This week marks my four-year anniversary in Korea. I can still remember the day I landed in Incheon as if it was yesterday. I remember exactly what I was wearing. How the cleanliness of the terminal impressed me, meeting my recruiter, being terrified in the car because we were driving on the “wrong” side and going to school where the children thought I was a man!
I’d love to know what my co teachers thought of me that first day. Back then I had super short hair and was paler than I am now. That first night, the other foreign teachers, Michelle and Garrett let me off with staying in but from the second night, we were out and about. And I mean “we” since I had to be escorted to and from everywhere because everything looked the same to me! After two weeks though, I had gotten the swing of things and was let out solo.
The finest piece of advice I heard in those first few weeks was from Nathan, who was part of the Geumchon Crew and still a good friend. On the train to Seoul he said that when you come to Korea you only have 52 weekends to see and do everything so any weekend you don’t go out and do something is wasted time. During that first year, my friends and I hit up all the big museums, events,festivals and did a few foreign trips for the long weekends.
The learning curve that first year was incredible. Before then I had never taught in a classroom, let alone taught English to Korean children. I’d never been to Asia before coming here and I’d never lived quite so far away from home before. But after the initial “what am I doing here” shock, life just fell into place like it would anywhere else.
When I left for Korea, my mission was to let my hair grow long. Here’s how that worked out over the years…..
This is us at our co teachers wedding a few weeks after I arrived.
This is when I visited my sister after my first contract.
Beginning of my second contract.
What have I learned?
A good attitude is half the battle. Not every day is going to be sunshine and roses so don’t be afraid to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask for help if you need it. In relation to teaching, over prepare, then just go with the flow. These days, teaching is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Not every student is going to get it. Revel in the small achievements of your students. Don’t take it too seriously, remember somewhere in the chaos to have a bit of fun. Your friends are your family here so make sure you have some good ones. Take opportunities no matter how small they seem and just do things. Don’t over think things.
Am I the same person?
Being here has changed how I think about things. I’m more open to new ideas and ways of doing things now. I question more now that I’ve been here. Travelling has made me slightly braver than I used to be. Now, I’m more willing to accept mistakes and take risks.
I try my hardest in life not to have regrets. If I were to do something differently, I would have bought my car earlier. That car has made everything so much easier for me. I would have also started seriously studying Korean earlier. I only started to really study after about 2 years and now it’s only so so for someone who has been around for four years. But, I’m studying hard now and I guess that’s what counts. Other than that, I would have done everything else the exact same.
The people I’ve met. I have some of the best friends anyone could ask for. I’ve met loads of interesting characters along the way and hopefully that will continue. The places I’ve seen. Climbing the Great Wall and trekking across the Gobi have got to be on the top of the memories from travelling. The things I’ve achieved that I never thought I would (car, driver’s licence, TOPIK, being in a band).
Stay or go?
Stay, at least for another year. I’ve just signed a new contract at my school and things in my life in general are going well. I’m playing lots of Irish music, I play in a World music band, I have lots of friends, good social life. I have it on good authority that someone I’m related to might be joining me here in the next few months. I still haven’t gone to all the countries I want to go to. Honestly, right now I have no real interest in going home or going anywhere else. I’ve invested a lot in learning Korean and building up a life here so I’d like to take that a little further if I could.
Advice for anyone who wants to come over?
In ten years, it’s the things you don’t do that you’ll regret, not the things you do. If you want to come to Asia and teach, travel, have an adventure, just do it. It’s not going to fantastic everyday but most days will be pretty good. You learn a lot about what you’re capable of by challenging yourself to do something like this. You meet loads of people who you wouldn’t have otherwise met and it gives you an opportunity to do things differently. Bring a good attitude and look at it as the start of a new adventure.