If you’d have told me five years ago that I would be living in Korea and renewing my teaching contract for a second year, I don’t know if I would have believed you. Korea had never been on my radar as somewhere to live or teach, until I met some lovely people on vacation who had done just that. They got me intrigued and, because I was already looking into teaching abroad, I decided to compare the perks of working in Korea against those of working in a European country. I found that, on paper, Korea looked like a much better prospect, with a higher salary, a free apartment, and free airfare. I knew almost nothing of Korean history or language when I decided to teach here, but I decided, albeit with some trepidation, to move across the world.
My first year in Korea was a rush. I tried to see everything and meet everyone and take in as much as I could because I didn’t know if I was coming back; it was a whirlwind of the best kind. Being on my own in Korea that first year filled me with a great confidence that I had never had before. I ‘made it’ in a foreign country, on a different continent, in place where I couldn’t speak the language and it was absolutely amazing. Living abroad anywhere means you face challenges and cultural differences everyday that make you examine your own beliefs and those around you. Your life becomes full of strange and delightful happenings that are hard to explain to people back home. The people you meet and work with become your best friends because you’re all going through the same experiences that are unique to your specific time and place in the world.
I came back for second year because I missed the lifestyle and the friends I knew were still here. Coming back allowed me to take Korea at a slower pace and experience more without worrying about the little things. I hit the ground running, so to speak, and that allowed me to experience a different side to Korea than what I had previously encountered. I ended up hanging out with more native Koreans and exploring parts of the city that I had missed out on the first time. I signed up for different types of classes that I never seemed to have time for my first year. Life seems to be going at a slower pace and I’m enjoying seeing Korea in a slightly different light.
I definitely recommend teaching abroad and working here has afforded me amazingly positive experiences. Korea is completely what you make of it and it’s many things to many different people. For me, it was, and continues to be, the place where I came into my own and realized what strong stuff I was made of. Going back home and starting a new job or meeting a room full of strangers or tackling problems I thought were difficult in the past are nothing now. I’ve done something incredible, twice now, and I’m a stronger person for it. I’ve even faced down adjummas on the street and come away relatively unscathed; if I can do that, I can do anything.
By Michele Lester, Literature major, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, Class of 2010