I’ve been teaching in Korea for just over 15 months now. 15 months. Where does that time go?
To me, it still feels like I’ve only just arrived and that I’m only now starting to discover what Korean culture and society is all about. When I talk to people back home, though, they’re in disbelief that it’s “only” been that long. They say it feels like I’ve been gone forever.
When I was into my 15th month of living in Mexico, it was February 2013 and I’d just finished my job as an English teacher at a language school. I had 6 weeks to get my stuff together and then I was flying home.
I’d made that decision and was happy with it.
15 months into my life in Korea and there are no immediate plans to leave.
I’ve now spent more than a year living in each country and, while I probably should be saving these posts for my 17 month mark (because that’s when I finally left Mexico), I’m impatient and would rather talk about these things now.
When other foreigners here find out I that I’ve lived and taught in another country before, a few of them are curious about how things compare.
So, I thought it’d be fun to do that here. This post is going to be the first of a two-part post on the teaching aspect of my experiences. Then I’ll be doing a 3rd post all about life in either of these places.
Of course, you should bear in mind that these are just based on my experiences. Not everyone is going to go through the same thing and feel the same way.
There’re already way too many rumours and conspiracy theories going around, setting people off. Let’s not add fuel to the fire.
If any of you are reading this from the west and have no idea what I’m talking about, MERS stands for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a virus that is contagious but apparently pretty hard to catch.
The elderly, young children, and people with pre-existing medical conditions are said to be the ones most susceptible to it. (Yay! Thanks, Asthma!)
Due to the fact that 9 people have already died from it over here and almost 3000 are in quarantine, there’s an uneasy atmosphere.
I now teach students who sit in class wearing surgical masks. The bathrooms at school finally have hand sanitizer and soap. And all I can hear from my coworkers in the staff room is “MERS … *whisper whisper whisper* MERS … *whisper whisper*”
There are places in life we visit and then forget all about. There are places that become hazy memories that are only reawakened by a picture or a song or a smell. And then there are those places that you can never forget, where every last detail is etched onto your brain whether you want it to be or not.
For me, Haesindang Penis Park is one of those places.
A few months ago, over the Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving/Harvest) holiday, I headed up north to Gangwon-do to pay a friend of mine a little visit.
Having only experienced the fast-paced waygook-magnet cities of Seoul and Busan, and everything my “little nuisance” province Jeollanam-do had to offer (my province is famous for its protests and inability to do what it’s told) up until this point, I was eager to explore more of the country and see what a small coastal city had to offer.
It’s general election day in the UK and, for the first time since I turned 18, I won’t be voting.
That isn’t to say I didn’t want to.
I mean, with this dynamic range of middle-aged, pasty, Oxbridge-educated “every men” to choose from, how could you resist?
In fact, I always feel that it’s my duty to vote. Women weren’t just given the right; They fought and died for it. And, as a champion for the sacredness of sisterhood, that’s a fact I just can’t forget.
So why am I not voting this year?
It’s simple: I live abroad and missed the deadline to send it by post.
By the time my application was received, they told me that they couldn’t guarantee a postal vote from Korea would make it back to the UK in time to count.
I also missed the deadline to vote by proxy – Having someone go and cast my vote for me – so that means that, this year, I’m just going to have to shut my mouth, sit back, and watch the results come in.
Which is kind of what I’ve been doing for the run-up to this anyway.
Being an expat/immigrant/nomad is a weird thing. I love my homeland but don’t have any plans to move back there yet.In fact, I can’t see it happening at all in the next five years.
So should I even be given the opportunity to vote?
It’s a country I care about and it’s where a lot of my loved ones live. I want them to be safe and live good lives. I don’t want my home to be handed to traditionalists and I don’t want it to leave the EU. I don’t want it to continue on its downward spiral under the current government and I also don’t want immigration to keep being seen as a bad thing – After all, I’m doing exactly what most people back home condemn.
I moved to a foreign country and took a job that could have gone to a local. I also did the same in Mexico.
There’s no difference.
Oh, no, wait, there is a difference. I get to keep the money I make and spend it on myself. A lot of people who move to the UK for work are doing it to support the families they left behind, living in conditions worse than any of us could imagine.
I don’t mean to get on my soapbox but I still care about what happens to my home. At the same time, I don’t want to live there so what right do I have to do decide what happens?
A friend of mine has lived outside of the UK for 17 years now. 17 years. How could you possibly know what life is like after living away for all of that time? I was only gone for a year and a half when I moved to Mexico and even I was shocked at the changes when I finally returned.
The longer we live away from our home, the more out-of-touch with the realities of life there we become. We settle into a different society and begin to care about the politics thereinstead.
Should I be voting for a country I’m living away from? When does the cut-off point occur? After all, it’s my British passport that helps me qualify for these jobs abroad in the first place.
These are questions I go back and forth over and would really like your opinions on actually so, please, take a second to vote in the poll underneath. If you want to elaborate more, leave it in the comments.
When people find out I teach at a beauty high school, their curiosity automatically peaks and the questions start to flow.
What kind of English do I teach? Is it beauty specific?
Are there boys at the school?
What will the students do when they graduate?
Are they creative?
Just general English. Yes, for every 10 girls, there’s one boy. They’ll probably end up at beauty salons around the province.
As for the creativity? Saying ‘yes’ would be an understatement.
These kids may not be going to college (which is a huge thing when you live in an education-obsessed society) but they have some incredible talent.
I’ve heard it remarked from fellow native English teachers in my area, teaching at middle school, that they’re disappointed when the end of the school year comes and a few of their students are heading to the beauty high school rather than an academic one. They see it as kind of a failure.
But, for me, I get to witness something more than the practical hairdressing and make-up skills they’ll use to support themselves after school (rather than dive straight into poverty); I get to see them work hard at creating their final 3rd grade products.
They get to do whatever they want, without the influence of a teacher, and express themselves in whatever artistic way takes their fancy.
Then, at the end of the year, they get to showcase their work in the school’s annual festival:
Holy crap, this year is going fast. March is less than 2 hours away and that also means the start of a new school year in Korea.
A few people from home have recently sent me messages asking if I’ll be moving on now that my contract’s about to end. I guess I haven’t painted the best picture of life over here in the last 12 months so I can’t blame them for wondering.
Well, I’m here to tell you now that in a couple of weeks I’m actually going to be renewing my contract for another year. That’s right. I ain’t going anywhere.
I don’t know what this year’s going to bring – there’s a hell of a lot of change happening in my schools – but January and February have been pretty fantastic so far so here’s hoping that this is a good sign for the next 10 months.
I’ll be doing a proper “one year in Korea” post a little closer to the time so, for now, here’s my February wrap-up with my five favourite things:
1. A Naju visitor
For the Lunar New Year holidays, my friend Rachel came down from Donghae to spend a week in my rural city of pears and skate fish. I showed her a few of the (limited) sights, we hung out, got drunk, ate amazing food, and mostly just enjoyed the downtime.
I’ve got to give her major credit for being the ultimate houseguest though: Not only did she manage to unblock all my drains (something that’s been bugging me for months now because I’m an incompetent child) but she willingly pushed me out of the kitchen after every meal to clean because she “loves washing up.” (Who are you, Monica Gellar?)
It’s always fun when we get together but later this year it’ll be time to say goodbye to her. In September, she’s officially moving on and away from Korea so who knows where our paths will cross after that?