It is summer of 2016 and I have been teaching in Korea and living here for almost 5 years. I thought I would only be here for 1 year and head back to the U.S., but I kept finding myself wanting to stay. Some of the reasons I’ve decided to stay are for financial reasons while others are for personal reasons. Below are the top four things that I’ve learned while living abroad.
1. Financial Goals - Many people who decide to leave their home country and teach English abroad do it for financial reasons. For you to teach legally in this country, you must have a university degree. University tuition is expensive and Korea’s starting pay for teaching English is among the highest in Asia. Many teachers who have come to work here have been able to save up to $10000 USD by saving. The cost of living in Korea, in my opinion, is relatively cheap so you can live comfortably and save money at the same time. But if you do not need to pay off college loans, you can save this amount of money and invest. Teachers who have worked here for more than one year have been able to put down payments on their first home or vehicle, while others have been able to use that money and start up their own business. If you do choose to work abroad, the one thing that I wish that I had done better for myself is set up financial long-term goals.
2. Adjusting to Other Cultures - If you want to thrive in Korea, you must be open to new ideas and cultures. The Korean way of thinking versus Westernized thinking is more different than similar. Although Korea is fairly conservative, there are many Koreans who want to know and learn about Western cultures. I, in return, suggest to learn theirs. The mixture of learning each other’s cultures has led to life-long friendships. There are Korean people that I have met here that I will be friends with until I die. If you are shy, start with making friends at work and build off from their. I’ve met friends through work, church, clubbing, and at the gym. You have to put yourself out there if you want to survive long-term in Korea. One way to learn their culture is to by learning how to read Korean. This can make your life so much easier when ordering food and when trying to go places. Also, learning how to address one another is key when interacting with your superiors or with strangers in general. Drinking culture is huge here and you should learn the proper ways to pour liquor and how to drink.
3. Friendships - Although you may make Korean friends while you are here, more likely your first friends will be foreigners like yourself. In my 5 years here, I have met a ton of great people that I can’t wait to see again. Unfortunately for me, they all have returned to their home countries while I decided to stay behind. It honestly gets tough to see the people you are closest with leave, but you realize that your friends will do what is best for them while you will do what is best for you. These friends become your family while you are here. We’ve spent countless holidays and vacations together. When the long weekends come, it is normal to spend time with them. But if you plan to stay a long time in Korea, you must realize that they are probably going to leave. I have to mentally prepare myself for whenever someone I am close to decides to go back home.
4. Work Ethic - I think my managers from my previous jobs would say that my work ethic is pretty strong, however, since teaching in Korea I have realized that my work ethic needed to become even stronger. Right now, I am the head instructor for my academy. I quickly had to learn how to balance the art of teaching and managing the foreign teachers. I think the managing aspect is the easier of the two for me. I feel a great responsibility to my students’ and their parents to give the best English education possible. I have seen teachers who come to Korea to play around and not put the effort in that parents would expect from them. Our academy’s tuition is among the most expensive in Korea. When I realized that, I felt like I had to do my best to make sure that my students succeed. It is a rewarding feeling when my students tell me how good their English test scores are during their school exams. I feel like I’ve made a difference in their lives and that is one of the best intrinsic rewards I could ever ask for. Now I understand why people choose teaching as a profession. I love when my old students that I haven’t taught in 2-3 years reach out to me and want to go grab some coffee. It is an amazing feeling to know they remember you and that you have had an impact on their life.
My first term working for ChungDahm, I struggled hard learning how to teach and manage a class. But my head instructor worked with me until I could get better. I took what I learned and applied it to make my classroom environment. I learned how to be fun, friendly, but still firm. When the head instructor decided to leave the company, I was asked to take over the position so that I could help new teachers with their learning experience. If it weren’t for the head instructors taking care of me, I would’ve never been able to take what I learned and share it with others. Being a good coach and having a good coach is so important when working.
For some of you who are thinking about teaching more than one year, these are just some of the thoughts and lessons that I have learned while living here. If you have any other insights about what you have learned from living in Korea for awhile, please leave a comment down below!