It’s The Final Countdown – reflecting on almost a year in Korea.

13 Apr

I and Lawson began our 12 months contracts as TEFL teachers on the 21st of May 2012. Now it’s almost mid April 2013 and we are not renewing our contracts, so I guess you could say that it’s the countdown to the beginning of the end, or an end, at least on this chapter of our lives, anyway. So now is a good time to reflect on my time in Korea. Did we make the right decision coming here? What have a learnt and gained from it? 

I’ve missed home more than I expected. Not the place, but the people. When I was first looked into teaching in Korea I was just incredibly excited about the whole notion of living and working abroad. It was only the last couple of weeks before leaving that it dawned on me that it was actually quite frightening. I realised how much I was going to miss everyone. I even made a specific effort not to have any kind of sad drawn-out goodbye with one of the people I knew would miss most, my Grandma, because I didn’t want to think about it. I guess I’m a ‘Grandma’s girl’ through and through.

I feel lucky enough to have lived a fairly sheltered life. Maybe even, very sheltered, but I am only beginning to realise that now. I think being away from my family and friends for such a sustained period of time has really helped me value them. Sometimes you’re too close to see…that sounds incredibly corny but I really feel like it’s true. Maybe being away has given me rose-tinted spectacles. I haven’t forgotten how they drove me crazy sometimes, (as well as I do them),  but I think being away can really renew your appreciation. I would advise everyone to do this at least once in their lives if they have the opportunity. To take time away and recharge your gratitude for your family, especially. I think that is one of the most valuable things I’ve gained from being in Korea, appreciation. Similarly, in an odd kind of way, I’m also really looking forward to being apart from my boyfriend when I return home. I’m only looking forward for some time apart purely so we can miss each other again and renew our appreciation of each other.

Despite the occasional sharp pangs of homesickness I don’t regret it at all. I’m quite proud of myself for sticking it out. I doubted my ability to commit before now. I have never stuck a job out for more than six months before this. I also think, or at least hope, that it has made me a more accepting, more tolerant person. I’ve made some lovely friends here and met the odd person who has inspired me. My intention is to take away the things I admire most about the people I’ve met and implement those things in my own life, if I can. I’ve met the odd person whose inspired me and made me question some of my stubborn opinions too. I feel inspired to push myself more challenge myself mentally – I don’t intend to be ambiguous here – I simply want to learn more. I have met a few people who I’ve felt are far more intellectually aware and knowledgeable than me. Initially,  I hated that because it made me feel dumb-struck and frankly, plain stupid. But actually, I shouldn’t resign myself to what I refer to as my ‘lazy-brain’, as though it’s a character flaw I should learn to accept; I ought to push myself. The information is out there for the taking. Until just under two years ago, I’d been in education nearly all my life and learning felt like a chore that had to be done merely for exam results, now I have free reign to learn whatever I like.

I still don’t know what I want to do. People have finally stopped asking me the age-old, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I guess that’s because I am a ‘grown-up’. It always felt like there was a deadline when people asked me that question but now the deadlines been reached the question seems irrelevant, we are constantly growing  aren’t we? I don’t feel under pressure anymore to make any final decisions. I want to take my time and think thoughtfully and openly about any opportunities that come my way and simply enjoy myself as much as possible beyond any outside constraints, whatever they may be.

Overall, this has been a far more valuable experience than the money I’ve saved. Which is good because my savings happen to be a lot less than the delusional estimations I made before coming here! I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to do this and if anyone else has the chance I would give you my own personal recommendation to do so. This blogging malarkey has been incredibly self indulgent and cathartic at times too. When our contract is up, before finally returning home, we have planned 6-7 weeks travelling Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam so we have a lot to look forward to plus a 3 day weekend on Jeju Island. I can’t wait to have sand between my toes, a cold Thai lager in my hand and some sun of my face. When I’m doing that, and when I return home, that’s when I know it has been worth it.


9 Responses to “It’s The Final Countdown – reflecting on almost a year in Korea.”

  1. Caroline Tait April 13, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Very well written Tamsyn, wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Hope you can fit in Sardinia somewhere on your travels.

