I’ve been in Korea for a year now and now I’m facing the reality of returning to the UK and doing something different with the next chapter of my life. I wrote these thoughts a few days before the one year mark and it summarises what I’ve been thinking about teaching in Korea, work and the future.
One thing I realised shortly after coming to Korea is something that many in my position may disagree with. I realised that I’m not a teacher, not really.
My mum is a teacher. She works hard and she has to work hard every day, even weekends are not an escape from educating. Observed lessons, Ofsted inspections and colleagues who seem to have something against working in harmony keep her on her toes. We both stand in front of a class, we both use a whiteboard. Here the similarities end. My whiteboard isn’t even interactive.
What I’m actually on is a kind of working holiday. Different from those picking fruit in Australia or farming in Europe but a working holiday all the same. That’s not to say that the work isn’t challenging, kids aren’t famous for their ability to make life easy. I also don’t have time to do much actual travel, my job is for a year with one week holiday, which I had in summer.
One reason that I don’t think of myself as a teacher is that I knew, when I arrived, when I was going to leave. After a year, even if I decided to stay in Korea, I would have changed hagwon (after school academy) as most with a one year contract do, leaving the kids before I think any real impression can be made. We are day trippers. Our students, our colleagues, and the friends we make along the way all know that, at some point relatively soon (even if you’ve just arrived), you are going to leave. I know that in a few months the journey will be over. I’ll be sad to go, and I’ll be devastated to say goodbye to some of the people I’ve met here, maybe for the last time. But as far as the job is concerned, I won’t be saying goodbye to a profession or a career, just an occupation for my time in Korea.
This all sounds a little gloomy, and some of it is, but it’s a great occupation to have for a year. Teaching English in Korea is easy. By being a native English speaker you fill half the requirements, if you’ve got a degree then you could be here in a matter of weeks. Also, the pay out here is great, especially considering that the school will pay for your accommodation (and flights).
In fact, the pay out here has been enough that (before I got clever and started saving money) I was able to get myself an iPad, which hasn’t left my side since March as I use it like phone, a diving qualification and even laser eye surgery, both of which should last me a lifetime. When I first arrived I wasn’t worrying too much about how much I was spending on weekends and nights out. Again, if I was smarter I would have started saving a long time ago, but I enjoyed being able to treat myself and my friends occasionally, even if I might regret it when I get home.
This is another reason that this all feels like a working holiday, and annoyingly it’s hard to put into words. I think it’s the seeming suspension of responsibility, the ease of putting reality on hold and taking a year where it’s easy to justify things you would never justify at home, like making the casual decision one day to have an expensive surgery (though LASEK is probably the best decision I’ve made my whole life).
What has struck me most is how easy it all is to live like this. The thought of getting into the standard routine of starting on the ‘career ladder’ and knowing that I won’t stop climbing for a long, long time, maybe my whole life, is frankly terrifying. It’s easy enough to say that if you don’t like what you’re doing you can change, but how many actually do? Am I wrong in thinking there must be another way?
Not that I’ve thought of another way. It’s a little strange to realise you don’t really know where you’re going. If I ask my students where they’ll be in ten years they have all the answers. I couldn’t confidently tell you what I’ll be doing in two.
Guess I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
James Vs World