Why Did I Leave a Good Thing in Korea?

90 Day KoreanOn more than a few occasions, when having a life-pondering conversation with someone, I would describe how when I was 25 years old I moved to New York City, blinked my eyes, and found that I was at my current age (a lot older!). And that’s really how life is as I learn each year. As a friend once said to me, it’s like a roll of toilet paper; it goes by faster as you get closer to the end. It seems to be picking up speed all the time.

When I first scrambled to Korea to teach English in 2011, the first six months were like a smorgasbord of emotions and senses. The following six months were much the same and it was a no-brainer to sign up for a second year.

I remember having a conversation with the folks at the EPIK office when signing a contract for my third year. We were just chatting leisurely and they mentioned that most people who stay longer than a year usually leave after three. That was the sweet spot.


It made a little sense to me at the time, but perfect sense to me now as I look back after spending 4½ years in Korea. There is a basic time frame for seeing and experiencing the gist of what Korea has to offer a foreigner, and three years is essentially a fair amount of time to do it all. Like I mentioned before, one year is a blur. The second is similar to the first, but you start to catch a stride and settle in. The third year is when many start to reach for things to do to keep the experience alive.

For me, three years was a little soon. This is partially due to the fact that I had enrolled in a teacher licensing program for a year – which happened to be during my third year in Korea. That sweet spot.

Life during that time was essentially teach during the day and study during the nights. My videos were more or less just vlogs where I would speak in front of my camera. No real productions or anything like that.

Once I obtained the teaching license, I lived out the final year and a half just like it was expected. The time was a slow grind into obscurity in many ways. I was point A to point B most of the time, looking for something new to do or get involved with. During this time, it dawned on me:

“I’ve done the Korea thing.”

The moment I was pushed over the edge was when my first co-teacher at elementary school was returning from a two year hiatus in Argentina where she taught at a Korean school. The realization that two years had passed so quickly (it seemed like the two years hadn’t even existed) made it painfully evident that it was past the time to change gears. It was then that I decided not to renew with EPIK.

The decision to leave Korea was startling to many, including myself. Many were surprised including local friends in Korea, those from back home, and friends from the Red Dragon Diaries world.

As many of you know, I never wanted teaching abroad to be about the money, or about stagnating in one place to acquiesce to a comfort zone. And comfortable I was. By any standard I had the cake and was eating it too. Great apartment, great teaching gig with no stress. Dwaeji gook bap on every corner!

As nice as that sounds if you’re on the outside looking in, it was rubbing me the wrong way. That was not what this new life was supposed to be about. I really missed the “unknown” feeling of being in Korea.

So I left.

As I begin to look back at the country now; the experiences, the food, the people (both natives and foreigners), I sense the void. Those things that were all so common to me in day-to-day life I’m beginning to miss. But that’s how it’s supposed to be.

To leave yourself with good memories.

To leave a good thing at the right time.


  1. […] Why Did I Leave a Good Thing in Korea? When a colleague returns from a two year hiatus in Argentina Tom Gates realises how long he has spent teaching in South Korea and decides it is time for a change. […]

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