  2. Matt Peake April 14, 2013 at 5:31 am #

    Hi Tamsyn,
    I enjoyed reading your blogg. Hope you have a great time travelling and I look forward to catching up in the not too distant future…go girl!
    Best wishes, Matt

  3. Tamsyn April 15, 2013 at 6:28 pm #

    Yes, I will definitely try to come out to Sardinia. I hope it’s all plain sailing for you.

    Glad you enjoyed it Matt. Look forward to meeting up with you and all the Peakes and Peaklets soon hopefully.

  4. Maddie April 17, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Hi! I have only just recently stumbled across your blog through expat blog. I live in SK too and have just renewed my contract which is a little daunting too!

    Hope you have fun on your travels, I really want to see Cambodia before I leave this part of the planet!


    • Tamsyn April 17, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

      Great! You must be enjoying it if you renewed?

      Where abouts are you situated in S.Korea?

      Thanks for commenting.

      • Maddie April 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm #

        Life here definitely has its perks.

        I live in Busan, so very excited about the Summer coming!

        Where abouts did you live?

      • Tamsyn April 23, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

        I’ve only ever been to Busan the once. It was our first weekend in Korea which was luckily a three-day-weekend but it turned out to be pretty disastrous because we’d been told they’d be no need to book a Motel. Yet when we arrived literally EVERYWHERE was booked up with it being a three-day-weekend. We arrived pretty late too, (We had no idea at this point about Jimjilbangs or we would have crashed at one of those). It was a pretty scary for us because we had no idea of what Korean culture was like and we were still pretty bewildered by the whole experience. We went down some back streets and thought places looked a little dodgy and seedy with our Western mind-sight but I think every city in Korea has that rough and ready feel and it doesn’t mean to say it’s seedy or dangerous in the slightest, as I’m sure you know. In the end, we stayed up all night in a bar and got a bus back home at 6am in the morning. Having said all that, we are returning to Busan next month before we leave with an open mind. The weather should be good and we’ve heard fantastic things so we’re looking forward to ridding ourselves of our bad experience and association with the place by having a great time there.

        I live in a tiny town, (by Korean standards), near Cheongju. I can tell you without any hesitation that it’s much inferior to Busan, but our town has a nice little expat community and so we’ve come to love our little town. I wouldn’t recommend a trip to the city of Cheongju either. Even the Lonely Planet book recommends against it! Which I found quite discouraging reading on the plane on my way over here. Nonetheless Seoul makes a great weekend day trip being just over an hour away so alls good!

        Sorry for the epic rant! Enjoy the rest of your time in Korea!

  5. Zee C May 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm #

    Hey Tamsyn! I came across your blog in the midst of my tefl research. I’ve read a few posts and have very much enjoyed them. Sounds like you’ve had a great time! I was wondering if you could help me with a query that I have?! I’d like to find out how common / popular 6 month contracts are in S Korea. There doesn’t seem to be much info on this available online. Do you possibly know if 6 month contracts are a likely possibility in S Korea (or other parts of Asia even)? Thanks in advance! x

    • Tamsyn June 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Sorry I have taken so long to reply to this comment – I’ve finished my contract and have taken time out travelling South East Asia but enough of the excuses.

      I don’t know anyone on a 6 month contract but that’s not to say they don’t exsist. The reason they are very uncommon could because the usual way the school companies work is that they pay people to fly to Korea and back from their native country so maybe it isn’t finacially worthwhile if there contract is so short. Or it could be because they lease accomodation for you to stay in (these may only be leased on a yearly basis).

      The best source of information on this kind of thing would probably be a facebook group. Try searching ‘expat korea’ etc. These kind of pages often advertise job postings.

      If your really keen to teach in Korea for six months maybe you could forego the reimburst flight costs most companies offer?

      Try the ‘What’s going on in Cheongju’ facebook group. Cheongju is a city, the capital city for the province of Cheong Buk Do.(There is bound to be similar groups for other areas like Deagu, Dajeon, Busan, Seoul etc too). Sometimes School Directors attempt to find teachers already situated in Korea as this saves them the cost of flights. The main reason to join this group though is to ask around. People can be really helpful on this group, you can get in touch with recruiters this way and also talk to teachers who might know and have been teaching in Korea for sometimes many years.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful. I hope these sources can offer you more advice.

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