If I had been asked, “Why Korea?” 3 years ago before my journey began, the answer would have been short, general and vague. I might have told you I was choosing Korea because there were good teaching opportunities there, with decent pay, housing, and vacation opportunities. I would have also told you I was choosing Korea because it was in Asia, a place I had never been, but longed to travel and see. This would have been the extent of my answer back then. Thankfully, 2 and a half amazing years of living and teaching in Seoul have allowed me to expand my answer to that question.
Why Korea? South Korea is a country with fascinating sights, tastes, and adventures. It is a mountainous, forested country, with endless opportunities for hiking and camping. There are beaches and islands to explore, as well as gorgeous temples, palaces and traditional villages to visit. Whether you prefer outdoor exploring, cultural festivals, or historical sightseeing, there are always things to see and places to travel within Korea, and it is all easily accessible due to Korea’s excellent train and bus systems. There are also multiple “meet-up” type groups, which go on weekend trips. These are excellent ways to meet other foreigners teaching and living in Korea.
Teaching in Korea is a challenging and rewarding experience. I learned something new each day about Korea and the culture from my young students. They were enthusiastic, smart, and curious. It is amazing to watch a 6 year old child, unable to communicate with you, transform into a confident little chatterbox a year later. Working in a foreign country can be challenging, too. I came in with my own set of cultural expectations and practices, and they did not always match Korean practices and culture. Each day was practice in understanding, acceptance, and growth. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I feel that I benefited so much from that. Experiencing a new culture gave me so much insight into myself, my own culture, and I learned to recognize strengths and weaknesses in both.
Lastly, when people ask me, “Why Korea?” the answer closest to my heart is: the people. Moving to a foreign country is not easy, and it is even scarier when you move by yourself. The people I worked with and met in Korea were unbelievably supportive, positive, and kind. There is always someone there who knows what you are going through, who understand what it feels like, and is willing support you. I had positive experiences with Korean bosses and coworkers at both schools I was at. They kept their promises and contract stipulations, and worked very hard to keep the schools running efficiently and smoothly. Koreans I met were always friendly, curious, and kind. They are proud of their country and want you to experience all it has to offer.
Excellent support while teaching comes not only from coworkers and friends there, but also from Don. Don is an incredible, professional and enthusiastic recruiter. I have had nothing but positive experiences with him. He takes the time to get to know you as a person, listen to your requests and concerns, and strives to find a school/situation that he knows will suit your interests and needs best. He has excellent relationships with the schools, and is always honest. I felt like I was well prepared for the situation and knew what to expect, because he is very thorough. There is an excellent network of teachers in Korea who have gone through Don and he knows the importance of connecting new teachers with them. He is very experienced in this area, and I highly recommend anyone looking to teach in Korea to get in contact with Don!
Going to Korea was the best decision of my life. I gained valuable work, cultural, and life experience. I would not be who I am today if I had not gone on this wonderful and life-changing journey. You may go to Korea because you want to discover a new place and culture, but along the way, you will also discover yourself.
By Bethany Anderson, English major, University of St. Thomas, Class of 2011