Before going to South Korea, I really knew very little about the country. I knew I wanted to go to Asia and I had learned that Korea was a less expensive place to live than Japan and had more freedoms than China. Moving there was definitely a leap of faith but I was determined to experience a culture completely different from what I knew, so I put all my trust into my recruiter and got on a plane. This was, by far, the best decision of my life. Now, don’t get me wrong – travelling halfway around the world all by yourself is a scary thing. It’s even more intimidating when you throw in the fact that I did not know the language at all and only had minimal experience teaching. Needless to say, I definitely doubted my decision and was terribly homesick the first month or so. I remember telling a friend back home, “I can’t wait for the year to be over; I’d REALLY have to fall in love in order to stay any longer and I don’t see that happening.”
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I fell so in love with everything Korea had to offer. I started to crave Korean food – foods that I had only politely tolerated before. I came into the habit of bowing to everyone as a greeting, and blurted out Korean phrases effortlessly. I learned so much from the children I taught and teaching was fun because of them. I also found my best friend at the first school I worked at. We joined Facebook groups such as Adventure Korea, Seoul Hiking Group, and WINK (When in Korea). Through these groups I met some of the most amazing people I know and had the time of my life exploring the beautiful peninsula. I was able to spend a weekend on the beaches in Jeju, go to countless traditional Korean festivals, hike the most famous mountains, and ski at five different resorts. There was never a dull moment. No matter what the season, there is always something going on. You can get up before dawn with the monks, or stay out until dawn dancing the night away. Or do both!
Times will be hard. You will experience cultural differences in what is expected of you in the workplace. You may not get much support from your staff. At times, you will feel more lonely than you’ve ever felt. You will give in and order up McDonald’s delivery because it’s comfort food. But never for a minute should you think it’s not worth it. You are affecting and changing the lives of so many children by gifting them with the English language. With each challenge, you will learn more about yourself and become a better person for it.
South Korea flipped my world upside down, in the best way possible. I went there to teach, but I learned so much more. I became comfortable with the uncomfortable. I met incredible people who I would not have otherwise encountered. My eyes were opened to different, but equally good, ways of doing things. Korea will always be a second home to me, and the two years spent there are, so far, the best two years of my life.
Every word of this is true, and I cannot thank you enough, Don, for giving me the opportunity to teach in South Korea!
By Hannah Goossens, Psychology & Pre Occupational Therapy major, College of St. Benedict, Class of 2012