I am closing in on my one year mark teaching English in South Korea. It’s mid June (2012) now, and the contract year will end in August (2012). While I’ve been here, I’ve tried to capture many of the moments on camera, video, YouTube, Facebook, blog, etc for friends, family and the virtual world to enjoy. However, it’s impossible to get it all. It’s also impossible to really convey the true experience in terms of my actual, real life. Day to day. Good weather, bad weather. Ups and downs. All the in betweens that can’t come across in a video or picture. A lot of people are like I was before I came here. Wondering what to expect. Will they love it, hate it? Want to get back on the plane. Everyone receives the experience differently.
Here is how my first year was.
A New, Exciting, EXOTIC Experience of a Lifetime!
When I finally decided to take a hiatus from life back in the USA and teach English abroad I was super excited. I watched every video on YouTube about the experience. Apartment videos, people visiting this and that exotic place, exciting outings with friends, etc. I couldn’t wait to go. Maybe you’re in the same boat right now.
Then I arrived. I’m there! “Why did I do this?” was one of the first questions on heavy rotation in my head the first week. “This is not like the pamphlet” was another. Like many people, it was slow going at first. Everything is different. Everyone is Korean. EVERYONE! Hey, it’s Korea.
After a couple weeks of settling into my apartment, school, and new environment, the jitters all disappeared. I mean that – for me they just disappeared. I do have to let you know that I am half Korean so I was accustomed to the food and the smells that may otherwise shock someone from a place, say, like New Hampshire…wait, I am from New Hampshire! I also lived in NYC for 8 years and along with having many Korean friends came doing very Korean things. All this means, the “culture shock” aspect of it all was really not present for me. It may be for you, and likely will.
So here I am, settled in, no culture shock – is South Korea really a New, Exciting, and Exotic experience? Yes. It really is.
Is it like the videos and pictures I perused on the internet before coming? Yes, and no. What it really is, is Korea.
It’s on the other side of the globe from home. Because I ate kimchi growing up doesn’t mean I knew everything about Korea. In fact, I really didn’t know much.
The first thing I did was get out and about whenever possible. I did many of the things that I read about online like visiting temples, watching festivals and shopping at outdoor markets. I joined a judo club right near my apartment which really helped me feel a sense of comfort as it gave me a place to let go of some stress and make new friends in an all familiar environment. Literally though, those things are just the tip of the iceberg.
What is Different?
|The coast of the island I live on|
Everything is different. The building designs, furnishings in the buildings, what people find stylish, social interactions, social hierarchies, body communications, stores, food types, prices (some things are very cheap in comparison to back home, some are more expensive – like razors and shaving cream).
Life for most foreigners will be turned upside down which is why many revert back to socializing with foreigner groups. I do think it’s a good idea to have your foreign friends to bring you back home every once in a while. At the same time though, I think it’s important to push yourself into seeing Korea while you have the opportunity. Try to be a Korean for a year!
Daily life revolves around your job Monday thru Friday. And for teaching ESL in Korea, that’s a GOOD thing. I like to stress that I get to work with students who are on the forefront of education globally. These are the strongest students in the world. If you keep an open mind, refrain from being frustrated, and look carefully, you can begin to see why. The educational system in South Korea is of critical nature to the government. They do not cut corners. They do not take it lightly. And I am part of it. A small role, yes, but I’m here seeing and experiencing it.
Daily life is just that – it’s LIFE. I get up in the morning, drink a cup of coffee, flick on the computer to check Facebook and email, shower, shave, down a protein shake and go to work. Come home from work and either go to judo practice or work on my videos and blogs. Download a movie, watch it, go to bed. It’s a vicious cycle! But there you have it. It doesn’t matter where I am, or where you will be in life, your daily routine is your daily routine.
In between, I find time to go to fun and exciting places, meet with friends, go to the beach, hike, volunteer, etc, but essentially I am living my life as I would back home…just in a Korean storyline.
It’s life. I just happen to enjoy trying to live it while I’m here.
Lots and Lots of Free Time
I think this is more important than most people give credit to. The amount of free time I have is immense. I personally feel it is the free time that makes or breaks the experience teaching abroad. What a person does with their free time shapes who they really are, how they view life, and what they will take from this experience.
|My judo instructor|
I get home each day at 4:45 PM. Since I don’t need to wake up until 7:00 AM and I can only sleep 5 hours max each clip should tell you how much free time I have on my hands. Three times a week I walk to judo class, but the entire effort lasts only 1.5 hours. Finding ways to fill free time is very important. I can’t stress it enough. Gone are the days for me when I got home at 7:00 or 8:00 PM and tried to figure out what chores needed to be done before getting to bed in time for the 6:00 AM buzzer.
There is also vacation. Teachers get a summer and winter break. Though 2-3 weeks of that time are spent teaching camp in the morning, there are the remaining 2-3 weeks for traveling, checking out other cities, going home to see family and friends, or whatever you’d like.
Make the most of your free time.
To Bring It Home
As you read this blog, watch videos (here is my YouTube Channel), talk to recruiters and past expats, you’ll begin to build a picture of what you think teaching in South Korea will be like. It may be just as you picture it, it may be different, it may shock the life out of you. All that depends on you.
I can confidently say for everyone it will surely be these things…
o Eye opening
o It will stretch your character
o You’ll learn to appreciate your life as it happens inside another culture
o You WILL learn more about yourself
I hope to see you here someday. Or maybe in another country!
All the best.