It’s hard to know what to say about my time in South Korea. It was wonderful, it was horrible. It was an experience I will never forget.
In 2010 I was just finishing up my undergrad degree at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. I graduated with a degree in political science and religion. It was the best degree! I learned so much – but it doesn’t really transfer to the real world. A few days before graduation, I was looking at the university career site trying to find a job and came across a company that put nannies in the Bahamas. Thinking that would be a nice adventure, I applied. They got back to me a few days later saying that since I didn’t have my ECE qualifications, that I couldn’t go, but I could apply to teach English in South Korea. They set me up with a time and date to be at an information session in Toronto.
I went to the information session, which was really an interview. Before I knew it, I was ordering my passport and a police check and I hadn’t even said “Yes I’ll go”. It was more like a “We need these documents to complete you’re profile and get a contract” and off they sent me. It took me a while to get what they needed, since there were a few misunderstandings on what was actually needed. I had an interview on the phone before I even had my police check in my hands. It seemed a little rushed to me, but if I don’t do things in a rushed state, I find they don’t happen since I talk myself out of it.
So I flew out on November 8th, and landed in Seoul on the 9th. I was met at the airport and put on a bus to the city I would be living in and then met at the bus station by an assistant with the school. It was a smooth transition and I didn’t really have time to feel homesick. I landed late on a Saturday night, so Sunday I had another teacher from the school show me where the grocery store was, and just settled into my small one room apartment. The next day, I was picked up and driven to the school and off I went!
I quickly learned why there was such a rush to get me there. The teacher who I took over for decided that the job wasn’t for her and she just left. I don’t blame her, those first few months were challenging! I had the worst classes in the school and it was very difficult. I left feeling defeated almost every Monday and Friday, just from one middle school class. They were just pushing the boundaries and testing my limits but for someone who had never taught before it was a shock to the system.
I didn’t work at a regular school, I worked at what is called a hogwan. This is an after school private academy type thing. So kids go to school all day, then they go to extra classes at hogwans. There are hogwans for almost every subject – math, science, English. Some kids would even go to school, go to their math hogwan and THEN come to English classes. I worked from 2-10 and it was a nice little set up for me. I could sleep in, do some lounging before work and then head in.
Most people when they move to a new exciting place like South Korea, take all the chances they can to travel in the country. I honestly didn’t. I regret not living like a tourist, but I settled into life as I would have here. Work during the week, regular grocery shopping time, regular dining places when I wasn’t working. It was a nice, regular routine. I started going to Seoul some times once I got use to the subway systems and was sure I wouldn’t get lost. I would take it to neighbouring cities which were bigger and had large shopping malls and movie theatres. I had a great little life.
Then February came around. I’m not sure what caused it, maybe it was homesickness, or part of my period or something, but I began to get really sick. At first it felt like food poisoning, but I wasn’t throwing up. I would have the most awful pain in my side, kind of like my kidney area, and cramping and diarrhea (TMI I know!) It wasn’t all the time, but it was enough to make me stop eating properly. Finally, a teacher at the school I was at noticed it one day. We were on a strange schedule so I was in from 1-9 that day, and classes didn’t start until 3:45. I was pretty much dying at my desk so she took me to the hospital. The doctor gave me some medication and sent me on my way. It helped to get over it, but then it kept coming back. So I took his advice and whenever I felt it coming on, I would “eat like a baby” for a week or so, plain bread, scrambled eggs, bananas, plain rice, and it would lessen the effects of it and make it go away faster. I took a week’s vacation in June and went home to see my family. To my surprise, I had no illness while at home…..
Before I got sick, I had planned on staying for at least two years instead of just one. I guess it was good that I got sick though. After around March, the school started to have financial issues. We would get paid late, or in little installments, our director changed, we moved buildings to decrease costs, we went from 4 English teachers to 3. By the time my contract was over in November, I was ready to go home. I wrote up an itemized list of all the expenses the school still owed me for, booked my flight and packed up my apartment. I cried all the way to the airport, sitting in a couch bus with tears silently dropping on my cheeks.
Once home, my illness slowly left me. I still had a few symptoms and got tested for parasites but nothing could be found. After about two months I haven’t had that feeling again ever. It still confuses me sometimes.
The best thing to come out of my year living in Korea, was this desire to travel. I have a classic case of wonderlust and it’s not leaving anytime soon. I got back home, applied to teachers college and planned a solo trip to Scotland. I took a coach bus tour and it was amazing. Ever since I have been planning trips but never going. I never have the money but one day I’ll get back out there.
Part of me wishes I had to courage to go back to Korea. Everyone says its so dangerous there, but the western media spins the situation to capture more attention than it needs. My mom has told me if I go, then I’m out of her will. But in all honesty, if I don’t get a job within a week then I’ll be going back. I just can’t bring myself to tell my parents and friends. They will all be so disappointed and sad. But it’s what makes me happy – and what is the point of living a life where you aren’t happy in your choices?