse work for? What if I had to change jobs mid career but there’s only one local employer in my field?

Looking at the latest population change estimates, I was struck once again by the falling populations in “small” places near “big” places – shrinking counties south of Atlanta and Charlotte and west of Dallas and Austin (http://www.census.gov/popest/gallery/maps/County-Numeric-Change-00-09.html).

What do you think about roll-up? Should we be promoting the gathering of educated young people of our region from rural areas to cities? From small cities to large cities? From large cities to Chicago? Should we be trying to save every urbanized area? At some point, do we have to say to some small places, “You are just too small. You will never have the jobs or amenities to stop your shrinking. Let your young people go to a bigger city. At least we can save that city, and they can visit you on long weekends.”

Even though Cleveland has a lot to offer, we are struggling with inadequate numbers to fill and hold desirable urban neighborhoods. There are places in Cleveland with dozens of rehabbed homes and new condos. Young professionals live in these and support local businesses and artists. But for every young professional household there are three or more rentals. The nice housing is mixed in with blight. The surplus space keeps rent low and intimidating characters outnumber friendly neighbors. I wish we had a few thousand more young professionals so we could make at least one neighborhood feel as safe as Lakeview or the West Loop in Chicago.

I see people making a valiant effort to save Jackson, MI, and Findlay, OH, and I feel like saying to them, “Let it go. We can’t save everything. Cleveland needs all the young talent we can get, and we’d love to have you as a neighbor here.” At the same time, I know exactly how it feels to hear that. The difference, if anything, is that Chicago doesn’t need any more young professionals. Cleveland needs more educated people to slow and reverse its decline. But Erie needs more educated people too. What should we do?



Filed under Brain Drain, Editorial, Headline, Real Estate

Are we too negative?


Above: An iconic Erie image

I’d like to share some thought from the “Inside Erie” column written by Erie Times-News columnist Pat Howard– and read by myself and many other Erie natives who no longer live there.

He writes this week about something I’ve observed a number of times – folks from Erie (and a number of other Rust Belt communities) can be pretty negative about their hometowns. And it sometimes seems that the loudest complainers are those who’ve never left.

But people who have lived elsewhere (i.e. Erie natives who’ve lived in California and then returned to Erie) can have a better perspective on what’s positive about their town.

Read what he has to say and see if you agree.



Filed under Economic Development, Editorial, Headline, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, The Media

Pennsylvania Faring Better Than Ohio in Recession


Why is Pennsylvania faring better than Ohio in this economic downturn?

“[A]lthough the recession has hit both states hard, the troubles in Ohio are clearly much worse,” this Associated Press story reports, citing an index of unemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies in more than 3,000 U.S. counties.

This story attributes the difference to PA’s more diversified economy, especially its education and health-care sectors.


But, parts of Ohio have invested heavily in these fields as well. I’m not sure what the reason is but the numbers cited in this story do show a pretty stark difference. I’m glad to moving to PA in a few weeks.


Filed under Economic Development, Headline

Views of the Erie, PA Waterfront


Full disclosure: Nepotism alert- my Dad, Tony Giammarise, took these photos and submitted them to us. I think people will find them interesting so I still wanted to put them up. This series focuses on what I think is Erie’s best natural resource: the waters of the Great Lakes. Continue reading


Filed under The Big Urban Photography Project, Uncategorized

Stimulating Cities: $$$

Hard figures beginning to shake out of the President’s stimulus bill. What does this mean for Rust Belt cities? Money. Lots of money.

More than $417 million is being sent to Ohio by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

$475 million has been earmarked for Great Lakes clean-up, 10-times larger than any previous award.

$23 million will be delivered to the Gary, Ind. area.

Milwaukee is getting $22.6 million.

The Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority will receive $35 million.

The Erie Housing Authority: $4.6 million.

Minneapolis is getting $20 million for light rail, plus a great big list of other projects.

This will be an exciting opportunity for many cities whose budgets have traditionally limited plans for infrastructure projects and community development. I’m interested to see how it is all put to use.




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Filed under Uncategorized