5 Reasons I’m Staying in South Korea In 2016
Annyeonghaseyo (안녕하세요)! Or, in other words, hello! You’re reading this article which was typed from my apartment in Seoul. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d still be here for as long as I have been. When I first arrived in South Korea in May of 2015, I fully anticipated that I would be staying in the country on a one-year teaching contract. Throughout that year, I experienced culture shock, a lot of ups and downs, and had issues navigating the complex rules of dating and the business aspect of working in a private academy. Sometimes, I felt extremely lonely and really missed my family and friends. You might be reading this thinking, but you’re staying in Korea, right? After writing all of that, why? The reason is because despite all of the negatives, there have also been overwhelmingly positive things that have happened to me in Korea. And there are so many things I have left to learn about being an individual, a decent teacher, and a citizen of the world. My thoughts on staying are countless, but I’ve narrowed my list down to the following five:
1. I have a sense of purpose.
Teaching is a much respected profession, but I never completely understood why until I became a teacher. Sure, I’ve been surrounded by teachers all of my life. Some of them were amazing. A few actually helped change me, inspire me, and make me think that I could do the things they were doing because they made me see myself in them. They made my seemingly unattainable childhood dreams that much more tangible. I was lucky to have those teachers, but I still didn’t understand them. Blame it on age, a developing mind, a lack of life experience, or all of the above, but I think I understand them a little better now. Being a teacher gives you a sense of responsibility. Looking into those children’s faces each day and knowing you can teach them things they can carry with them forever is an amazing feeling. I don’t think I’m done with my work here yet. I don’t think I’m done feeling the sense of pride in doing what I do just yet.
2. I’m still being challenged.
Having a purpose isn’t without its challenges, but sometimes, those challenges are battles worth fighting. As my students grow, they develop new needs, new desires, and want the answers to new questions. Often, they make me re-think the way I think about certain topics. I’m not only challenging my students, but they are challenging me as well. Every day I wake up and I learn new things about my job, about Korea, and about the kids I teach.
3. I fell in love.
No, I’m not talking about just falling in love with South Korea, although I undoubtedly did. I actually fell in love with a Korean man during my stay here. While the relationship is still relatively new, it certainly wasn’t something I planned for nor something I would say I wanted at this particular time in my life. Nonetheless, it is my first relationship as an adult that I’ve had away from the judgements and prying eyes of my friends and family. In many ways, I’m learning about myself and who I am in relationships, how I’ve stood on my own, and how I now stand with someone else. I have yet to see where this relationship will go, but I’m serious about it, and it makes me happy to say for once in many years that I’m determined to explore a future with someone. I am concerned about some aspects of it. For instance, he would like to continue his life in Korea, and I would like to go back to the United States at some point. Nonetheless, the relationship in the now is one that has enhanced my life and made my stay in Korea all the more pleasant.
4. Independence is addicting.
Before I moved to Korea, I had never lived on my own, and while I miss my family life very much and would like to return to it at some point, independence can be very rewarding in its own right. I still remember the day I told my parents that I was serious about moving to Korea. Naturally, they didn’t believe me. Once they saw the plane ticket in my hands, however, they finally realized I was really going. Partially, I think they wanted me to not do well so that I’d come back home sooner, but another part of me knew they were cheering me on from the sidelines, knowing I was following my dreams. I think what they didn’t really understand is why I had to move many miles away instead of into my own apartment in the same town. Of course, the intent was never to leave my loved ones, but to see if I could really fly. Spoiler alert: I can and did!
5. My overall work here isn’t done.
I’m of the opinion that there is nothing more detrimental to a student accustomed to a certain teaching style than switching a teacher on them each year. I felt like it would have been irresponsible of me as an educator to abandon my children after only one year of service. They know who I am, what I expect, how I teach, and the expectations I have of them. That places less stress upon them and gives them a better chance of succeeding. I also have so much to learn about being a better teacher. One year of experience isn’t enough to be able to chase international teaching jobs or to come home and expect more employment prospects in the field. At minimum, teachers often have to have at least two to three years’ worth of experience to qualify as directors of a subject, get better pay, or work in certain regions and be considered seriously as an educator.
This first year has taught me so many things that I didn’t expect to learn here. Now, I’m looking forward to learning what this upcoming year will bring. My contract period will end on May 30th, 2017, and once that’s up, who knows what I’ll do? China and Japan both have some attractive openings that intrigue me, or maybe I’ll just spending a month diving in the Philippines or traveling. I’m just happy to be in a situation where doing those things is actually feasible.
So, if you want to teach English abroad or move to another part of the world to pursue freelance writing, modeling, travel writing, or whatever your passion is, there are many countries out there waiting for you. Don’t feel discouraged or think you can’t do it. Take it from me: you are stronger than you think you are, and the world is waiting for you to explore it. If you can do some good along the way and give back, even better, but you won’t know what you can do and learn until you make up your mind to go somewhere and try something completely new!