What I Learned My Second Year in Korea
I still have no idea what I want to do with my life.
I hate to break it to you, but if you’re trying to find yourself, going to the other side of the world may not be the most effective way to accomplish it. I admit that coming to Korea, for me, was not about figuring out who I am–but plenty of people come here to do just that. While I might have spent the last two years teaching, I still have no idea what my forever career is, and maybe that’s the exactly sort of thing I shouldn’t be looking for. Maybe people with a wide array of interests shouldn’t be pigeon-holed for the rest of their lives when they have plenty of talent to share in multiple fields. Maybe thinking we belong in one place when we fit so beautifully in many different places is the problem.
You might have no idea what exactly you want to do with your life, but I firmly believe that it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes, corn works well with pizza.
While the header states a fact, this is really about much more than pizza toppings. Everything in a foreign land is new. Sometimes, certain experiences won’t be your cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t branch out and really try to immerse yourself in the culture surrounding you. You might not like pizza topped with corn, but you may very well find other things that you do like. The great thing about travel is that it makes you question everything you know about your worldview. My two years in Korea have impacted my political beliefs, causes I’m interested in, how I approach relationships, and my ideas about beauty. New experiences can help you evolve.
Teachers deserve more respect, public and private alike.
There are never enough hours in the day for teachers to do what they have to do, especially if they want to go above and beyond the bare minimum requirements expected of them. Most academy teachers are on a set salary and paid once a month, despite how many hours they work. The work hours are significantly longer than people might think. Now, this can be subjective. After all, a teacher can definitely do the bare minimum and scrape by, especially if they are well-liked and popular in their academy.
Whether there are extra lesson plans, weekly reports, progress reports, outside of school activities, or holiday decorations to take care of, there will be times when every teacher works well over 40 hours a week, while still dealing with difficult situations, lessons, and students. While I can’t speak from experience, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to suggest that public school teachers have an equally hard, if not worse time managing the demands placed upon them. I don’t think it is something that most people truly understand until they are actually in this position, and I am leaving this experience with an even greater respect for educators. It’s not an easy job and can definitely be thankless–but at the same time, it’s one of the greatest jobs in the world.
Change doesn’t always have to be scary.
Moving to the other side of the world is a risk I typically wouldn’t encourage anyone to take, especially anyone like me. I don’t know how I became obsessed with the idea, since I constantly crave comfort and familiar surroundings in everything I do. For me, it didn’t seem like the right timing or the correct circumstances. I felt a mixture of fear, guilt, excitement, vulnerability, and determination all at once. My gut told me I could do this, and I did. It was a huge change, probably one of the biggest changes a person could undergo suddenly, but I would do it all again. Don’t be afraid of change.
Becoming a good teacher takes time.
I don’t think I was the best teacher during my first year here. It took me a long time to learn names, the computer system, how to meet deadlines, and how to remember all the things I had to do. I sometimes had classroom management issues and my lesson planning wasn’t always the best. Sure, I knew what to do in theory, but being thrown to the wolves is an entirely different ball game altogether.
When you teach abroad, you are expected to know what to do, pick up new things quickly, and figure out things for yourself. When you arrive, you have a few days of observing other people’s classes, and then you’re expected to teach. If you want me to tell you the honest truth, I’m not convinced anyone is a good first-year teacher. The expectations and situations that teachers have to deal with, as well as the pressure, can be downright overwhelming. I’d like to think that I grew during my time, both personally and professionally. I definitely feel I am teaching more effectively and making more of a difference. I just wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself for not being perfect the first year.
I am definitely going to miss Korea.
If you’d ask me last year if I would have signed up for another year in Korea, I would have told you absolutely not. As a vegetarian and someone who had never left my parents’ house for the entirety of my life until this point, I was completely outside of my comfort zone. Being completely self-reliant for the first time meant that I was learning for myself, and sometimes to learn, you have to go through some rough patches. I got my first and hopefully last kidney stone while I was in Korea. I had plenty of moments where I couldn’t communicate with taxi drivers or other people whose services I needed, leading me to have emotional breakdowns every now and again. And I had to really adjust my teaching style for the environment I was in.
Reflecting on it now, I wouldn’t change it for the world, because so many positive things have come from being here.